Tenants' Rights in Eviction: When Do Landlords Go Too Far?

What can you be evicted for? The most common reasons for eviction are unpaid rent or consistently late rent payments. Illegal activity on rental property or allowing people to live in an apartment when they are not covered by the terms of a lease agreement can also get a tenant booted. But burning your dinner in the oven? That's why one 75-year-old woman is being ordered to leave her Atlanta apartment.

Retha Scott fell asleep as she was cooking a meal at home, causing the food to burn. Next thing she knew, she received an eviction notice from the management of her senior living complex, Hairston Lake Apartments, saying that the incident proves that she's a danger to other tenants, CBS Atlanta reported. There were no injuries as a result of the incident, no other units were damaged and it was unclear what, if any, damage Scott's own unit suffered.

"Nothing I do is right. It seems that there's always something they want to talk to me about," Scott told CBS Atlanta of the complex's management. "I don't have anywhere here to go. I don't have no people here. I don't have no family here. ... Nothing was done to intentionally set this apartment on fire."

Scott said she offered to use only the microwave for cooking to settle the problem with her complex, and she even hired an outside agency to cook meals for her daily. The agency disconnected her stove so it could no longer be used, according to CBS Atlanta. But the complex is still asking for her to leave.

A representative of Hairston Lake refused to grant an on-camera interview to the TV station, but the DeKalb County Housing Authority released a statement, saying: "Please be assured that we are actively working with [Scott] on a quick resolution to her concerns."

Attorney Joshua Davis, who agreed to represent Scott after hearing of her case, said Hairston Lake is violating her rights. "It's just absurd," he said. "This woman is elderly, she's 75, and the fact that she is of that age -- they should give some type of accommodation to the fact that these things happen. ... And specifically to what they're claiming, that she's so-called 'endangering' the other residents through the activities of cooking -- that has now been removed."

So does Scott's landlord have a real case against her? In most states, a landlord must give a tenant written notice of a potential lease violation, and the tenant must be given ample time to correct it before the landlord can initiate eviction proceedings, according to RentLaw.com. It's unclear whether Scott's complex alerted her of potential violations before issuing her an eviction notice -- but it's clear that Scott has taken steps to correct the problem.

And as NOLO.com points out, there are only a few circumstances under which landlords can evict tenants without giving them time to correct lease violations: if tenants have repeatedly violated a significant clause in the lease, continuously failed to pay rent on time, seriously damaged a rental unit, or engaged in illegal activity on the premises. A landlord cannot have a tenant physically removed from an apartment without a court order to do so.

If you believe you have been wrongfully evicted and want to fight it in court, hire a lawyer and be able to produce your lease agreement, any correspondence to and from your landlord, receipts of rental payments, photos and any other evidence that can prove your case. In cases that involve discrimination, you should alert your local Department of Housing and Urban Development branch. Local housing authorities are required to investigate claims of discrimination against tenants.

CBS Atlanta 46

See more:
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Tenant Won't Pay Rent? Ways for Landlords to Deal With Deadbeat Renters
101-Year-Old Woman Evicted in Foreclosure

How to Evict a Tenant

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