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Retaliatory Evictions: Resources for Tenants and Landlords

Almost all states prohibit landlords from evicting tenants in retaliation for asserting their legal rights. In other words, if a tenant exercises their tenant rights as recognized by law, they shouldn't be punished for it. Suppose a tenant makes a complaint about their rental unit. If the complaint is in good faith and made for a valid reason, it should be taken well. The landlord can't punish the tenant by trying to end the tenancy or by making the tenant's life difficult.

Examples of potentially valid tenant complaints include:

  • Reporting housing code or building code violations to building inspectors
  • Contacting government agencies (e.g., the Health Department) regarding housing issues
  • Raising an alert about the habitability (living conditions) of the rental premises
  • Voicing concerns through a tenant union that promotes self-help and activism

A landlord might retaliate to the above complaints by:

  • Decreasing services to the tenant (e.g., turning off water or power)
  • Imposing a retaliatory rent increase by raising the tenant's rent
  • Sending an eviction notice, threatening an eviction case, or filing an eviction lawsuit

Not every one of the above acts is necessarily a retaliatory act in violation of landlord-tenant laws. For example, a landlord might be justified in raising the rent of rental property to keep up with yearly inflation. Similarly, state statutes and the lease agreement might provide legal avenues for eviction if a tenant is liable for a violation. For instance, a tenant can rightfully get in trouble for withholding rent in certain circumstances. In other situations, nonpayment of rent can be justified if it is linked to repairs needed for major defects that the landlord neglected.

Below, you can find answers to common questions about illegal retaliatory evictions, including state laws on the issue. You'll also find links to resources for both landlords and tenants.

Retaliatory Evictions

Retaliatory actions by a landlord can have grave consequences. If they're lucky, they'll only get sued in small claims court for minimal damages. But many states have laws allowing courts to punish retaliation. A landlord may have to pay hefty fines and lose the right to evict their tenant for extended periods. A landlord may also end up on the hook for the tenant's court costs and reasonable attorney fees. For more information on these topics, consider visiting the following sections:

Eviction Resources: Landlords

Landlords should be very careful before initiating any eviction procedures. For general information about improper evictions, see FindLaw's page on Illegal Evictions and Landlord Harassment. For more on unlawful evictions, other resources are available below. The following pages discuss steps to take for a proper eviction and the potential consequences a landlord could face:

Eviction Resources: Tenants

Tenants should be on the lookout for wrongful conduct by their landlords. A tenant should not be afraid to get the benefit of the rent they pay for. Suppose the roof is leaking, the locks aren't working, or the air conditioning is broken. It's not unfair for the tenant to bring these problems to the landlord's attention. In fact, in most states, a landlord has a duty to provide working locks. The landlord may also be responsible for other issues in the premises. But even if the law doesn't require them to address potential problems, it doesn't mean landlords can threaten tenants with eviction over a complaint that annoyed them.

Below are some resources for tenants interested in learning more about their rights and potential defenses to evictions:

Facing Legal Action? Get Legal Advice

Perhaps you're a landlord facing action by a governmental agency. Or maybe you're a tenant who has reported the landlord's actions to authorities. In either situation, a real estate attorney or landlord-tenant lawyer can advise you. Landlord-tenant laws vary in every state, so consulting with an experienced legal expert is highly recommended.

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