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Avoiding Illegal Eviction Claims: Don’t Lock Out a Tenant

Illegal Eviction Don't Lock Out a TenantAs a landlord, you have to be very careful to avoid an illegal eviction. You can’t just lock out a tenant or force them to leave on your own, no matter how outrageous or destructive they are.

That’s not to say you’re helpless if you have a problem tenant. As long as you use the proper procedures, you can safely assert your rights as the property owner and remove a tenant who’s chronically late on their rent or who’s causing trouble. The easiest and safest way to do this is to hire an attorney who specializes in representing Landords in eviction cases. Contact Rogers & Rogers, Esq. today to learn more.

Don’t Lock Out a Tenant

Regardless of how problematic a tenant is, you can’t just change the locks on your property while they are out. Even if the tenant’s behavior is inexcusable, lock-outs leave you open to accusations of illegal eviction. The tenant can then potentially sue you for assault, battery, slander, libel, trespassing, emotional distress, and wrongful eviction.

Don’t Cut Off the Utilities

If you have pay the property’s utilities, you might think turning off the utilities is a reasonable way to force the tenant out. Again, it’s not that easy; you can get in just as much trouble for “freezing them out” as for locking them out. Other things can’t legally do include the following:

  • removing the tenant’s items from the property,
  • physically removing the person(s) themselves from the property, or
  • harassing them in any way.

Understanding the Eviction Process

State rules for landlords and property managers will determine how you can evict tenants. Before you evict someone, you have to serve them with a Notice of Termination. Standard Termination for Cause notices include:

  • Pay Rent or Quit: Where the tenant has to pay the full rent due or clear out (usually within in 3-5 days).
  • Cure or Quit: A notice to rectify a violation of the rental agreement within a certain amount of time or face eviction.
  • Notice of Termination (Nuisance): Tells tenants to vacate with no option of fixing what went wrong. These are usually responses to gross violations of the rental agreement, repeated tardiness with rent, serious damage to the premises, or illegal activity.

If the premises is under 6 units and if no rent stabilization rent control or other restrictions apply, you can also send a renter a Notice of Termination Without Cause if they tenant is renting month-to-month, even when they’ve done nothing wrong.

All Notices should be prepared by an attorney who knows what to include in the Notice and should be served by a licensed Process Server who knows the manner in which papers must be serviced

What to Do If a Tenant Refuses to Leave

Some tenants will fight the eviction process, stretching it out as long as possible. This may involve accusations of poor maintenance, alleged failure to receive the Notice for Termination, mistakes in the notice, etc. If the tenant won’t leave voluntarily, you’ll have to take them to court and have them legally evicted.  In NYC you also have to be prepared for the Court itself to offer adjournments to tenant and offers of free legal services for the TENANT thanks to Mayor DiBlasio.

If you win the eviction case, you still can’t handle the eviction yourself. An application to the City Marshal must be made which is processed by the Warrant department of the Civil Court. That process alone can take two months in the Bronx!

Penalties for Illegal Eviction

If you’re convicted of illegal eviction, a tenant can sue you for any expenses the eviction cost them, on top of all the other things (assault, trespassing, etc.) mentioned earlier. In some states, they can even stay on the premises until you legally have them evicted.

To Avoid Illegal Eviction Claims, Speak to an Experienced Attorney

At Rogers & Rogers, Esq., we’ve handled tens of thousands of eviction cases for landlords in the Bronx and Mt. Vernon. Call us today for a free consultation. If you expect trouble with an eviction, let us handle the case from the start. We’ll help you get the job done properly.