Illegal Lock Out! Getting back in and getting your property.

Our office has recently noticed a spike to landlords illegally locking tenants out of their rental units. This can be a terrifying experience, especially when one is separated from personal property and pets.

Except for surrender of the dwelling by the tenant, there are only two circumstances when a landlord can take back the property: (1) abandonment; and (2) eviction through court action.

Abandonment is a very specific circumstance, and requires a five-day notice by the landlord to the tenant. Rent must have been not paid, the tenant must not be around, and there are two factors regarding time frames of absence depending on whether or not there is any personal property remaining in the dwelling. Check out A.R.S. § 33-1370.

Assuming there has not been any abandonment, or allegation of abandonment, the first thing one should do, in this circumstance, is check with the local justice court to see if the landlord had filed an eviction action, and if there has been a judgment in favor of the landlord. If so, then the landlord is entitled to execute a “writ of restitution” whereby the constable changes the locks. There are a whole series of steps in the eviction process, including notice of violation, issuance of a court summons and complaint, service of the summons and complaint, a court hearing, and then a time frame to vacate prior to the writ be executed. Check out A.R.S. §§ 33-1368, 33-1377, and 12-1178.

If you have been evicted through court action behind your back, without legal notice, contact an attorney.

Okay, say your research finds there was no court action, and you did not abandon the premises, but you are locked out anyway. Then the landlord violated the law, specifically A.R.S. § 33-1374. It is called an illegal ouster. In fact, an illegal ouster may include a landlord turning off services, such as electrical or water, even though the tenant is still living in the place.

Your job, then, is to document what the SOB has done. You need a witness. I like using cops as witnesses, because they are presumed to be more truthful than the average Joe (of course, we all know that cops lie just like everyone else, all the damned time). So see if you can entice the cops to come over and observe that you are locked out. You might need a good story, such as hearing sounds in your place and being fearful of intruders. Then, the cops might even contact your landlord to confirm that the lock-out occurred. Bingo, you got that bastard landlord right where you want him. Get the cop’s name and badge number, and report number if there is one, and then file a lawsuit for illegal ouster. Check out A.R.S. § 33-1367.

If pets are involved, the humane society might be a good ally and witness. The courts may hate tenants, but animals are often treated better.

What next? Maybe you got the “cojones” to actually go back into the dwelling, though a window or whatever. If my ex weren’t on my case all the time for every little thing she can find, I would do that. After all, if the landlord has not taken the proper legal steps to secure possession, then the tenant legally still has possession. Now, if you have to actually break in, just be sure to immediately fix whatever you broke in the process.

Should a tenant continue living in the place after going back? That’s a topic for another day. One thing to consider, though: If a landlord tells you to leave, without cause, absent any kind of mutually agreed document signed by all parties, you would likely be held liable if you complied.

In other words, rarely in landlord-tenant is anything what it seems. Conventional wisdom is out the window.

I would like to hear what others have actually experienced in these type of circumstances. Did you ever sue your landlord after an illegal ouster? What were the results? Were you able to get witnesses, such as cops, to take the stand on your behalf? Were you able to recover your personal property?

- Ken Volk -

20 Responses to “Illegal Lock Out! Getting back in and getting your property.”

  1. nick Says:

    My landlord tried this once till I threatened to sue him. Last month they wouldn’t accept payment, this month they may try to pull the same thing… therefore I’m taking my video camera to record everything and may even call a cop to come witness the landlord refusing rent.

    I think I’ll start looking for a better apt complex in which to live.

  2. Nikki Says:

    What about people who live in apartments who offer a weekly rate-like Budget Suites, for instance?

    What rights do tenants have at these tyes of places?

  3. admin Says:

    Hi, Nikki,

    These tenants are equally protected under the landlord-tenant act. See A.R.S. § 33-1314(D). However, a notice of non-renewal would have a different time frame. See A.R.S. § 33-1375(A).

    That assumes it really is a rental, and not a hotel or inn.

