Tip #45

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

Written on October 3, 2014 by , updated on April 15, 2015

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.

Related: 

Examples of Self-Help Evictions

photo credit: olliruam77, whittaker_colin via cc
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137 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mary Snow

    My tenant and I had a disagreement. She locked me out of my property. She also damaged my oven, we got into it while has was being inspected, pest where visual also, oven needs repairing but, I don’t want a conflict before we go to court. Do I need to fix the repairs or wait until after court.

    • sharon mcgowen

      good luck my prob is sold rental ex renter gone moved out three weeks ago showsn up wont leave but I rented place to someone till sell goes thru can new renter stay tho old renter squatting

  • Shaenele Parrish

    If there was a verbal agreement for parking our trailer on his property does he have legal right to take our powercord to supply our power

  • Heather

    Can my cousin trun my power off and water off in 100 degrees weather in summer time if I have paid rent for parking my camper..I also have 2 two dogs with me

  • Serina Dejarneatt

    Noah landlords that cut off utilities that are essential to make it a inhabititle, but I did just read it you can turn off cable or Internet so are they going to call the Direct TV company in turn the box off because it was a part of the agreement and she doesn’t pay utilities but I did use read you can turn off cable for clarinet so but they going to call the TV complain turn the box off because it wasn’t part of the agreement “at will”, no lease and she doesn’t pay utilities tv, cable, or internet and I’m disabled waiting on disability with no income for over 2 years. She won’t even clean her crap out of the freaking bathroom or tub. She uses everything of mine that eats our food. So who agrees with Matt so I can turn off the cable box r

  • Fernando carrillo

    month to month tennants no lease. (wife husband and child ) refuse to pay their half for electricity. They washing using our washer and dryer every 2 days for long periods of time. Had to ask them to go to laundry mat. they constantly leave the ac on from 330pm to 430am if i turn it off at night they turn it back on. They live in a room in my home i have no other tennants just them. I believe this is considered to be a single lodger is that correct ? They dont clean anything even though they agreed verbally to do so. At 430 am they play music loudly disturbing the peace of our sleeping children. Asked them on several occasions to stop. Our personal cups forks and a bowl or two have came up missing.
    Very problematic. How do i evict them ?

  • Shelly Welch

    Who does one call to keep the peace b/t landlord/plaintiff & tenant/defendant When local city authorities claim they do NOT enforce Civil legality nor do county authorities unless a judgement has been ruled?
    This is the 2nd time landlord has turned power off. We have final ruling in Forced Entry and Unlawful Detainer case tomorrow. Still, who is to keep the peace when Landlord is resorting to malicious behaviour towards tenant b/ c Landlord knows it’s pointless to contact local police as it is a “CIVIL legality”

  • Shannon

    My brother and my son and I are living in my parents house, who passed away last year and we are going to court over the property. We have offered her money to help with bills, but she said her lawyer said not to accept any money from us. She shut the central air off in the house and we are dying from the heat. She has a window unit in her room she keeps on 24/7 while we sweat. Is it legal what she’s doing to us.

  • Ronnie

    My name is Ronnie and I have cancer. I have black mold in my apartment that my landlord refuses to take care of. I’ve contacted the Board of Health and I was told that there is nothing they could do for me. He has been reported by previous tenants for more than 7 years about the conditions of his Apartments but totally refuses to do anything about it. He is a legitimate slumlord. Is there anything I can do or anyone I can talk to and have this slumlord handled for his atrocities against his tenants. Any help would greatly be appreciated buy me and every other tenant who is dealing with a slumlord like we are. Thank you and have a blessed day

  • Angela

    I have a commercial rental since July he has not payed rental he is giving me all sorts of run around, talking from one of his workers he is planning to leave the first of November. Apparently with all the money he owes me he has put a down payment on a house in Texas . Can I lock him out?

  • Tristen

    Is it legal for a landlord to shut off power to an occupied unit in North Carolina?

  • Neil

    I bought a house in NJ at a Sheriff’s sale ( foreclosure ). The original homeowners are still living there. We have an agreement through the court that they would leave 9/30 or pay $1,000 to stay through 10/31. They paid the money. The water bill is in my LLC name and will be turned off if not paid by 10/12. It was due to be turned off 9/26 but I paid $ 100 to extend due date. They know it is due and have said they will pay it . If they do not pay it am I legally responsible to pay it?

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