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, as the law in this area has nuances that might be difficult to understand, and a mistake could cost you your lawsuit.
State 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. Eviction is generally only an option if the tenant has broken some aspect of the lease agreement, either by causing damage, failing to abide by the rules of the building or by failing to pay rent when due. It's worth noting that in some cases, the landlord must give the tenant the option to pay rent within a certain number of days before he can take action to evict, and the tenant can stay in the unit during that time.
A landlord must follow these laws and cannot use "self-help" to evict, like cutting off utilities or changing the locks, without seeking court intervention first. Many of these laws are fairly 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.
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.
Read More: Types of Eviction
Get Legal Counsel
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.
- The judge typically has both parties talk with a mediator to try to reach a settlement prior to a trial. If a settlement is reached, the case is closed and does not go to trial unless the settlement's terms are violated.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.