What is a Retaliatory Eviction

A retaliatory eviction occurs when a landlord evicts a renter or refuses to renew a lease in response to a complaint or action within a tenant’s legal rights.

BREAKING DOWN Retaliatory Eviction

Retaliatory evictions are generally illegal since they take place following a tenant’s exercise of one or more legal rights. State laws govern situations in which landlords can legally evict their tenants, typically for failure to pay rent or for some other action that breaches a rental contract or lease agreement. In a retaliatory eviction, landlords take action when tenants act within their rights, for example, when the tenant complains about potential health or building code violations, withholds rent as leverage for necessary repairs the landlord refuses to make, or similar circumstances.

Tenants who experience a retaliatory conviction can run into difficulty proving their case in court, however. In some cases, landlords will present the court with an entirely different rationale for an eviction, forcing the tenant to lay out the connection between their activities and the landlord’s decision. Retaliatory evictions that take place within a reasonably short time after the precipitating event are generally easier to prove in court than evictions that take place long after the tenant upset the landlord.

Example of Retaliatory Eviction

Suppose a tenant renting an apartment in a highly attractive area lodges a complaint about a pest infestation or a persistent mold issue. The landlord may believe it will be easier and cheaper to evict the tenant and put the apartment up for rent in the hope of finding somebody who will live with the issue or solve it on their own. If the tenant can prove the eviction stemmed from their complaint, a court would likely consider the eviction retaliatory, placing the landlord in legal jeopardy.

Legal Evictions and Other Types of Retaliation

Both landlords and tenants should be aware of their legal rights under state and local law as well as rights enumerated in their rental or lease agreement. Most states allow landlords to evict disruptive tenants when they engage in illegal activities, such as selling drugs out of an apartment, or when they disturb neighbors, for example with loud parties, arguments, or fights. States generally consider other retaliatory activities undertaken in an attempt to get tenants to break their lease illegally. For example, landlords usually cannot legally harass tenants, cause a deterioration in their living conditions or raise rents in an attempt to make tenants uncomfortable enough to break the lease themselves. When tenants refuse to obey an eviction notice, courts often must navigate a gray area to figure out whether the landlord’s activities fall under the retaliatory category or whether the eviction lies within the landlord’s legal rights.