Receiving an eviction notice can cause a tenant's heart to sink, especially if they believe they're being wrongfully evicted.
At this moment, they might wonder whether they have the right to seek legal action against their landlord. This article will explain what an illegal eviction is and answer the question: "Can I sue my landlord for wrongful eviction?"
Can Tenants Sue Landlords for Wrongful Conviction?
Tenants have the right to file lawsuits against landlords if they feel they’re being unlawfully evicted. Most of these cases end up in a small claims court with a judge making the final ruling.
Legal Reasons Tenants Might Get Evicted
Some of the common reasons tenants are rightfully evicted include:
- Nonpayment or incomplete payment of rent.
- Lease violations. They may include criminal or drug activity, violation of pet restrictions, and housing an unauthorized tenant.
- Damage to the rental property.
Although the process varies from state to state, landlords, in general, must follow a specific set of procedures for evicting a tenant. For example, they must serve an eviction notice that includes a pay rent or quit notice, a cure or quit notice, or an unconditional quit notice.
The landlord must then sue the tenant to try and secure an eviction. If the landlord follows the proper procedures and proves just cause, the court will likely rule in their favor.
Types of Illegal Evictions
However, even if the landlord follows the eviction process correctly, it doesn’t mean they can’t be sued for wrongful eviction and lose in small claims court. Some of the most common reasons renters sue for unlawful evictions include:
Tenants and landlords can develop contentious relationships for several reasons. This is especially true if the tenant complains about unhealthy conditions in the apartment and reports issues to the local health department or housing authority.
Landlords cannot evict a renter just because they are mad about their actions. If a tenant receives an eviction notice for this reason, they may have a solid case to file a lawsuit.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. If tenants believe the eviction was discriminatory, they may want to speak to a lawyer and file a suit in small claims court.
Eviction for Withholding Rent for Health or Safety Reasons
This is a less common reason, but a renter may have legal grounds to sue their landlord if they are evicted because they are withholding rent until a safety or health issue at the property is resolved. This might include a bug infestation or a leak that caused mold.
How to File Against a Landlord For Wrongful Eviction
There are a few options if you wish to file against your landlord.
- You can file entirely on your own. Although this is the most budget-friendly option, it is also labor-intensive. Filing requires extensive research and management, which can be time-consuming if you're unfamiliar with the process.
- You can ask for help from an attorney or lawyer. On the other extreme, this requires significantly less effort on your end. But it can get costly. Lawyers often bill by the hour, and your spending will increase quickly.
A middle ground would be filing a small claims suit using an online filing service like Dispute. Although there is a small fee, Dispute is significantly cheaper than a lawyer. These services have software that makes the process much simpler. And if you have questions, there is a customer support team to contact with questions.
What to Expect in Small Claims Court
In small claims court, you will need strong evidence that the other party owes you a debt. Provide copies of the initial agreement or contract, receipts, text messages, emails or other documents referring to the case.
Usually, a small claims court hearing will take place 30 to 75 days after you file a lawsuit. If the other party doesn't respond, you may automatically have the court rule in your favor and enforce the debt.
How Much it Costs
So how much will you spend by suing in small claims court?
- Court Filing Fees: The amount you will pay to file a small claims lawsuit depends on how much you are suing for and where you are suing. You can expect to pay between $30 to $400 to file the lawsuit. If you cannot afford to pay court fees, you can ask the court to waive the fees.
- Serving Costs: Once the lawsuit is filed, you must notify the other party that you have sued them. This is called "serving." Serving Costs can range from $20-100 depending on the local area.
The Benefits of Small Claims Court
- Court filing fees are cheaper in small claims than in other courts.
- The process is faster in small claims than in other courts, as your hearing will usually be scheduled 30-70 days after you file the lawsuit.
- Lawyers are generally not allowed in small claims, which helps keep the costs of suing low.
How to File a Small Claims Lawsuit
- Prepare and File the Court Paperwork - If you end up in 30-40% of cases where the demand letter doesn't work, you can prepare and file the court paperwork for small claims court next. The upside is that you can typically do this yourself and don't need to send much evidence with your filing. You just need to know the name of the party you're suing, the amount you're suing for, and answer some basic yes/no questions.
Again, you can do this yourself, or use Dispute's Small Claims Filing platform, which includes online paperwork prep, live online notarization, and online filing.
- Serve the Defendant - After the court accepts your paperwork, you have to serve your court paperwork to the defendant to notify them they're being sued officially. This is also another point where people will often realize they should settle before going to court. This is the one step you aren't allowed to do yourself. To avoid bias, the court requires you to get someone else to serve your case and file a proof of service in court (a simple statement that they swear they served the defendant). The free way to do this is to get a friend or family member who isn't part of the case to help you. The hassle-free professional way to serve court papers is to hire a process server and let them take care of it.
Taking the First Step in Your Lawsuit
If all of this work seems complicated or daunting, rest assured that it's easier than it initially seems. 2.7 million small claims court cases are filed annually in the US, which is only growing as more people realize how easy it is to enforce their legal rights in court.