Landlords must go through a fairly strict process before they can legally evict tenants from residences. Because the process can take time, involves some legal wrangling, and may cost money to resolve, some landlords use creative self-help methods to get tenants out. Here are a couple of the sneaky tactics some landlords use to get rid of tenants and what you can do if you think you're the victim of an illegal eviction.
The "Landlord's Own Use" Scam
If there is no just cause—such as overdue rent—a landlord cannot evict a tenant and must wait until the rental period ends before he or she can take back the unit. There is one exception to this rule, however. Landlords can legally break the lease early if the person is reclaiming the rental unit for his or her own use. In this case, the landlord must give the tenant a minimum of 60 days notice, and the rental can only subsequently be occupied by the landlord; spouse, children or parents of the landlord; or someone who will be caring for the landlord or his or her family members.
Unfortunately, some landlords abuse this loophole and try to get tenants out by claiming they want to use the property for themselves. Instead, they turn around and rent the unit to other people at a higher price. This happened to an Ontario couple. Their landlord sent them a letter claiming he wanted them to move out so his mother-in-law could move into their apartment. However, a few months later, an ad appeared online for their old apartment at nearly twice the rent they had been paying.
Tenants can win monetary awards for damages resulting from being illegally evicted in this manner. However, these victories are typically bittersweet, as the tenants still lose their housing.
Landlords can evict tenants for violating their leases. For instance, if the lease states the renter cannot have pets in the home and the landlord finds out the tenant has one, then he or she has the right to ask the person to either rectify the violation or leave.
While it's understandable landlords will want to get tenants out for major violations (e.g. doing drugs in the residence), some landlords take things to a new level and try to use low-level violations (e.g. leaving a bicycle in the hallway) to evict tenants. In some cases, these landlords knew about the violations but let them slide until they became motivated to get the tenants out for one reason or another.
This typically happens in areas where tenants may not know their rights or fear fighting the landlord about the unfair eviction because of other circumstances such as being undocumented. For instance, landlords in San Francisco, California, are currently using this tactic to evict tenants in affordable housing, most likely so they can turn around rent the residences to others for higher amounts.
Fighting this tactic can often be tricky for tenants because they did technically violate the lease. At the same time, they may have a case for unfair eviction if the landlord failed to enforce the contract on previous occasions, harassed the tenants, or committed other illegal acts such as changing the locks.
Suing for Unfair Eviction
As noted previously, it is possible to sue a landlord for unfair eviction and recover money to cover the losses you sustained from being forced to move prematurely. For instance, you can often get money for moving expenses, property loss or damage, and possibly even punitive damages if the landlord's behavior was particularly egregious.
It's best to speak to a lawyer in your area about your case if you believe you've been unfairly evicted from your place of residence. The attorney can guide you on the optimal way to proceed with the case to ensure you obtain the outcome you want.