    Ken

  4. Greg Says:

    I’m in a tricky situation where the condo I am renting was foreclosed upon, and I found out about it immediately before Halloween. As of the First of November, the place is now in the hands of the hard money lender that the former owner lost it to. Today I received a 5-day Notice To Quit. I have never missed rent with the former owner, and I have no agreement whatsoever with the new owner. After reading a summary of the rights and responsibilities at http://www.supreme.state.az.us/info/brochures/landlord.htm it appears that the guidelines ensuring 30 days or two months apply to renters and owners in agreement, but what if there is/was no agreement?

    I’m in a tough spot, because if I’m going to move in 5 days, I simply can’t part with that rent I would normally have paid. I absolutely require it for any place I am about to move into, it is essential. I am not the type of person who abdicates on my agreements. I pay my debts, I usually improve the place I rent while living there and I am a good neighbor, but it doesn’t appear that a renter like me has much recourse in this area where there is no agreement whatsoever.

    5 days, that’s my recourse, apparently.

  5. admin Says:

    Greg,

    Your rights in this regard are very circumscribed. Under A.R.S. § 12-1173.01(A) the lender can put you out with a 5-day notice, as can any new owner who acquired the property through a foreclosure sale. As to your relationship with the previous owner, even without a written rental agreement they had been enshrined as a month-to-month tenancy under A.R.S. § 33-1314(D). But that does not do much good for you per foreclosure.

    Your position is akin to that suffered by many other renters in Arizona. You are right, you have no recourse, unless you have an action against the former landlord for fraud. I suggest you read our website materials regarding foreclosure eviction, including the legislative changes we are attempting to implement. At this point, I am about to retain a lobbyist to promote these and some additional/adjusted laws in favor of tenants. If you have a social conscience, when you are ready you can
    contact our office to participate.

    Sorry to hear about your misfortune. I wish there were something I could suggest to alleviate your immediate quandary. Under current law, there is not. Once the lender or new owner files in court, under A.R.S. § 33-1377 there will be a court hearing in 3-6 days, and under A.R.S. § 12-1178 after five days following an adverse judgment a constable could be locking you out. Do not leave your property behind, because you may find yourself separated from it, with possible negative consequences as to its recovery.

    We have a link to the landlord-tenant act through our website, in the Links & Resources section.

    Ken

  6. Tony Says:

    My situation is i have been summoned to the court and they give me 5 days to pay the rent but i have to pay the next month rent too. By right now I can’t afford that. I need 3 more days to get the money. What should i do ?

  7. Alene Wiepert Says:

    I am in the same situation. I am a single mom and have been renting a large house for five years from a property management company in Chandler. Only late on my rent twice, and that was two days late. I started getting forclosure mail addressed to the owner of the house, so I opened it (yeah, sue me). This is not the original owner by the way, from when I moved in. That is how I found out about the foreclosure, and auction April 6th. Then, my daughter accidentally signed for a letter to the “occupant” and “owner” about the foreclosure and auction notice from her mortgage company. But, so far no eviction notice.

    My property management company says keep paying them the rent then play the victim when I get the eviction notice from the mortgage company and ask for an extra month. Lord, is this right? Who exactly is getting this rent I am paying to my rental company?

    Who has my deposits? The property management company or the owner? What about the rent I have paid for the month I get the eviction notice in.. I won’t have another deposit saved up… and how do you know if it is a court ordered eviction notice or not? Will it be obvious? Is there a stamp or seal I can look for, because legal wording can be copied..

    This stress is killing me… and with the auction date of April 6th, I feel like an eviction notice is right around the corner..

  8. meyer Says:

    how does it work with a commercial lease… can the landlord lock you out?!
    because my landlord has changed the locks on my warehouse with out any notice. can i sue him?!

  9. Rev Robert Says:

    I have been dealing with this new Management company about my November rent and now its almost March and they are still demanding it even though I paid the rent back on Oct 29,2008 to another Management Company that said that they had take over. Now my December, January, February and now March rents have been paid on time or early, can the Management company try to evict me even though I sent them a payment under protest on December 16, 2008 for November. I have the money order receipt, yet they are still claiming I owe for November. I feel I don t owe them squat. what should I do?

