It can be frustrating when your tenant violates the terms of your lease, including keeping your rental unit unclean or falling in arrears on their payments. You may feel inclined to take matters into your own hands and usher your tenant out the door.
Know that virtually every jurisdiction in the U.S. prohibits landlords from engaging in “self-help” evictions. You may expose yourself to legal liability if you engage in a self-help eviction instead of going through the standard eviction process.
Which behaviors fall into the self-help eviction category?
However tempting it may be, landlords must avoid the following self-help eviction tactics:
- Demanding that your tenant vacate their rental unit
- Reaching out to a utility company to terminate a renter’s service
- Harassing or threatening a tenant to get them to relocate
- Removing your tenant’s belongings from their apartment, condo or rental home
- Changing the locks on your unit’s doors
You may face both a civil lawsuit and criminal charges by taking part in a self-help eviction. Some of the legal remedies you may have to pay if your tenant is successful in filing a civil suit against you include actual damages your tenant suffered. This may include things like:
- The value of any property lost when locked out of the unit.
- Temporary housing costs.
- The cost of food that spoiled after an electric shut-off.
Your tenant may also be able to recover their security deposit, several months’ worth of rent, and compensation for the intentional infliction of emotional stress they endured in such instances. For carrying out a self-help eviction, landlords may also face criminal charges that include battery, trespassing and assault charges.
How to minimize your legal liabilities when evicting a tenant
Before you evict a tenant, it helps to better understand both your rights and their rights. That way, you can avoid the potential for further problems.