Although some states still have restrictions on evictions due to COVID-19, many of them have now begun the process of hearing eviction cases again. As a landlord or property manager, you likely know your local eviction laws fairly well. However, there’s been a growing movement over the past couple of years to amend the normal eviction process to provide greater protections to renters.
The trend overall has been for greater leniency on tenants while increasing restrictions on rental housing professionals, so it’s important to make sure you stay up to date on the most recent eviction laws in your area. You most likely know the reasons you can legally file for eviction – but are you aware of some of the reasons you can’t? Here’s a look at four reasons that could get you into legal trouble.
Even if you’ haven’t been a rental housing professional very long, you’re likely familiar with the Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination for seven protected classes, including race or color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. Based on the stipulations of the Fair Housing Act, this also means you cannot evict a tenant based on discriminatory factors related to their protected class.
It’s important to understand any biases you may have, and make sure that your eviction decision isn’t based on your personal feelings. If you or one of your staff evicts a tenant due to discriminatory reasons, you’re likely to receive a minimum of a fine from the Department of Housing and Urban Development – worse, they may even put you out of business.
It’s also important to keep in mind that some states have additional protected classes. California, for example, offers legal protection for tenants based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, medical condition, ancestry, source of income, age, and genetic information – in addition to the federally protected classes. Make sure that you know about any state-mandated protected classes in addition to the ones outlined in the Fair Housing Act.
Not only is evicting someone to get back at them unprofessional, but it’s also flat out illegal. Although some rental situations can become frustrating, that shouldn’t be the reason for evicting a tenant, even if they make frequent complaints, contacts the health department, or reports you to a housing authority.
If you do have an especially difficult tenant, the best course of action is to take a moment to step back and look at the situation objectively. Unless you have a legal reason to evict them, like breaking the lease, you should try to resolve any issues that come up calmly and professionally. Don’t threaten eviction or take other retaliatory steps. If you suspect you will have to evict them for any reason in the future, keep a list of justifiable (and legal) reasons. If eviction does become necessary, this will provide proof the eviction wasn’t due to retaliation.
Similar to Fair Housing Laws, some states and cities have laws that classify some residents as protected tenants. Some examples of this are age (60-65 years and older), disability, and chronic illness. The length of time the tenant has been a resident at the property can be a qualifying factor, for example, if the tenant is 65 and has lived at the residence for 10 years. It’s often difficult to evict a protected tenant, even with legitimate reasons like non-payment of rent, so it’s important to discuss your rights with legal counsel if you’re considering it.
The Resident is Withholding Rent Until a Safety or Health Issue is Resolved
Although it’s rare, tenants can legally withhold rent if there is a serious safety or health issue on the property that hasn’t been resolved. This can vary based on your area, but a common reason is unsanitary conditions due to owner negligence, like a broken toilet, insect infestations, or a lack of power. If the tenant’s health or safety is at risk, they are legally allowed to withhold rent.
Protect Yourself by Knowing Your State’s Laws
Eviction is a time-consuming and potentially stressful process – so it’s important to make sure that it’s the right course of action and within your legal rights. Although screening your tenants will greatly reduce the chances you’ll have to evict them, there’s no 100% guarantee that problems won’t arise in the future. When considering eviction, make sure to base on non-discriminatory factors, like breaking the terms of the lease or non-payment of rent. Review federal, state, and city eviction laws to make sure you’re taking all the proper steps. If your property is located in an area with more complicated eviction laws, you may also want to discuss your options with legal counsel to ensure you’re following all laws accordingly.
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