  10. Sara Says:

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this information. It has been very helpful. My roomate decided to change the locks on pur apartment after 6 days on non payment on rent although I explained it was a mistake and that I was out of town and she could take the money from my deposit since it is my last month living there. Sucks.

    I am finding conflicting information regarding the what was written regarding the tenant being held liable if the compliant with evacuation from the premises even if actions taken by the landlord are unlawful. I found information that references ARS 33-1324 indicating that unlawful ouster is considered the landlord providing unfit premises and violation of taht obligation is protected under ARS 33-1367. This law entitled the tenant to recover or terminate possesion, recover damamges, and deposit. I wonder if I have read this postin incorrectly or if additional laws have been established since the time of this publication.

    Thanks again for your help!

  11. Keegan Says:

    So, this is rather vague, but here’s the info. I am renting a house from a realty company, which is owned by someone in Michigan. I’m in Tempe, AZ. My roommates and I just agreed upon, and re-signed a lease for another year at a lower price, and with a few changes from the previous one. We paid rent for this month (july), and I assume next month our lower payments should be starting. To my surprise I just came home to a letter taped to our door today letting us know that our house will be auctioned off on August 18th. Now, this realty company has been giving us the run around, not returning calls, answering any messages AT ALL. Taking forever to fix minor things, so we’ve pretty much given up all hope on these guys. But now this? What can be done as a renter, if anything, to continue our lease? Or are we basically just out on our asses in a few weeks?

  12. Karen Says:

    I was shut out of my home after 11 days late on the rent, and the landlord is still in possession of all of my personal property. This was on June 11th! She did give me some of my items back after almost a month of me begging, but still has a lot of my things. There is a judgement for the plaintiff that was done on July 1st, after I was already illegally ousted! There was never any attempt to serve me, or court documents supporting an attempt to serve me or send registered mail. I have filed a motion to vacate the judgement, and know I want to sue the sob!

    Karen

  13. Nikki Says:

    I was looking to find out if you get served a court eviction notice how many days do they have to give you to move? I am a single mother of 3 with a disabled child. I work part time and go to school full time. I am going to move because its unsafe neighbor hood. with regular shootings. I havent been served yet but they told me they were going to force a lock out law. I need at least 5 days to move.

  14. KP Says:

    I am renting from a neighbor ( who resides in a home that is paid by her mother’s trust account. Her mother does not live there but is with her sister in another state) and it has been about a year. I’ve paid her rent by check but as of the last 3 or 4 months by cash due to a lawsuit between her and her sister and she doesn’t want evidence of her making money in a home that doesn’t belong to her. Anyway, I’ve found a house and she is upset with me moving out and has locked me and my young daughter out of her house. She has changed all the locks and mailbox lock. Luckily, I’ve been house sitting for a friend and figured I will use the time to move my stuff out of her mother’s house. She has not been cooperative with my moving schedule. What should I do?

  15. Casey Says:

    My newborn baby and I were the tenants of a condo my dad owned in Arizona for 6 months when I was 18 years old. Even though I didn’t have a formal lease, I still legally had tenant rights. The condo was furnished prior to moving in, but all my personal property was there. I received mail at that address, and I even had custody court papers served on me at this address (so it was definitely my legal address).

    To make a long story short:
    I took a road trip for three or four days. When I got back, my dad changed the locks. I called him on the phone and told him he couldn’t do that and that I was going to break a window and go inside and then pay to have the window replaced.

    So I broke the window and went in. The next day my dad came over and seeing as I was inside the condo, he called the police. The police didn’t want to hear ANYTHING I had to say about it. They arrested me for Trespassing (Class 6 FELONY) and Burglary (Class 3 FELONY). I ended up spending over 4 months in jail, spending two years on (expensive) supervised probation, and starting off my adulthood with a felony criminal record.

    I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST ANYONE ENTERING THE PROPERTY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES if you have been locked out. Call your landlord, call a lawyer, call the police, call a Tenant’s Advocacy group. Make sure you have PLENTY of witnesses, but do not commit a crime in the process of fighting illegal eviction.

    Being a felon, I couldn’t find a decent job for years, and to this day, it is near impossible to find an apartment in a decent neighborhood that will rent to me.

