Can’t I just change the locks? – The Self Help Eviction– Part I

by Keith OToole on July 18, 2014

Landlords often ask how they can get rid of  a bad tenant without going to court.  This post will deal with the removal of residential tenants.   A later post will deal with commercial tenants.  The answer for residential and commercial tenants is quite different.

May I evict my residential tenant without going to court?

A: No. In New York State, the only way to legally evict a residential tenant is to obtain a court order called a Warrant of Eviction. The warrant is signed by a Judge.  The warrant of eviction is then served on the tenants by an enforcement officer, like a deputy sheriff, constable or city marshal.

Self Help evictions of residential tenants are illegal in New York State and the City of Rochester.

My residential tenant has failed to pay the rent. May I change the locks and lock out my tenant?

A: No. Even when residential tenants fail to pay the rent, it is illegal to lock a residential tenant out of the apartment. The only legal way to evict a tenant is by going to court and getting a Warrant of Eviction signed by a judge. A landlord may change the locks only if copies of the new keys are given to the tenants.

What are “self help” evictions?

A: A “self help” eviction is where the landlord evicts the tenant without going to court. Examples of self help evictions include:

– The landlord changes the locks without giving the tenant a new key.

– The landlord turns off the heat, the hot water, or other utilities.

– The landlord padlocks the door.

– The landlord removes the door.

– The landlord removes the toilets (seriously)

– The landlord takes the tenant’s furniture or other property and locks it away.

Self Help evictions of residential tenants are illegal in New York State.  You may be sued for triple damages by the tenant. Keep in mind that many tenants are eligible for free legal aid attorneys.

If you are a Landlord and have a legal question, don’t hesitate to call me at 585.352.7300.


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