What Is a Retaliatory Eviction?

Can You Evict a Tenant Out of Spite?

A sign advertising an apartment for rent hangs from a fire escape in front of an apartment building
If you want to evict a tenant, you have to have proper cause. Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

Disputes between landlords and tenants are not unusual. Sometimes these landlord-tenant conflicts are easily resolved and other times they escalate. In certain cases, a tenant may take an action that is within their legal right, and the landlord may retaliate. When the landlord fights back by filing for an eviction, it is known as a retaliatory eviction.

What Is a Retaliatory Eviction?

A retaliatory eviction occurs when a landlord attempts to evict a tenant after the tenant has taken an action that bothers the landlord in some way.

The tenant may have complained about maintenance issues or even attempted to organize the other tenants in the property. Even though the tenant was within their legal right, the landlord did not like what the tenant did, so the landlord files an eviction in retaliation for the tenant’s behavior. This is a retaliatory eviction.

Reasons a Landlord Files a Retaliatory Eviction:

A retaliatory eviction occurs when a landlord responds to something that is within a tenant’s legal right by filing to evict the tenant. Examples include:

  • A tenant complains too often- The tenant complains that it does not get warm enough in their apartment in the winter. The landlord files to evict the tenant so he or she does not have to deal with fixing the heat.
  • A tenant calls the health department- The tenant complains to the health department about mold in the bathroom. The landlord files for an eviction because he is angry that the tenant called the health department.
  • A tenant calls the building department- The tenant calls the building department to complain about a faulty banister on the stairs. The landlord files for an eviction because he is angry that the tenant called the building department.
  • A tenant withholds rent until an issue is fixed- The landlord is angry that the tenant is withholding rent. The landlord files for an eviction.
  • A tenant has organized the other tenants in the building to protest against an issue, such as a rent increase- The landlord feels like the tenant is an instigator and wants him out. The landlord files for an eviction.
  • A tenant has joined a tenant’s union- The landlord is worried that the tenant may try to use legal loopholes to take advantage of the landlord. The landlord files to evict the tenant.

Reasons a Landlord Can Legally Evict a Tenant

There are many reasons a landlord can legally file for an eviction and retaliation is not one of them. These reasons will vary by state, so check your local laws. Common reasons you can file for an eviction are:

  • Unpaid Rent
  • Other Breaches of the Lease Agreement
  • Tenant is Performing Illegal Activities on the Premises
  • Tenant Has Damaged the Property in a Way that Has Decreased the Property Value
  • Tenant Is Disrupting Other Tenants/Neighbors
  • Tenant Is a Threat to the Health or Safety of Other Tenants in the Building

Is a Retaliatory Eviction Legal?

No. Most states, including Illinois, have laws in place that protect tenants from retaliatory actions by landlords, including evictions. Illinois’s law is called the Retaliatory Eviction Act.

How Does a Court Determine a Retaliatory Eviction?

Retaliatory evictions can be difficult to prove because a landlord will often be able to come up with another reason as to why they are filing for the eviction.

While many states have rules in place which protect tenants from retaliation by their landlords, retaliation is a hard thing to prove.

The tenant has a better chance of proving their claim if the time between their action, calling a health inspector, for example, and the landlord’s action, filing for the eviction, is shorter, such as one to six months. A judge will have a hard time believing that a landlord is acting in retaliation if the landlord filed to evict the tenant one year after the tenant called the health department on the landlord.

The action for which the tenant is claiming retaliation must be legally within his or her rights and it must be directly related to his or her tenancy. This was established in the court case Imperial Colliery Co. vs. Fout. In this West Virginia case, the court ruled that a tenant could not claim that a retaliatory eviction occurred as a result of their participation in a labor strike.

 

Other Acts of Retaliation by a Landlord:

Filing to evict a tenant is not the only way a landlord can retaliate when a tenant performs an action that a landlord does not like. Any form of retaliation by the landlord is illegal. These actions could include:

  • Increasing Rent- If a tenant complains to a building inspector, a landlord could retaliate by increasing the tenant’s rent.
  • Threatening or Harassing the Tenant- A landlord could also retaliate when a tenant calls the town on the landlord by threatening or harassing the tenant to try and prevent them from doing it again.
  • Not Renewing the Tenant’s Lease- In response to a tenant complaint or other act by the tenant, a landlord may retaliate by refusing to renew the tenant’s lease.
  • Making Tenant’s Stay Unpleasant- This form of retaliation revolves around a landlord making the tenant’s living conditions uncomfortable. It could involve restricting access to a previous common washer and dryer, blocking access to a parking spot or refusing to make repairs to the tenant’s unit.