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How do I Fight an Unlawful Eviction?

By K. Testa
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are a number of steps in the process of fighting an unlawful eviction. The first one is to educate yourself about the relevant landlord-tenant laws where you live. Next, you should gather any documentation that proves that a wrongful eviction took place. Then you can decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you at any court proceedings. If the court finds that you were unlawfully evicted, then you can usually remain in your residence. In such cases, you can often sue the property owner for damages as well. Otherwise, if the court does not find in your favor, your attorney can assist you with filing an eviction appeal.

There are legitimate reasons for evicting tenants, and a proper way of obtaining an eviction order from the court. Some examples of legal reasons for evicting someone include non-payment of rent, extensive property damage, or breaking any other rules set forth in the lease. A legal eviction usually includes a written document from the landlord, often called a notice to vacate, indicating that he or she intends to take the matter to court. Generally, it is not an official eviction until a judge orders it.

As a potential victim of an unlawful eviction, your first priority might be to research local laws and inform yourself of relevant tenants’ rights. In the U.S., for instance, landlord-tenant laws vary by jurisdiction. Many are determined by state, and sometimes even local, authorities. By contacting a local housing agency, one can usually find information on what constitutes a legal eviction.

An unlawful eviction usually consists of a landlord acting to remove a tenant with no court authority to do so. Some examples of so-called self-help remedies can include changing the door locks, removing a tenant’s personal possessions from the property, and turning off utilities. Another example of an unlawful eviction is retaliatory eviction, wherein the property owner forces a tenant out for exercising a right granted to him or her in the lease agreement. A common example is evicting a renter for complaining that a maintenance request was not completed to his satisfaction or in a timely manner.

If feasible, it might help to hire an eviction attorney to advise you and possibly to represent you in a hearing. You should keep all documents and communications related to the lease agreement. You may have a stronger case if you can show that problems with the landlord existed prior to the eviction — such as important repair requests not being answered, or facing sudden rent increases. For example, a tenant may be granted a stay of execution by the court if the landlord unfairly raised the rent and the tenant continued to pay only the rent amount agreed to in the written contract. In this case, the landlord usually cannot evict the person for non-payment of rent.

Some other remedies are available to victims of unlawful eviction. One can sue for damages or file an eviction appeal with the court. In addition, if you feel that you were a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a formal complaint. In the U.S., for instance, if discrimination is investigated and found by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the tenant can also get free legal representation from a HUD attorney.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon949088 — On May 03, 2014

When I went to rent a new place, I found out my former landlord reported an eviction four months after I moved out. I was never served and could find nothing in public records. They state they never evicted me but its been reported. How can I get this resolved?

By bear78 — On May 28, 2011

I know none of us go into an apartment thinking that we might be evicted. I also don't think this way and aside from my lease, have not really kept a record of my dealings with my landlord.

But I read that this is something we should always do. Most of us remember to take pictures of the place when we move in, in case the landlord accuses of damages and wants to keep our deposit. But we should also keep copies of letters the landlord sends us, as well as dates and notes about our conversations.

It might also be a good idea to have a friend with you if you are having a problem with your landlord and you need to speak with them. That friend can serve as a witness later on.

I know this is a hard thing to do. It means you expect the worst. But it will also help you be ready if there is ever a problem. You will have the documentation, facts and witnesses you need to look out for your rights if you have to.

I'm going to be doing this from now on.

By discographer — On May 25, 2011

Landlords might try many different things to get someone to leave their home. A landlord cannot enter your place when they want to, they can't move into your place, they can't prevent you from using a common area like a kitchen or throw your things out because they feel like it.

The specific laws might be different from state to state, but if your landlord is doing these things, they are trying to get you to leave. Even if you are not the best tenant, there are procedures for everything. A landlord can take action that is described in your lease and eviction laws, but not the ones I mentioned.

You should take them to court if you can. You can also contact your county for information on free lawyers that work with these cases. You might have to do some research, but every state has these services available.

By serenesurface — On May 24, 2011

I lived in Virginia as a student for two years. And most of my friends and myself were unlawfully evicted or mistreated by landlords.

One of my close friends was forced to leave her room when the landlord increased rent all of the sudden. She was given either the choice of paying the new rent or vacating and she had to vacate.

The problem is that Virginia law allows landlords to decide the rate of rent. There is no state standards or limitations on the rent that can be charged. And they take advantage of students because students rarely have the money to sue the landlord and pay for a lawyer.

Fighting an unlawful eviction depends on state laws and your financial situation, unfortunately.

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