retaliatory eviction

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A retaliatory eviction is an eviction of a tenant by a landlord that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the tenant's exercise of a legal right, such as complaining in good faith to the health department, using a tenant remedy such as rent withholding, or organizing tenants in response to rental conditions.

Not all states recognize retaliation as a defense to an eviction, and of those that do, each state defines retaliation, and how to prove it, differently. For example, New York prohibits landlords from commencing retaliatory eviction proceedings. New York Real Property Law §233-b provides that “no landlord. . . shall serve a notice to quit upon any tenant or commence any action to recover real property or summary proceeding to recover possession of real property in retaliation for: [a] good faith complaint, by or in behalf of the tenant, to the landlord, the landlord's agent or a governmental authority of the landlord's alleged violation of any health or safety law, regulation, code, or ordinance, the warranty of habitability. . . or actions taken in good faith, by or in behalf of the tenant, to secure or enforce any rights under the lease or rental agreement, the warranty of habitability. . . the duty to repair. . .  or under any other law of the state of New York. . . or of the United States. . . or [t]he tenant's participation in the activities of a tenant's organization.” Some states, go even further and presume that the landlord’s eviction is retaliatory if it occurs a certain amount of time after the legally protected act. For example, California presumes that adverse action by a landlord is retaliatory if it occurs within 180 days after the tenant complains to a government authority, requests an inspection, or sues the landlord. Other states, such as Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, provide no statutory defense for a retaliatory eviction, although their common laws may, to varying degrees, protect tenants evicted because of alleged retaliation.

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]