Retaliatory Eviction

What is 'Retaliatory Eviction '

A retaliatory eviction occurs when a landlord takes revenge against a tenant's actions by evicting, attempting to evict, or failing to renew that tenant's lease. A retaliatory eviction is generally preceded by a complaint made by the tenant regarding the condition of the property, or the tenant's assertion of a legal right.

BREAKING DOWN 'Retaliatory Eviction '

In a retaliatory eviction, a landlord may try to subdue a complaining tenant by evicting them rather than by making repairs in response to a complaint. Many states have landlord-tenant laws that specifically prohibit this type of eviction. In fact, in American landlord-tenant law, is a substantive defense and affirmative cause of action that can be used by a tenant against a landlord. If a tenant reports sanitary violations or violations of minimum housing standards, the landlord cannot evict the tenant in retaliation for reporting the poor housing conditions.

There are many other legal tenant actions that can trigger a retaliatory eviction, including calling the health department about mold, withholding rent until an issue is fixed, calling the building department about a dangerous structural problem, organizing other tenants to protest a specific landlord action or issue, and joining a tenant’s union.

Correspondingly, there are several legal reasons that landlords have for evicting a tenant. These include unpaid rent, other breaches of the lease agreement, illegal activities by the tenant on the premises, extensive property damage, disrupting other tenants, or threatening the health or safety of other tenants.

Retaliatory evictions can be difficult to prove because a landlord will often be able to come up with another reason as to why they are filing for the eviction. The tenant has a better chance of proving their claim if the time between their action, calling a health inspector, for example, and the landlord’s action, filing for the eviction, is shorter, such as one to six months. A judge will have a hard time believing that a landlord is acting in retaliation if the landlord filed to evict the tenant one year after the tenant called the health department on the landlord.

The action for which the tenant is claiming retaliation must be legally within his or her rights and it must be directly related to his or her tenancy. This was established in the court case Imperial Colliery Co. vs. Fout. In this 1988 West Virginia case, the court ruled that a tenant could not claim that a retaliatory eviction occurred as a result of their participation in a labor strike.

Example of ‘Retaliatory Eviction’

For example, a tenant may complain about the air conditioning unit, but rather than repairing or replacing the unit, the landlord may decide to evict the tenant and hope the next tenant does not complain.