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'A bit of a ruckus' might justify a swift eviction

September 27, 2009|Martin Eichner

Question: I rented a room from a condo owner two weeks ago. When I moved in, I gave her a month's rent in advance. Unfortunately, last week I got involved in a bit of a ruckus at the community's swimming pool and was cited by the police for disturbing the peace.

Since then, the owner has told me several times that I have to move out immediately. Do I have to leave and, if so, can I get my rent payment refunded?

Answer: A tenant can be evicted for creating a "nuisance," which is defined as an unreasonable interference with the peace and quiet of the other persons living in the vicinity.

Causing a ruckus in a common area could certainly be viewed as conduct constituting a nuisance, so your tenancy is definitely in danger of being terminated.

Whether your actions did create a nuisance depends on the specific details of this ruckus. The involvement of the police doesn't help, although it sounds as if you have not been convicted of any law violation yet.

However, regardless of your behavior, an oral directive to move out is never legally binding. If the condo owner changes the locks and removes your belongings, that would constitute an illegal lockout.

Regardless of the basis for eviction, the first step must always be a written notice of termination. You cannot be evicted until that requirement has been followed. If your conduct was sufficient to create a true nuisance, your landlord could give you an unconditional three-day notice to quit the premises, but that unconditional notice must be in writing.

If you are the only tenant in this dwelling and the owner is living in the same unit, she can call the police to have you removed as a trespasser, after she gives you a proper three-day notice and the three days have elapsed. Whether the police will remove you or instead require the owner to proceed in court depends on the policy of your local law enforcement agency, but you might want to avoid another interaction with them.

If you receive an unconditional notice to quit, even if you do leave within the three days, your duty to pay rent continues through your 30-day notice period, which means that leaving does not entitle you to a refund of the rent you paid.

-- Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service. To submit a question, go to

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