Self-Help Evictions: What Landlords Need to Know

Most states prohibit self help evictions, instead of requiring landlords to go through a cumbersome and often lengthy eviction process in order to remove tenants from a rental property. The stated purpose for these laws is to protect tenants, who usually need time to find another place to live. This tenant protection, however, often comes at the expense of workable options for landlords who find themselves stuck in an increasingly bad situation.

What is Self Help Eviction?

Self help evictions are typically defined as an eviction in which the landlord takes active steps to remove the tenant from the property without initiating legal action. Self-help evictions include actions that are prohibited by law in most states, such as:

  • Locking the tenant out of the property
  • Removing the tenant’s belongings prior to an official eviction
  • Turning off the utilities
  • Ordering or threatening a tenant to leave
  • Telling others about the tenant’s bad behavior (if false, these stories might lead to a defamation claim; if true, they may still be considered harassment)
  • Removing the doors, windows, or any other part of the leased premises
  • Ignoring recent repair requests
  • Interfering with the tenant’s use of property amenities they paid for, such as by blocking parking spaces.

Taking these steps can put a landlord in a sticky legal position, especially if the landlord has also utterly failed to file an eviction notice or take other steps required to procure a legal eviction.

New Laws Might Benefit Landlords

Although self-help evictions are frowned upon in most states, some are considering laws that would make limited self-help steps available to landlords. One such example is Pennsylvania, in which State Representative Scott Petri has introduced a bill allowing landlords to remove a tenant’s personal property from a rental unit if the unit appears to have been abandoned.
Specifically, the landlord would be allowed to remove the tenant’s personal property in any of the following situations:

  • The execution of an order of possession in favor of the landlord, or
  • When the tenant has physically vacated the unit, removed “substantially all” of his or her personal property, and provided a forwarding address or written notice of vacating to the landlord.

In either of these situations, the tenant would have 10 days to make arrangements with the landlord to remove any remaining personal property. If the tenant does not make these arrangements, the landlord may dispose of any remaining personal property. If the landlord regains control of the rental property through an order of eviction, he or she does not have to provide notice to the tenant about the 10-day window.
While the Pennsylvania bill does not give landlords total leeway for “self-help” eviction, it does make it easier for landlords to clear abandoned personal property out of a rental unit, which can speed turnaround times for rentals. Should the bill pass, landlords in Pennsylvania may find it easier to move on after a problem tenant leaves the premises.
Note: This article is provided for informational purposes only. No information provided in this article should be considered legal advice. If you have legal questions, please consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your area.