Tip #45

Never Perform a Self-Help Eviction, Lock Out a Tenant, or Shut Off Utilities

Written on October 3, 2014 by , updated on December 3, 2019

Self-Help EvictionsThere will be times in your life as a landlord that you will be tempted to strong-arm a tenant into vacating.

Whether you resort to intimidation, or changing the locks and then physically moving their belongings to the curb, a self-help eviction is illegal in almost every state.

Not only is it outlawed, but it will likely cost you more stress and legal fees than if you had gone through the proper channels.

It’s Just Not Fair

teasingWhen a tenant doesn’t pay rent or is actively causing damage to the property, any average landlord would rally to protect his/her income and investment.

You’re not alone!

There is an inner rage that boils over when a tenant doesn’t pay rent and refuses to leave.

They’ve broken the contract, and personally insulted you.

Worst, there are consequences beyond your damaged pride.

Without your monthly rental income, many landlords can’t pay the mortgage. If the tenant is physically damaging property, there will be repairs to deal with for days, weeks, or months after the tenant leaves.

Thoughts run through your mind:

  • How could they?
  • Don’t they have a sense of honor and morality?
  • I feel taken advantage of.
  • I’m so mad!
  • I want them out, NOW!

These are all legitimate feelings. Human nature desires to hurt those who hurt you. But revenge is never peaceful nor without consequence.

Revenge is never peaceful nor without consequence.

Common “Self-Help” Methods

The two most common ways of performing a self-help eviction are:

  • Locking out a tenant
    Sneaking over to the property while the tenant is at work, on vacation, or out to dinner, and changing all the locks so they cannot access the property.
  • Shutting off the essential utilities
    Calling the electric, water, gas, or oil companies and canceling service to the property.

Most landlords realize that changing the locks and canceling utilities will get them into hot water, however some landlords still think that other methods of a self-help eviction are somehow acceptable.

Examples of not-so-obvious, but still illegal, self-help evictions:

  • Moving your tenant’s belongings out of the unit, or placing them in the trash,
  • Posting a very official-looking threat letter to the tenant’s door,
  • Threatening the tenant with violence or subtle suggestions to violence,
  • Spreading rumors about the tenant,
  • Refusing to make repairs that interview with habitability or decrease services to appliances.
  • Preventing your tenant to have access to amenities, such as bathrooms, parking, sheds, etc.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” – C.S. Lewis

What if the Landlord pays the Utilities?

Many landlords opt to manage the utilities for the tenant. Having the utilities in your name is a great way to ensure the bills get paid and can prevent liens from being put on the property.

However, if a tenant refuses to pay rent, they will likely refuse to pay for utilities as well.

Even if if the bills are in your name, it’s still illegal to shut off the “essential” utility services to the property while a tenant is living there.

With that said, I don’t think a single judge in this country would convict a landlord for disconnecting the premium cable TV package.

Not having cable TV or internet won’t make the unit inhabitable, but keep in mind, you must maintain the essential utilities like water, electricity and heat.

The Landlord Never Wins

The bottom line is that if you force your tenant to vacate without due process, you’ll likely end up being fined more than it would have cost you to go through a proper eviction.

It doesn’t matter if the tenant has disrespected you or your family, refused to paid rent, laughed in your face, and/or damaged your property.

There is no valid reason to take the law into your own hands.

Going through the local court system and filing an unlawful detainer action is the only way to properly evict a tenant.


Examples of Self-Help Evictions

photo credit: olliruam77, whittaker_colin via cc
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