The relationship between landlord and tenant can become a little complicated at times. Usually, the terms of a written lease provide legal protection for both sides, but in the real world, a piece of paper isn't always the final word. Some landlords can render a property so uninhabitable that tenants feel a strong obligation to move out before the end of the lease. The use of such tactics to illegally, or at least unethically, force out unwanted tenants is called constructive eviction.
Constructive eviction is actually the legal determination made after an offensive situation has occurred. For example, a tenant signs a 12-month lease for a one-bedroom house. He may pay his rent to the landlord faithfully for nine months. What the tenant may not know is that the landlord now wants to sell the house and property to a commercial developer for a significant profit. Under the terms of the original lease, the tenant is entitled to enjoy the use of that home for at least 12 months. What happens during the tenth month may determine whether or not a constructive eviction has indeed occurred.
During the tenth month of the lease, the landlord hires a company to tear out the driveway of the rented house, forcing the tenant to park on the street. While this may be an inconvenience, the house itself is still considered habitable. If the landlord decides to cut off the water supply or refuse to fix a heater, however, then the tenant may begin to have some legal leverage against the landlord. He must point out the problem to the landlord and provide a reasonable time for the necessary repairs.
If enough time elapses and the water or heat is not restored, the tenant can legally move out and not pay the remainder of the rent. By rendering the house uninhabitable, the landlord has effectively 'evicted' the tenant without going through the proper legal channels. This should be considered constructive eviction, although a judge or mediator may have to make that judgment in a later legal proceeding. In this specific case, the landlord would be less likely to sue the former tenant for breach of contract, since the landlord could still benefit from the sale of the property.
Constructive eviction is considered an illegal tactic, since the landlord deliberately creates subhuman conditions for his or her tenants. Other violations of the lease can also be construed as constructive eviction, such as not providing 24-hour notice before entering a tenant's apartment. Sometimes, a collection of lesser violations can be considered constructive eviction when viewed as a whole.
One important element when trying to claim constructive eviction is documentation. A tenant must vacate the premises before filing a claim of constructive eviction against the landlord. Before leaving, however, the tenant should take photographs or video footage of the property as it looked at the time of vacancy. Professionals may also be hired to inspect the premises for evidence of dangerous living conditions. Environmental tests can also be performed to demonstrate any biohazards. In many landlord/tenant disputes, a judge or mediator must be convinced that a constructive eviction has indeed occurred.