How to File a Lawsuit for a Wrongful Eviction

By Teo Spengler ; Updated June 05, 2017
Man in suit with an eviction order

If your landlord evicts you in violation of state or local rent laws, you can bring a lawsuit for wrongful eviction. Wrongful eviction lawsuits require a thorough understanding of the law, proof that the landlord's actions were illegal and evidence of the damages you suffered. It is often preferable to work with an attorney on a wrongful eviction case.

Eviction Laws

Landlords in every state have the right to evict tenants who don't pay rent or violate the rental agreement. In some states and cities, landlords can even evict a tenant without cause.

However, state and local laws set out principles and procedures the landlord must follow. For example, a landlord cannot evict a tenant in retaliation against a complaint about code violations. And, in some cases, the landlord must give the tenant the option to pay rent within a certain number of days and stay in the unit.

A landlord must follow these laws and cannot use "self-help" to evict, like cutting off utilities or changing the locks. Many of these laws are fairly complex and detailed. If the landlord deliberately acts in violation of the law or if he gets tripped up by legal procedures required, an eviction is illegal.

Suing for Illegal Eviction

If you were the victim of an unlawful eviction or false eviction, you can file a wrongful eviction lawsuit. If you go it alone, you need to set out in a legal document called a complaint exactly what the landlord did that was illegal and how it caused you damage. Then you need to gather evidence to establish these elements at trial. The typical wrongful detainer action in California takes about two years to go to trial.

But not every illegally evicted tenant is a good candidate for a wrongful eviction lawsuit. For example, a wrongfully evicted tenant who quickly finds a cheaper, better apartment might not be able to establish the kind of damages that make expensive litigation worthwhile.

It is extremely helpful to talk to an attorney before you file a wrongful eviction action. She can help you to understand your chances of winning and what type of damages you might get. Further, you can bet that your landlord will be represented in court by an experienced attorney.

A wrongful eviction lawsuit can be very expensive to lose. Many landlord/tenant agreements contain an attorney fees clause saying that if the parties go to court over the tenancy, the loser must pay the winner's fees. That means that you may face a huge attorney fee bill if you lose.

How to file a lawsuit for a wrongful eviction? The best way is to choose an experienced attorney who will represent your interests in court.

About the Author

Living in France and Northern California, Teo Spengler is an attorney, novelist and writer and has published thousands of articles about travel, gardening, business and law. Spengler holds a Master of Arts in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley. She is currently a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in fiction.