unlawful detainer

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An unlawful detainer, also known as an eviction lawsuit, is a summary proceeding to determine the right to possession of real property. Moreover, the sole issue in an unlawful detainer action is possession of the premises, and no other issue may be tried without the consent of all parties. Generally, in order to pursue an unlawful detainer, the landlord must demonstrate that they complied with procedural requirements, such as properly providing the tenant with a three-days notice to pay rent or quit the premises. 

To successfully bring an unlawful detainer action for nonpayment of rent, a landlord must show that: (1) the tenant is in possession of the premises; (2) that possession is without permission; (3) the tenant is in default for non-payment of rent; and (4) the tenant has been properly served with a written three-day notice; and (5) default continues after the three days notice period expired. 

Nonetheless, unlawful detainer actions may be sustained on grounds beyond nonpayment of rent. For example, a landlord may assert waste by the tenant, which requires showing that the tenant’s actions permanently damaged the market value of the leased property. An unlawful detainer may also be brought on the grounds of illegal use of the property. For example, a landlord may employ an unlawful detainer to repossess a property that the tenant is illegally renting as temporary lodging (e.g. an Airbnb or bed and breakfast). 

A landlord who establishes unlawful detainer is entitled to remedies prescribed by statute (which generally includes possession of the property and any unpaid rent). In some jurisdictions, unlawful detainer is not the only action that a landlord can bring to repossess property. In Missouri, landlords may also concurrently file a "rent and possession action" against a tenant. 

See also: Landlord-Tenant Law and landlord and tenant

[Last updated in October of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]