As a rental housing professional, you probably know the ins and outs of your property’s local eviction laws. Recently, in states, counties, and cities across the US there has been a movement to amend the eviction process in order to protect renters with minimal regard for impacts it may have on rental property owners.
Legislators and activist groups pushing for more leniency and restrictions related to the eviction process are increasingly likely to pass laws, or ordinances, that will require changes to the way you manage properties. Among the best ways to protect your investments and clients is to get a refresher on some of the most common complaints that can easily result in ending up on the wrong side of the decision in a courtroom.
From notice requirements and eviction fees – you know what to do in case a resident infringes on their lease. But, do you know when you can’t file for eviction? These are four ways your eviction could be illegal.
1. The Eviction is Discriminatory
First and foremost, you cannot evict a resident based on discriminatory factors. Regardless of your personal thoughts on religion or familial status, it’s vital that you consciously fight those biases when considering evicting your resident. Legally speaking, the Federal Fair Housing Act currently protects seven classes of people. These seven classes include: race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. If you or one of your staff evicts a resident on discriminatory grounds, you can expect the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to put you out of business – or at least, make a significant dent in your check book and give your property a bad reputation.
Keep in mind that your state or city might have additional protected classes. For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act offers (in addition to federal protected classes) legal protection based on: sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, marital status, medical condition, ancestry, source of income, age, and genetic information.
2. The Eviction is Retaliatory
Evicting a renter to get back at them for something is not only unprofessional, but highly illegal. While evictions can get a little hot-headed and frustrating, that should not be the reason you begin to consider evicting a resident. You cannot evict a renter solely for things like complaining, contacting the health department, joining or starting a renter’s union, or reporting you to the housing authority.
If you’re dealing with a particularly difficult residency, take a step back and approach this objectively. Unless there are legitimate grounds for an eviction (like they broke the lease), try to remain calm and professional, and refrain from making any threats of eviction or other retaliatory moves. Maintaining a record of justifiable reasons for terminating their lease, and evicting if necessary, can provide you with added protections to prove the decision is not retaliatory.
3. The Resident is Protected
Some states or cities have laws in place that allow certain residents to be classified as protected tenants. For example, age (60 – 65 years older), disability, and chronic illness can qualify a renter for protected status. How long the resident has resided in the property (typically 10 years or more) can also play a part in if a resident qualifies.
4. The Resident is Withholding Rent Until a Safety/Health Issue is Fixed
While this is a rare circumstance, residents can legally withhold the rent if there is a significant safety or health issue on the property that has not been addressed by the property owner. You’ll need to check with your local laws – however, common safety or health issues that would qualify for this would be unsanitary conditions caused by negligence (like a broken and flooding toilet, dangerous insect infestation, or lack of power). If the health and safety of the resident is being threatened due to negligence, the nonpayment of rent is legal.
When it comes to evictions, make sure to stick to non-discriminatory, objective factors like the non-payment of rent or a break of the lease agreement. Depending on your local and state-wide laws, you might also need to be mindful of “just cause” eviction clauses. These laws define exact reasons in which you’d be able to evict a resident – and could enforce steep fines if an eviction does not have “just cause”.