If you are a tenant then you will know that things don’t go smoothly 100% of the time and you might find yourself in some sticky situations with your landlord or with aspects of the rental unit. You may have had the experience where the landlord of the property tries to get you out of the property forcefully. A landlord can often try and do this by cutting the power, water or by trying to make the property unit as inhabitable as possible. You may be reading this and asking yourself, ‘is it even legal for a landlord to perform such actions against a tenant?’ Well this is commonly known as constructive eviction and in this article we are going to pull back the curtain on exactly what constructive eviction is so that you have a crystal clear understanding of it. We hope this post can serve as a guide should you ever find yourself in a situation like this.
What Exactly Is Constructive Eviction?
Any actions the landlord takes to try and make the property unit as inhabitable as possible is what is known as constructive eviction. It is not exactly legal for a landlord to do this to try and force their tenant out of their rental unit. Constructive eviction has no formal legal proceedings, rather the landlord will tamper with the property unit so that it is not in the most ideal living condition for the tenant with the hopes that the tenant will get sick and tired of the poor living conditions and leave.
Why Constructive Eviction Is A Bad Practice For Landlords
If you are a landlord and you have a troublesome tenant and you are thinking about cutting off their hot water, electricity, changing the locks on the doors or playing obnoxiously loud music in an attempt to get rid of your not so ideal tenant then we urge you to seriously reconsider these actions. Constructive eviction is illegal and if you take part in constructive eviction then you can land yourself in some pretty hot water legally.
To understand more about constructive eviction we have to take a look at the Rental Housing Amendment Act 35 of 2014 that clearly states that constructive eviction is illegal and if a tenant falls victim to constructive eviction then they can legally terminate their lease/rental agreement and seek damages from the landlord. If the landlord is then found to be guilty, they will have to pay a large fine or even run the risk of a 2 year prison sentence or a fine or both.
Relationship Between The Landlord And The Tenant
When a tenant is put in a situation where their rental unit is starting to become inhabitable, then disputes between the landlord and the tenant can escalate with daily arguments about when their situation is going to get fixed and this can really damage the good relationship that a tenant might have had with their landlord.
Everyone has the right to a home that is in good living condition and when someone’s living condition is compromised then the blame needs to go somewhere and in the situation where someone is renting their home, they usually point their fingers directly at the landlord because it is their responsibility to make sure that their rental unit is in good living condition for their tenants.
A landlord may not actively try to destroy the living conditions of their rental unit but rather refuse to do repairs on the property unit for a number of reasons. The number most common reason why a landlord may refuse to do all the necessary repairs on the home is cost. Home repair and maintenance can be a very expensive thing and often landlords are not so keen on the idea of coming out of pocket to get these repairs and maintenance done.
We have covered some pretty important topics regarding constructive eviction so far in this article and we just want to mention that if this article is helping you and you are getting some good value out of it then we ask you to please share it with a friend that would also get some value out of it. We write these articles to serve you and if you could help us out by giving this article a share then that would be very much appreciated. We want our articles to help as many people as possible.
Now that you have a good understanding of everything that is involved with constructive eviction, we now want to explain what you can do in the situation where you fall victim to it so that you are actively prepared to deal with the situation.
Building A Case For Constructive Eviction
If for any reason your landlord fails to keep your rental unit in a livable condition then you can use the constructive eviction laws to your advantage and then eventually stop paying your rent and leave the home/apartment and terminate your lease/rental agreement.
It’s important to remember when the landlord fails to keep the home in a livable condition, they are violating the warranty of habitability. We have touched on the warranty of habitability in a previous article but for the sake of understanding, we will explain it in this article too. The warranty of habitability is a warranty implied by law in all residential leases that the premises are fit and habitable for human habitation and that the premises will remain fit and habitable throughout the duration of the lease.
Providing a tenant with a home that is in a livable condition is a requirement by law and when a landlord fails to meet these requirements then a tenant has every legal right to leave the rental unit, stop paying their rent and can even sue the landlord for damages in court which could lead to a fine for the landlord and a financial gain for the tenant.
Making Sure Your Case Is Valid
When it comes to constructive eviction, every state has its own set of laws. If you are seeking a case, you want to make sure that your case is valid for the state that you are currently renting in. But generally speaking if you are trying to build a case for constructive eviction, then it would be a valid case in every state when the living condition of the tenant’s home or apartment becomes unlivable as a direct result of the landlord’s negligence to rectify the situation and have all the necessary repairs and maintenance done on the home.
You would have a pretty good case if you have brought up all the problems of the home to the landlord and days and even weeks have gone by where they are unresponsive to your complaints and still have not done anything to rectify and fix the situation. It is very important to know that if you (the tenant) or anyone that has come into the home has caused the actual damage to the property making the home unlivable, then in that specific situation, a case for constructive eviction cannot be built. So it is very important as a tenant to make sure that you are taking the most care for your rental property and if anyone comes into the home such as friends or family members then you want to make sure that they do not destroy the home/apartment, causing it to become unlivable.
Bring The Issues Up With Your Landlord First
For a case of constructive eviction to hold up in a court, you must have made every effort to bring the issues up with the landlord to try and get the situation resolved. Without this you will have a weak case in court and might lose the battle. So, make sure that you actively communicate with your landlord about everything that is wrong in your home to see what they can do about the situation before you pursue legal action.
When you bring the case to the court, what you will find in most situations is that a tenant would have brought up all the issues with the landlord and then the landlord would fail to communicate back and then at the end of the day nothing gets done to rectify the situation. That is when a tenant would have a pretty strong case and could win the constructive eviction case and seek damages from the landlord for the poor living conditions that they had to endure.
To make this communication even more effective in the situation where the matter would need to be brought to court is to send your communication to the landlord via certified mail with a request for a return receipt so that you can prove in court that the landlord did actually receive the letter in the situation where you (the tenant) fail to get any sort of response from the landlord.
Seek The Help of External Parties
It would be in your best interest to seek the help of external parties such as your local building inspector or health department before you make the decision to open a case of constructive eviction against your landlord.
These external parties will be able to give you some feedback and guidance in regards to your living situation and they might be able to help you rectify the situation with your landlord without the need for the matter to go to a court of law
Finally Move Out Of The Rental Unit
Your next step once you have taken all the above steps and done them thoroughly would be to vacate the premises. Now, you never want to leave the home or apartment in an even worse condition than it already is so try and move out and keep the rental unit as clean as possible so that you will not be held liable for any further damages to the property once you have vacated the unit. It is always advised that you take pictures of the rental unit when you leave so that your landlord cannot attack you and blame you for leaving the unit in an even worse condition than it already is.
Now that you know all the most relevant and key aspects of what constructive eviction is and how and when you can build a case for constructive eviction. It is important to know that every tenant will go through a different experience with their landlord in these situations so you need to keep an open mind when dealing with a home that has become inhabitable so that you can rectify the situation in the best way possible.
We always advise to try and communicate with your landlord effectively before you decide to build a case and take the matter to court. But if you do decide to take the matter to court you now have all the relevant knowledge on how to do so.
We hope we covered all of your questions in this article, but if for any reason you still remain unclear on anything then feel free to get in touch with us. With many years of experience we know what it takes to succeed in this industry and we would be more than happy to help you out and answer any and all of your questions or concerns that you might have.
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. We take no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.