    Good Luck!

  16. aicra Says:

    I was illegally locked out of my unit in Jan 2007. I was living on the ASU Polytechnic campus at the time. This was a family housing unit and there was a management company running the housing.

    There was a payment agreement made in December, as most students do until their financial aid package comes in January. The deadline for the payment arrangement was not due for 5 more days. My money had just come in that day. There were locks on the doors and my son sat on the ground outside the unit. I was devastated and didn’t know what to do.

    I called the housing number and got a cashier’s check for the amount owed to obtain access to the unit.

    I then realized what they did was illegal but they continued to claim it was not because it was a college.

    The place managing the housing was not a college but a management company and they are NOT exempt under the law as I had read at the time and my mother is a court clerk.

    So, I never took them to court because I was busy working, going to school, moving and was pregnant and then had a surgery the next year.

    I know the statute of limitation is probably expired.
    Last year, I was contacted by the cashier’s office at ASU who claimed that I owed them over 3,000 dollars. I showed them my lease, they did research on the unit and the price went down to 1300. However, since the statute of limitations is expired, I cannot take them to court on action they illegally locked me out.

    Also, I did not “abandon” the property but did go to the office with a letter stating they violated my rights and the lease was terminated by their action on the date they illegally locked me out.

    I had to incur all expenses. They waited 5 years to collect on these charges and are holding my transcripts until I pay them. I have no recourse and I am a professor that needs transcripts to get a job.

    What the housing people did at ASU Polytechnic campus is deplorable. They charged me for the oven because they stated it was too dirty to clean? Really? Too dirty to clean? I sent over repairs in July that were not fixed by the January illegal lockout.

    ASU has repeatedly stated they are not bound by the law. I have spoken to a judge and my mother is clerk and after examining the law, Yes, ASU is bound.

    However, now I am stuck paying these charges, when if they were going to enforce payment and hold my transcripts hostage, I definitely would have taken them to court to offset the cost. I know I would have won!

  17. Susan Lyons Says:

    Great website, lot’s of info!
    My current dilemma is that my fiancé & I have been residing at a motel in Mesa, AZ for the past 7 mos. The business sign out front says: Miles Motel & Suites. Every room here is a full kitchenette, & they have furnished rental apartments in the rear of the property. This is our sole residence, & we receive mail here. Now, sometimes we pay rent daily, every couple of days, and often on a weekly basis. The slumlord snake owner all of a sudden decides that she wants to start charging us more. Ofcourse we refused to pay the increase that she is demanding, & so she proceeded to really start harassing us all day, everyday. Hell, I think $1150 a month for a dumpy 300 sq. ft. kitchenette is pretty good income for her! Anyway, she started giving us an ultimatum of pay more, or get out! Well, we haven’t done either, & so the other morning, while we were sleeping, she put a lock-out on our doorknob! So, in a nutshell, if we both were to leave the room together, & closed the door behind us, we would not be able to get back in! To make matters worse, she sent the police over here two nights ago to “have us removed.” Well, I explained & showed the police Sargent the AZ statutes that I have been studying, and it states that normally, a motel owner “can” lockout a typical “guest,” but due to our length of stay, as well as a few other factors, we qualify legally as “tenants,” & now the regular Landlord/Tenant Act would pertain to us as if this was an apartment. Believe it or not, I was able to educate the police Sargent! Not only did he not remove us, he told the owner that she would have to evict us “legally” through the courts! Great news, right? Well, not so fast…… now, last night she showed-up at our door with another police officer standing behind her! NOW her new thing is accusing me of “threatening” her, & that she plans on getting an Injunction For Harassment against me. WOW! I assume the intention behind this would be to get an Order Of Protection slapped on me forbidding me on her property. After all, that would be the cheaper way to get us out, & you know how slumlords are about their money! The funny thing is, that that police officer was with the Sargent on the first call, & I guess I taught them well, because this time around, HE DIDN’T SAY ONE SINGLE WORD!! Well, wish me luck in suing her for an illegal lock-out folks!!!

