Tenants only win eviction cases about 5% of the time, and the vast majority result in a victory for the landlord. However, it’s difficult to determine an exact number because many unlawful detainer cases are settled privately outside of court. If a landlord is willing to bring the case before a judge, it usually means they have substantial evidence to evict a tenant. Most eviction cases are over unpaid rent, which is fairly easy to prove and the reason that judgments favor the landlord more often than not. However, some situations are less cut and dry, giving tenants a chance.
If the landlord loses the eviction case, the tenant can stay on the property. Sometimes, the judge may even order the landlord to pay the tenant’s legal fees and other associated costs. However, the tenant will still have to abide by the rules stated in the lease, including continuing to pay rent, and if they don’t comply, the landlord can take them to court again.
- No Legal Grounds to Evict the Tenant
- Failure to Follow Eviction Guidelines
- Unwillingness to Settle Out of Court
- Accepting Partial Payments
- Failure to Maintain a Habitable Environment
1. No Legal Grounds to Evict the Tenant
One of the easiest ways for a tenant to win an unlawful detainer case is to prove that the lease terms were not violated. An example would be if the landlord is trying to evict you for decorating the apartment a certain way. As long as you haven’t permanently damaged the unit, landlords have no say over how you decorate, which can be grounds to dismiss the lawsuit.
2. Failure to Follow Eviction Guidelines
Another way to win an eviction case is to prove your landlord didn't follow the proper procedure. Most states have strict guidelines for evicting tenants, and if you can prove that these rules were not followed, it could be grounds for dismissal. For example, if the state requires the landlord to give you 60 days’ notice to pay back rent or leave and they only gave you 30 days, you could win the case on a technicality.
3. Unwillingness to Settle Out of Court
Judges prefer that people don’t clog up the legal system with frivolous cases and encourage parties to settle matters on their own outside of the courtroom. So, if you show that you attempted to resolve the issue and the landlord refused to work with you before filing a lawsuit, the judge may be willing to rule in your favor.
4. Accepting Partial Payments
According to the law, once a tenant defaults on their rent, the landlord is supposed to refuse any payments until the tenant can pay in full. If they accept a partial payment, winning an eviction lawsuit will make it much more difficult. So, if the landlord is evicting you for failure to pay and they accepted any money from you, it could help you win the case.
5. Failure to Maintain a Habitable Environment
Landlords have a legal responsibility to maintain a habitable environment for their tenants, and if they do not, you are legally allowed to stop paying rent until the situation is remedied. So, if you can prove that the apartment was unlivable due to neglect by the landlord, causing you to stop paying rent, you may have a case.
Although it’s often a long shot, you can win an eviction case as a tenant if you gather as much evidence as possible and build a strong case. The first step is to read the lease carefully and determine how you plan on building your argument. For instance, if your landlord is evicting you for keeping a pet they did not allow, read the lease carefully and see what it says about pets so you know what you’re up against.
Also, document every interaction you have with the landlord as meticulously as possible. Keep every notice they send you or your correspondence for future reference. Try to make sure that all important messages are in writing so you have a clear record when it’s time to go before a judge. Also, be sure to create a timeline of important notices and communications so that if the landlord fails to follow the necessary protocols, you have irrefutable proof. While you may be fighting an uphill battle, if you have a solid argument and substantial evidence to back it up, you have a shot at winning the case.
Even though landlords win most unlawful detainer cases, it’s still possible to win as a tenant with a solid argument. So, gather as much evidence as possible, form your case, and consult a legal professional if possible. If there is any evidence that the landlord is overreacting or at fault, the judge will likely rule in your favor.