Is a Retaliatory Eviction Legal?
Acts of Landlord Retaliation, Including Tenant Eviction
Landlords and tenants have certain rights and responsibilities under landlord tenant law. If either party is not fulfilling their obligations, the other party has a right to address it. Sometimes this will lead to conflicts between landlords and tenants. Learn the landlord actions that could be considered retaliation and if a retaliatory eviction is ever legal.
Landlord Acts of Retaliation
An eviction is usually not the first step a landlord takes to retaliate against a tenant. Common ways a landlord may try to get back at a tenant include:
- Increasing Rent- A landlord may increase a tenant's rent to get back at the tenant or try to force the tenant to move.
- Threatening or Harassing the Tenant- A landlord may verbally or physically harass or threaten a tenant as a form of intimidation to prevent the tenant from pursuing a complaint or other legal action the landlord does not like.
- Failing to Renew the Tenant’s Lease- A landlord may retaliate against a tenant by refusing to renew the tenant’s lease.
- Cutting Off Amenities or Services- A landlord may try to make a tenant's living conditions uncomfortable by restricting access to a washer and dryer, blocking access to a parking spot or refusing to make repairs to the tenant’s unit.
- Eviction- A landlord may blatantly try to get a tenant to move by filing to evict the tenant.
What Is a Retaliatory Eviction?
A retaliatory eviction is not based on any actual breaches to the lease agreement, it is based on anger. The landlord is unhappy with the tenant's behavior, so files to evict the tenant. Examples of actions that are within a tenant's legal right that could lead a landlord to file a retaliatory eviction include:
- Complaining- A tenant may complain often about maintenance issues or other tenants in the building.
- Calling the Health Department- The tenant may contact the health department to complain about a health or safety violation at the property.
- Calling the Building Department- The tenant may contact the building department to complain about a health or safety violation at the property.
- Tenant Withholds Rent Until Violation Is Fixed- Depending on state law, a tenant may be allowed to withhold rent until a major health or safety violation at the property is fixed.
- Tenant Organizes Other Tenants- A tenant may organize other tenants in the building to protest an issue, such as a rent increase.
- Tenant Has Joined a Tenant's Union- The tenant has become a member of a tenant's union and the landlord is worried that the tenant may try to use legal loopholes to take advantage of the landlord.
Reasons a Landlord Can Legally Evict a Tenant
There are many reasons a landlord can legally file an eviction and retaliation is not one of them. These reasons will vary by state, so check your local laws. Common reasons you can file for an eviction are:
- Unpaid Rent
- Other Breaches of the Lease Agreement
- Tenant is Performing Illegal Activities on the Premises
- Tenant Has Damaged the Property in a Way that Has Decreased the Property Value
- Tenant Is Disrupting Other Tenants/Neighbors
- Tenant Is a Threat to the Health or Safety of Other Tenants in the Building
Is A Retaliatory Eviction Legal?
A retaliatory eviction is never legal. Most states, including Illinois, have laws in place that protect tenants from retaliatory actions by landlords, including evictions. Illinois’s law is called the Retaliatory Eviction Act.
How Does the Court Determine a Retaliatory Eviction?
Retaliatory evictions can be difficult to prove because a landlord will often come up with another reason for filing the eviction. While many states have rules in place which protect tenants from retaliation by their landlords, retaliation is a hard thing to prove.
Time Between Complaint and 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.
Action Related to Tenancy
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 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.