  18. quinn Says:

    Ok so i moved into a house december 19th upon move in the place was trashed iit looked like a tornado hit it and hit a field of manure and needles right before. Anyways lanlord per lease said he would clean and repair anything that needed to be. I signed the lease under these terms rven s addendum. So im cleaning and find the dishwasher dont work landlord says he cant afford it at moment ..Huh? I tell him i can find one cheap and replace it and he agrees. So my brother comes over to help me and we are pulling out the dishwasher the cabinet adjacent came with it with a huge clump of mold. Long story sshort i conducted a removal of mold and contaminated materials. Per landlord request. I took out the dishwaher and center cabinets and saved the rest. Landlord need to replace 1 piece of drywall and 1 cabnet. And find fix leak and thats it. He chose to refuse doing anything even giving back deposit and letting me out of lease. I let him know he will be recieving my invoices for work performed and reciepts for materials bought. He leaves informing me that the insurence company would be there and i needed to get out. Insurence never came he left a hand written 3 day notice on my door and then 5 days later showed up with 6 ppl all family and when his grand daughter needed to use the bathroom my grandmother who is on lease said ok. The whole family piled in and bam new locks on doors. I being at work get a frantic call and race home to find my fiancee and 62 year old grams standing on the outside we are told we have no rights by wife of landlord and pretty much get lost. Wrll we go first and figure out where to stay then to police department then lawer. Police and lawyer tell us what he did was highly illigal and i could sue. Lawyer wants way to much. So how should i proceed. Should i pay a lawyer. If i win my case will he pay legal fees. Can i ask for damages i.e. lost work wages, re homeing fees, kennel fees etc. I cant wait to get to court a nail this guy to the wall. Oh ya jfyi the pool he said was fully functional. Ya empty no filter or pump, the front window next to door smashed out. 4 door knobs missing. Shower heads missing carpet in rec room tore out. And the iceing on the cake he turned off power 2 days before he locked me out.

  19. caybvi@candwbvi.net Says:

    Would you OK if I quote the article on my own Forum? I believe your writing will suit my audience perfectly. Well, bless you for posting this article.

  20. Cynthia Says:

    I moved into a friends house a few years ago. We have known each other for 25 years. A year and a half ago he assaulted me and I landed unconscience in the hosital. He threatened to put me in a hole so deep they’d never find me if I called the cops. He changed the locks and took off incognito in his motorhome for months because he was afraid of getting arrested. I went to Court and the Judge told me to call a locksmith and go back in. So I did. Eventually he came home but brought the cops with him insisting I am not allowed to live in his house anymore and lied to the cops and told them I only lived there for a month. I showed the cops my ID and they saw I lived there for 3 years according to my AZ ID. They told Roger to start acting like a civil adult. We seemed to kinda work it out.

    Then, he assaulted me again a year later, but, thistime I called he cops. They made me go to a Hotel that night. The next day I called Roger and asked him where he was. He said in Mesa, I asked him “are you at the Court?” He said , “yep”. I knew what he was doing, He was retaliating, and getting a fraudulent Order of Protection to force me out of the house. I went the same day to Court and the Judge gave me an Order with exclusive rights to the house. The problem was, the police refused to serve it. Instead, they served me his OP. I have not been back to the house, nor have I picked up my belongings. I did call Roger and he told me he packed all my stuff and changed the locks. It’s been 9 months and I have not been there. I got a call from his friend today, and told me Roger called him and wants to give my stuff away. He can’t do that.

    I’m going to request a hearingto contest his Order and try to have the Judge change my Order back to the original exclusive right to the property, even though Roger ows the hose, I just need a few days to get allmy stuff out of there and record and film all the stuff that went missing.

    I don’t know if he filed an eviction. He most likely did, as that is his M.O. I was never served one. I can’t afford to rent a place. I spent all this time and money hiding from him staying with different friends, Hotels, and in my car. I have the audio CD from his hearing for the order. I can’t believe the Judge gives them out like candy bars. I have to request a hearing now and try to dissolve his bogus Order, then I suppose I have a right to go back to the house. Or do I? I want to sue him for wrongful evtiction and my injuries. Got any suggestions??

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