The tenant of a residential or commercial lease has the right to use the leased property as long as certain conditions are met. The biggest condition is the payment of rent, but there will be others, such as maintaining the property.
When the tenant fails to comply with these conditions, the landlord may consider the tenant to be in breach of the lease. One of the landlord’s potential remedies is to evict the tenant.
But sometimes an eviction takes place when there isn’t a legal basis to do so. This can occur when the landlord allows the condition of the property to get so bad that the tenant feels it has no choice but to leave. The law calls this event a constructive eviction and it sometimes occurs when there is an unpleasant residential or commercial landlord-tenant relationship. It might occur in other situations when the landlord wants to replace the existing tenant with a new one who is willing to pay higher rent.
What Exactly Is a Constructive Eviction?
Constructive eviction is a situation where the tenant’s use of the property is so severely hindered by something under the landlord’s control that a reasonable tenant has no choice but to leave. Common examples of constructive eviction include the property having no heat in the winter, no electricity or no running water.
If constructive eviction is present, the tenant is relieved of his or her duty to pay rent and has no further legal obligations under the lease.
Determining if Constructive Eviction Exists
Deciding whether constructive eviction exists is a decision that is highly dependent on the facts of the situation. For example, a commercial property where the air conditioner doesn’t work in the summer might constitute constructive eviction for a healthcare clinic, but probably not for a storage facility for construction equipment.
Also, the problem with the property must be persistent and something the landlord can control. Therefore, an isolated issue with the electricity that’s due to issues with the power utility company will not result in constructive eviction.
Relying on Constructive Eviction as a Tenant
Before a tenant relies on the theory of constructive eviction to end a lease, there are several things it should keep in mind. If the tenant isn’t careful, it may have to deal with a commercial debt collection lawyer and getting sued for breach of contract.
First, there’s always a risk that a court will not recognize constructive eviction. If that happens, the tenant could find itself having to pay the rest of the rent owed under the lease in one lump sum as a result of an acceleration clause in the lease.
Second, leaving the property may not be the most economical thing for the tenant to do. For example, the lost profits that occur during a move to another property could result in a loss that is far greater than the amount the tenant must pay to fix the property itself. Or, the only other available property the tenant could move to has much higher rent.
Therefore, a tenant may want to consider the self-help remedies available under the lease. The lease might contain provisions that allow the tenant to fix the problem itself, then receive an offset on future rent as reimbursement. This may be far more economical than leaving the property.
For More Information
Whether you’re a tenant who believes they are the victim of constructive eviction or a landlord who has a tenant claiming they have been constructively evicted, contact the Thomas Law office to speak with a Virginia, Maryland or DC contract lawyer to discuss your legal options.