Landlords can evict tenants for not paying rent, subject to proper procedures and limitations. Landlords cannot generally evict tenants as revenge for using their rights, otherwise known as a “retaliatory eviction.” Additionally, evicting a tenant for certain discriminatory reasons is an improper eviction. This varies heavily by state and locality, so check your local laws!
Using Your Rights or Complaining
Most states protect tenants from eviction in retaliation for their exercise of a legal right. For example, if the landlord is required to provide proper roofing (as most landlords are), the landlord cannot evict the tenant for reporting the problem in most areas. A notable exception is New Orleans, where retaliatory evictions are rarely enforced, allowing tenants to easily be evicted for nearly any reason, including using their rights.
Deducting Repairs or Withholding Rent
Some states let tenants deduct the cost of repairs from the rent, and some let tenants withhold rent altogether until major fixes are made. The tenant may be able to defend against eviction by showing that it was in retaliation for using these rights, where that right is granted to tenants. Some states also allow the tenant to bring a private lawsuit against a landlord for retaliatory eviction. These rules often include very specific forms and procedures that must be followed to use these rights, and tenants that fail to follow those procedures usually can be evicted.
Joining a Tenant Association
Most states protect tenants from eviction in retaliation for their lawful organization or participation in a tenants’ organization or protest. A tenant may be able to defend against eviction by showing that the eviction was in retaliation for joining such a group. Some states also allow the tenant to bring a private lawsuit against a landlord for retaliatory eviction.
Most state laws protect tenants from eviction in retaliation for their opposing, reporting, or encouraging someone to exercise their rights against a landlord’s unlawful discrimination. Federal law protects against housing discrimination against a person’s race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. State and local laws may expand on those categories, potentially protecting tenants from discrimination for immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and even physical appearance. A tenant may be able to defend against eviction by showing that it was retaliatory or based on a discriminatory motive. Some states also allow the tenant to bring a private lawsuit against a landlord for retaliatory discrimination or eviction or report it to authorities who can bring actions against landlords.
Animal or Pet
The lease usually dictates whether a tenant can have a pet. Most states require a landlord to terminate a tenancy by giving the tenant proper advance written notice (for example, 30-day notice to end a month-to-month tenancy) but a landlord may terminate a tenancy with a shorter eviction notice if the tenant has violated any provision of the lease or rental agreement (for example, the tenant has a pet but the lease does not permit pets). If the violation involves something that the tenant can correct, the notice must give the tenant the option to correct the violation. If the tenant corrects the violation of the lease or rental agreement during the notice period, the tenancy continues. If the tenant does not correct the violation, then the landlord can file an unlawful detainer case.
Mental or Physical Disability
There are major exceptions to evictions under the American Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Under the Fair Housing Act, if a tenant is mentally or physically disabled, a landlord cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services necessary for the tenant to use the housing on an equal basis with nondisabled persons. For example, a building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.
Under the Fair Housing Act, it is sometimes illegal to evict a tenant solely on the grounds of hoarding, as hoarding is generally considered a cognizable mental illness. If the tenant has documentation that their hoarding is a mental illness, their hoarding is not itself grounds for lawful eviction. If the hoarding results in other tenants being disturbed (either by smell, infestation, or other related issues), damage to the property, the blocking of emergency exits, interference with sprinkler systems, or otherwise breaches a lease provision, then the landlord must first attempt a reasonable accommodation for the hoarding. Only if no reasonable accommodation is available can the landlord evict the tenant solely for their hoarding.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.