That was novel as I typically represent landlords in those cases, but the tenant in my office had a story that serves as a great cautionary tale. In short, the tenant was upset because he couldn’t get to his possessions because the landlord had locked him out of the apartment.
What was worth paying attention to is that the tenant would have had a great action against the landlord had he decided to pursue it. Regardless of how far the tenant is behind on rent, how badly the landlord wants to evict him or anything else, self help is not an approved way to evict people.
When I say self help, I mean changing locks, removing doors, cutting off water or anything else designed to run a tenant out of a property. I’ve handled enough eviction cases at this point to know that those actions can land a landlord in hot water in at least a couple of ways.
First of all, there is Arkansas Code Annotated §18-16-306 to consider. That holds that landlord who uses self help to evict a tenant can be held liable to damages equal to two times the amount of money wrongfully withheld or value of any property damaged, court costs and a reasonable attorney’s fee.
Second, properly evicting a tenant typically requires assistance from a court. If a judge learns that self help has been used as a tactic to evict a tenant, that will come back to haunt the landlord in court.
Ideally, a landlord can use the civil evictions process to remove a tenant in a month or less. Sometimes it takes longer to evict a tenant, but those cases are pretty rare.
However, landlords who use self help tactics to remove tenants before or an eviction process was started in the courts or after it was initiated run the risk of having to deal with an unwanted tenant for quite some time.
It is not uncommon for tenants to counterclaim under A.C.A. §18-16-306 and that means that a routine eviction action could take a lot more time than it would have if the landlord had played by the rules. Even if a tenant doesn’t file a counterclaim, there’s always the chance that a sympathetic judge can learn of the self help tactics and allow the tenant more time to move or take other measures to “make things right.”
The lesson here is pretty clear. Using self help tactics can be tempting when it comes to particularly annoying or upsetting tenants, but there is a huge potential that the landlord could wind up with a mess on his or her hands as a result.
This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the June 2, 2015, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.
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