Every once in a while I will get a call from a landlord asking whether it is acceptable to throw their tenant’s belongings out into the street, or asking if they can lock them out, or turn their heat off. These seem to be the most popular of the unlawful questions I get for evictions and, the answer to all of them, is a resounding NO! I have to admit, if I had a tenant who was taking advantage of me, I would consider these things, too. Although, after considering what the outcome would be if I did, I would quickly reconsider. This article will discuss self-help evictions and constructive evictions, and the what might happen if a landlord implements one of them.
Constructive eviction occurs when a landlord’s act or failure to act renders the tenant’s premise uninhabitable so that the tenant has no choice but to vacate. This most often occurs when a landlord fails to control the actions of other tenants, fails to supply adequate heat, or turns off utilities that he/she is required to provide. Public policy bars a landlord from utilizing these methods for eviction. Same is true if the tenant singed a lease agreement that states that no act or failure to act by the landlord shall be construed as a constructive eviction. These types of provisions are void and never enforceable.
Self-help evictions occur when a landlord does something to prevent tenant’s access to the premise. This includes the physical removal of tenant’s property or the so called “lockout.” If a landlord does this to a tenant, the tenant can seek an injunction or restraining order against the landlord.
Constructive and self-help evictions are clearly agains public policy in Massachusetts and the court will access actual damages or three times the rent, plus a reasonable attorney fee for these types of evictions. In addition, actual damages can include the costs of meals and alternative shelter. This means that the penalty for implementing either of the two is high. A landlord should follow the proper eviction procedure to avoid having to pay a tenant for violating the law.