Wrongful Evictions

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Landlord/tenant law is extremely geographic-specific. Both state and city laws affect the legal rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. Many states have laws that favor landlords, while a few are more concerned with protecting the tenantsí rights. In order to legally evict a tenant, the landlord must usually follow a very specific legal procedure.

Legal Process of Eviction

If the tenant violates the lease in a material way, the landlord is generally required to give the tenant formal notice of this violation and any opportunity to cure it. If the tenant does not satisfy the directive of the notice, the landlord must then usually file a complaint in the applicable court and give the tenant notice of the unlawful detainer lawsuit that has been filed against him or her. The tenant has a certain period of time to respond to the complaint and appear in court.

Usually, the landlord is not allowed to take measures in his or her own hands, such as removing the tenantís belongings or changing the locks on the property. If the landlord wins the case, the tenant only has a few days to vacate the property or face the sheriff forcibly removing him or her and respective belongings.
Types of Wrongful Evictions

A wrongful eviction occurs when a person does not follow the applicable landlord/tenant laws regarding eviction. Self-help measures are usually prohibited by relevant laws. Wrongful eviction may arise if the landlord threatens the health or safety of a tenant, intimidates the tenant, changes the locks or performs another act that interferes with the tenantís right to occupy the property. Even if the tenant owes the landlord money, the landlord cannot simply throw the tenant out without following the proper procedure.

Another way that a landlord can wrongfully evict a tenant is by shutting off utilities to make it unbearable for the tenant to stay in the property. Landlords can only shut off the utilities in order to make relevant repairs. They cannot shut them off simply because the tenant is behind on rent or in an attempt to get the tenant to move out. Some state laws provide a specific monetary amount of damages per day that the utilities were turned off, such as $100 a day.

Removal of Belongings

State and city laws dictate under what conditions the landlord can remove the tenantís property, such as only allowing the landlord to remove belongings if the tenant abandoned the property or a writ of restitution has been served on the tenant.

State law may also allow for the landlord to sell the tenantís property. Again, certain criteria must usually be met, such as providing the tenant with notice and opportunity to retrieve his or her belongings. Additionally, the value of the property may have to be of a certain value before the landlord can sell the property. Additionally, personal items such as photos or mementos may not be allowed to be sold.

State law may permit the landlord to condition the return of a tenantís property on their paying reasonable storage and moving fees if the property was legally removed in the first place.

If the tenant sends a written demand for the return of his or her property, the landlord is generally required to return them. The police may need to be called if the landlord defies the relevant law and refuses to return the property. Another option is to file a lawsuit against the landlord for the return of the tenantís belongings. Some jurisdictions provide a certain set amount of damages for each day that the tenant was deprived of his or her property, up to a certain amount.

Wrongful Eviction Lawsuits

If a tenant has been illegally removed from the property, he or she may bring forth a wrongful eviction lawsuit against the landlord. The landlord may be liable for actual damages, as well as additional damages for not strictly complying with the law. Some legal assistance organizations specifically assist low-income individuals who are victims of wrongful eviction.

A tenant may also file a lawsuit if his or her belongings were illegally removed from the property without the legal right to do so. He or she may be able to recover his or her belongings, as well as be awarded damages for any damage caused by their removal and storage.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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