Illegal Lockout by a Landlord

By Lane V. Erickson, Attorney

By and large, most tenants are pretty good, but one bad tenant can give a landlord nightmares and cause him to question whether he should ever rent again. Sooner or later a landlord will be faced with the task of evicting such a tenant. However, even when a bad tenant exists, there are specific steps that a landlord must follow to legally evict a tenant from a rental property. When a landlord fails to follow this process and simply locks the tenant out, the landlord could be liable to the tenant.

A lease is a contract. As a result, the rights and obligations of both the landlord and the tenant are controlled by the terms of the contract. Our society and the laws that current exist determine that it is important that people have a place to live and that a person should have some protection from being immediately removed from their home. As a result, current law requires that even when a tenant has breached the lease agreement or is doing something illegal such as producing or selling illegal drugs, the tenant still has certain protections from being instantly kicked out of the leased property. In fact, unless a landlord has provided the required demands and notices, eviction of a tenant cannot occur.

The problem is that in many instances a landlord will determine that a tenant has breached the lease agreement through non-payment of rent or some other violation of the terms of the lease agreement and will then take matters into their own hands. Sometimes a landlord will actually change the locks of an apartment while the tenant is gone. This is an action that a landlord should never do until the proper eviction procedures have been followed.

Essentially, most landlords get into trouble when they do what they think they can do without knowing what they can do or when they simply let their emotions get the better of them. As has been set forth in previous sections of this presentation, there are many laws that protect both landlords and tenants in a lease agreement relationship. A tenant has a right to sue a landlord for damages, and for specific performance of the lease agreement when a landlord illegally evicts or locks out a tenant. (See Idaho Code § 6-320.)

Specific performance is exactly what it says it is. If specific performance is ordered by a court, the landlord must do exactly what he said he would do in the written lease agreement. A landlord’s failure to perform the specific terms of the lease agreement ordered by a court could result in the court’s entering an additional judgment for damages in favor of the tenant and/or entering an Order of Contempt. An Order of Contempt can result in additional monetary fines or jail time as prescribed by the judge.

It is far better for a landlord to first understand the exact legal rights offered by applicable law and then seek to enforce those rights. In almost every instance where a landlord has taken matters into their own hands the landlord has only crippled their own ability to accomplish their goal of evicting the tenant. In addition, these landlords are often themselves subject to court order and in some instances are required to pay monetary damages to the tenant.

If you have questions about what a landlord can and cannot do, we can help. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Landlord and Tenant Law and Real Estate attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at We will answer your Idaho Landlord and Tenant Law and Real Estate questions and will help you solve your Idaho Landlord and Tenant Law and Real Estate needs.

This website includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer for advice on specific legal issues.

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