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What is constructive eviction?

Constructive eviction is the legal term for when a tenant is forced to leave because of a condition on the property that a landlord caused or did not fix. A common example of the latter includes failing to fix a heater during the winter time. However, there are numerous potential causes of a constructive eviction, including:

  • Not fixing serious plumbing or electrical problems.
  • Not fixing broken locks, doors, or windows that pose a security or health risk.
  • Failing to correct dangerous or hazardous conditions, such as mold or pests.
  • Harassment.

Smaller problems, like damaged paint, worn-out carpet, or a leaky faucet, are not significant enough. However, if there is only one bathroom and it is inoperable for an unreasonable period of time and there is no alternative to use until repairs are made, then that may be a different story. In short, it needs to be a severe issue that leads to substandard, dangerous, or hazardous conditions. Tenants who believe they are being forced out may want to ask a lawyer before moving because getting it wrong could lead to legal consequences.

What are the consequences of a constructive eviction?

After a tenant vacates because of a constructive eviction, they may file a lawsuit against their landlord to recoup the costs of relocating. In addition to relocation costs, a tenant may ask the court for money as a penalty and the emotional distress of being forced to relocate. These cases can be costly for landlords as housing is a fundamental need and some state and local laws allow for large monetary awards to tenants that are forced out.

For tenants, claiming a constructive eviction when it is not warranted can lead to being sued for unpaid rent until your unit can be rented to someone else, or your current lease term ends. After all, tenants are responsible for their end of the lease. Additionally, if the signed Lease Agreement allows for attorney fees and costs to be paid by the person who loses a lawsuit related to the agreement, a tenant may be on the hook for their landlord's attorneys fees and costs.

What is a wrongful eviction?

A wrongful eviction, often called an illegal eviction, occurs when a landlord kicks a tenant out without using the legal eviction process. State and local laws have very specific requirements that must be followed in an eviction. Taking actions like forcibly removing a tenant, changing locks, shutting off utilities, or intentionally creating unsafe conditions, may lead to severe legal consequences. Commonly called self-help evictions, these types of actions are illegal. If a tenant suffers an injury because of a landlord's self-help eviction, those severe legal consequences could be even worse.

Are constructive and wrongful evictions avoidable?

In contrast to a regular eviction, a constructive or wrongful eviction usually involves no legal proceedings. Landlords can avoid these claims by making sure that basic amenities are always in good repair and documenting all repairs and maintenance. Also, using alternatives to eviction can help resolve issues with and between tenants to avoid eviction entirely.

Tenants may be able to avoid being forced out by fixing issues themselves, then deducting the costs of doing so from their rent. Certain issues may require contacting law enforcement, or the local rental board or authority. It may help to get guidance from a tenant lawyer.

If you are facing constructive eviction, ask a lawyer for advice on how to protect your rights.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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