Prepare Enough Evidence When Evicting Resident for Illegal Activity
By signing a lease agreement, a resident agrees to follow the terms of the lease. If the tenant breaks a clause of this contract, an owner must often first send the tenant a “Notice to Quit.” A Notice to Quit is a formal legal document an owner sends a resident in an attempt to fix a lease violation after a tenant disregards prior notices and warnings. This document informs residents that they have “X” number of days to fix the violation or the owner will begin eviction proceedings against them.
Sometimes, however, if the lease violation is serious enough an owner can send an eviction notice or a notice to quit and vacate without giving the tenant an opportunity to fix the violation. This eviction notice is used when a resident seriously damages the site or engages in illegal activities on the site, such as drug dealing.
Case in Point
In a recent case, an owner sent an eviction notice to an LIHTC resident based on allegations of criminal activity. The notice claimed that: (1) another resident had notified the owner of physical threats made by the resident; (2) she sold drugs to other residents and guests; and (3) she allowed others to use drugs in her apartment. The manager testified that he had received anonymous notes reporting the resident’s drug activity, and two other named residents testified to physical threats made against them and were witnesses to the sale of drugs by the resident.
In an appeal in front of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the resident challenged whether the eviction notice provided enough detail to prepare a legal defense. With respect to the alleged sales of drugs to other residents, the resident argued that the eviction notice was inadequate because it didn’t identify the “when, where, and who” of the claim.
The appeals court ruled in favor of the owner. The notice provided enough detail to sufficiently inform the resident of the criminal activity alleged, and the jurors at trial would consider the merits of the allegations [Williamson v. St. Martin's Apts., L.P., 2020 D.C. App. LEXIS 301].
When evicting a resident for illegal activities, be sure to prepare evidence in advance and provide enough detail in the eviction notice to sufficiently inform the resident of the illegal activity. Complaints from neighboring residents should be documented at all times with all detail possible in the event those complaints may be used as evidence later.
Owners and managers must remain objective and research the issue in order to take appropriate action. Getting signed letters from witnesses, depicting the issue and complaint, will assist in supporting future claims. In addition, the owner or manager can acquire records of arrest along with any complaints filed by the neighbors to help bolster an eviction case. Because the eviction notice is being sent for an illegal act in relation to illegal activity, the process may be quicker than a traditional eviction.