Can I Be Evicted for Suing My Landlord?
Unfortunately, many tenants hesitate to exercise their rights by speaking up about problems, utilizing legal options like the “repair and deduct remedy” for unsafe property conditions, or sue their landlord for fear of retaliation.
California law is very clear in forbidding landlords from engaging in retaliatory behavior like eviction and raising the rent to punish tenants for exercising their legal rights.
If your landlord has retaliated against you for suing, making a complaint, or doing anything else within your rights, a Los Angeles landlord tenant attorney can help you understand your legal options.
Types of Illegal Landlord Retaliation
California law makes it illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant who exercises a legal right, including:
- Complaining to the landlord about illegal or dangerous living conditions
- Complaining to a government agency such as a health inspector about illegal or unsafe living conditions
- Assembling and presenting views collectively, such as by forming a tenant union
- Exercising a legal remedy such as withholding rent for an uninhabitable property or deducting repairs from the monthly rent
- Suing the landlord
California law covers many forms of illegal retaliatory acts that include terminating a month-to-month tenancy, refusing to renew a lease, filing an eviction lawsuit, increasing rent, and decreasing services.
One of the most serious retaliatory actions a landlord can take is filing an eviction lawsuit against a tenant. Under California law, an eviction is considered retaliatory if it is intended to punish the tenant for exercising a legal right. As a tenant, you have complete defense against the eviction if it occurs within 180 days of:
- Giving notice to the landlord that you are using the repair and deduct remedy
- Complaining about the habitability of the property to the landlord
- Making a good faith complaint to a housing agency, if the landlord was given notice
- A housing agency making an inspection or issuing a citation that resulted from a complaint you made
- Taking legal action regarding the living conditions of the property
- Winning a habitability claim against the landlord
This 180-day period for retaliatory eviction begins as soon as you take any of these actions, but you can only use this defense once every 12 months. You can only use the retaliation defense against eviction if you are current on the rent.
Once you meet this burden for a retaliatory eviction, the burden moves to the landlord to prove that the eviction was not retaliatory. A landlord still has the right to evict for a “good faith” reason during this 180-day period, but they must show it is not done in retaliation for your actions.
Despite this, the defense of retaliatory eviction is sometimes viewed unfavorably by juries and judges unless the tenant is current on rent and a complaint about the property conditions was made before the eviction began. It’s a good idea to maintain a record of complaints and dated photos of the property defects to show the claim is not an attempt to avoid the ramifications of a breach of the lease.
It’s also important to note that it’s possible to win a case of retaliatory eviction against a landlord even if you are behind on rent if you can prove retaliatory eviction by other means. The law presumes retaliation occurred when the above circumstances happen together; these rules do not mean a landlord was not retaliating otherwise.
If the judge or jury decides the eviction was retaliatory, the landlord faces attorney’s fees and court costs and cannot alter the rental agreement for 180 days. California law punishes retaliatory eviction with the damages sustained by the tenant; punitive damages of $100 to $1,000 for each retaliatory act in which the landlord acted with fraud, malice, or oppression; and reasonable attorney’s fees for the tenant.
Responding to Landlord Retaliation
If you are facing retaliatory actions from your landlord after using your legal rights, you have options. The course you choose may depend on what your landlord has done against you.
If you are facing retaliatory lease termination or eviction, you may choose to stay and fight it. You can defend yourself against eviction by proving the real reason for the eviction lawsuit is retaliation, which is illegal.
If your landlord has hit you with retaliatory rent hikes, service reductions, or other negative treatment, you may want to file a lawsuit in small claims court. In your suit, you can ask the judge to stop the rent hike, order services be reinstated, or otherwise compensate you for your loss.
Whatever option you choose, it’s best to take action as soon as possible. This helps your case and reduces your losses if you do not win your case. By forcing an eviction lawsuit, for example, you will still have this on your record for a prospective landlord to see later, even if you win.
Proving Landlord Retaliation
Many states give tenants an edge when it comes to proving landlord retaliation and California is one of them. California landlord retaliation law protects tenants from vengeful landlord actions. Under California law, retaliation is assumed if a landlord engages in the above negative actions within 180 days from the date the tenant exercised his or her right. This means it will be up to the landlord to prove to the judge that the action was NOT retaliatory and the burden is not yours to prove that it was.
Contact a Los Angeles Eviction Defense Attorney
If you are facing eviction or other retaliatory actions by your landlord after exercising your legal rights, an experienced landlord tenant attorney can help you protect your rights and defend yourself against eviction and potentially pursue legal action against your landlord. Contact Soliman Law Group today for a free consultation with an eviction defense lawyer in Los Angeles to discuss your case.