Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit vs. Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit: What’s the Difference?

Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit vs. Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit: What’s the Difference?

Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit vs. Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit: What’s the Difference?


Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit vs. Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit: What’s the Difference?

Like any narrow corner of the internet, the world of landlord-tenant law is filled with its own language, terms and a variety of explanations, many, sadly, filled with inaccuracies.

In this article we attempt to explain the difference between an eviction lawsuit (or "unlawful detainer") and a wrongful eviction lawsuit. While both of these concepts relate to an attempt to terminate a tenant's tenancy, they refer to very different things.

What is an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit?

In order to evict a tenant from their home in San Francisco a landlord has to first provide a written notice that states a "just cause" for eviction that is allowed under the Rent Ordinance. If the tenant fails to move out in response to the notice then the landlord has to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to recover possession. A tenant has a right to defend against this and to try and settle or go to trial to keep their home. With the passage of Prop F a few years ago, San Francisco tenants now have a right to free representation in defending eviction lawsuits. That is why we encourage tenants to seek representation via one of the many non profit organizations in the city that offer assistance, such as the Eviction Defense Collaborative.

Generally speaking, an unlawful detainer refers to a dispute between a tenant and their landlord. Usually, this dispute relates to a claim that a tenant has violated the terms of their lease agreement or the law. There are also evictions where a tenant is not being accused of doing anything wrong, known as a "no fault" eviction. These include Owner Move-In evictions, Ellis Act evictions, temporary relocation evictions, and Demolition. If a tenant fails to vacate in response to a notice, a landlord is obligated to file a lawsuit in order to pursue getting the unit back.  

What Is A Wrongful Eviction Lawsuit?

Unlike an unlawful detainer lawsuit, a wrongful eviction lawsuit involves a tenant who has been illegally forced to move out of their home by their landlord.

This happens in many situations, including when a landlord:

  • fails to go through the eviction process and removes a tenant
  •  provides an improper eviction notice that does not provide a "just cause" and the tenant moves out anyway;
  • illegally changes the locks / prevents a tenant from returning to their home;
  • unlawfully raises the rent causing a tenant to permanently vacate;
  • Evicts a tenant under an Owner Move-In Eviction but re-rents the unit to a new tenant instead of moving in;
  • fails to maintain a property despite being on notice of severe problems and the tenant is forced to move out.
  • threatens, physically harms, or intimidates you;
  • removes your personal belongings from your rental home;
  •  shuts off your utilities like your water, heat, and electricity. 

When a tenant has been wrongfully evicted from their home by a landlord, they can file a wrongful eviction lawsuit against their landlord to obtain actual damages. 

Even if a landlord may insist that the tenant was causing problems, they have an obligation to follow the law and to maintain their building. A landlord cannot threaten a tenant's health or safety, nor can they perform any action to force the tenant to move out of their home. Our office regularly brings wrongful eviction lawsuits against predatory landlords in an effort to hold them accountable and obtain compensation for our clients. To find out more about how wrongful eviction lawsuits work and whether you have a case, contact us today. 

Contact A Tenants Rights Lawyer Today To Discuss Your Lawsuit Options

Being wrongfully evicted is a stressful, deeply emotional situation that can have severe financial consequences for displaced tenants. If you believe you or someone you know has been wrongfully evicted, contact our team of leading San Francisco wrongful eviction attorneys about your options. 

At Wolford Wayne we can provide a free case analysis to help you determine your options, develop a game plan for pursuing your claims, and work with you in an effort to get the compensation you deserve and discourage bad acting landlords from taking the same actions against other tenants.

We are passionate about helping victims of wrongful eviction get justice while rebuilding their lives. We handle these cases exclusively on contingency - meaning we cover the costs of your case upfront and only get paid if you do. So give us a call today to discuss your wrongful eviction lawsuit.

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