A landlord can evict a tenant in Wyoming who doesn't pay the rent or violates a term of the lease or rental agreement (such as adding an unauthorized roommate without the landlord's permission). A tenant who faces eviction based on one of these reasons may have at least one defense available to challenge the eviction.
This article will provide the most common defenses for tenants in Wyoming who are facing eviction for not paying rent or for violating a portion of the lease or rental agreement.
The eviction process in Wyoming is governed by the Wyoming Code of Civil Procedure. To evict a tenant, a landlord must follow specific procedures and ultimately receive a court order before forcing a tenant to vacate a rental unit.
If a tenant does not pay rent on time or violates the lease agreement, a landlord must give the tenant a three-day notice to vacate the premises before beginning the eviction process. A landlord cannot give a three-day notice to a tenant for not paying rent until the rent is at least three days late. However, a landlord can give the tenant a three-day notice as soon as the tenant violates a portion of the lease.
After the three days has ended, the landlord can begin the eviction proceedings with the court (see Wyo. Stat. § § 1-21-1002 and 1-21-1003).
The landlord can begin the eviction proceedings with the court if the tenant does not move out of the rental unit within three days of receiving the notice. To begin the eviction proceedings, also known as a forcible entry or detainer suit, the landlord must file a complaint with one of the district circuit courts in Wyoming (see Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1001). After the landlord files the complaint, the tenant will receive a summons. The summons will have the time and date for a hearing (see Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1004). If the tenant chooses to challenge the eviction, the tenant must appear at the hearing with an answer to the complaint. The answer should contain all the defenses the tenant wishes to make against the eviction (see Wyo. Stat. 1-21-1006). At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and then make a final decision about the eviction.
A tenant may have at least one defense available when faced with an eviction in Wyoming.
The only way a landlord can evict a tenant in Wyoming is by going through the court system. It is generally illegal for a landlord to force a tenant out of a rental unit through any other means, such as shutting off the utilities or changing the locks on the rental unit. This is often referred to as a "self-help" eviction. The Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Wyoming has more information on "self-help" evictions.
When evicting a tenant, the landlord must follow all the rules and regulations set out by Wyoming law. The tenant may have a defense to delay the eviction if the landlord did not follow all the procedures. For example, the landlord must wait three days after rent is due before giving the tenant a three-day notice to vacate the rental unit. If the landlord does not wait the full three days before giving the tenant the notice, the tenant may have a defense against the eviction. The landlord would have to start the process over again from the beginning. This option typically does not get rid of a justified eviction case entirely; it only gives the tenant more time to remain in the rental unit. If the landlord has legal grounds to evict the tenant, then the landlord just has to start the process from the beginning—this time following all the rules.
Wyoming law requires a landlord to maintain a rental unit in safe condition, fit for human habitation. This means the landlord is required to maintain the following:
If the landlord does not keep the rental unit safe and sanitary, then the tenant must first provide the landlord with written notice that the rental unit needs repairs. The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable time to make the repairs (see Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1203(b)). If the landlord does not fix the problem or respond within a reasonable time, the tenant can give the landlord a second written notice that specifies that the tenant will pursue legal action if the problem is not remedied (see Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1206).
The tenant can only ask the landlord to make the repairs if the tenant is current on rent. Wyoming law does not allow tenants to make the repairs and deduct the amount of the repair from the rent. Wyoming law also does not allow tenants to withhold rent until the repairs are made. The tenant must continue to pay rent until the lease has been terminated.
If the landlord tries to evict the tenant after the tenant has requested a repair be made, then the tenant can use that as a defense to the eviction.
The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on race, religion, gender, national origin, familial status (including children under the age of 18 and pregnant women), and disability. If a tenant is evicted based on one of these characteristics, the tenant may be able to use that as a defense to the eviction. See the Nolo article Housing Discrimination Prohibited by State and Local Law for more on laws prohibiting discrimination against tenants.
Challenging the eviction might not always be in the tenant's best interest. If the tenant loses, the tenant might have to pay for the landlord's court and attorney's fees. The tenant could also receive a negative credit rating and could be turned down for future housing. Depending on the situation, the best option for some tenants is to try to talk to the landlord and negotiate a deal outside the court system. Many communities have free or low-cost mediation services that handle landlord-tenant disputes; local resources are available through the website mediate.com and the American Arbitration Association. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
Legal Aid of Wyoming provides a helpful pamphlet entitled Private Landlord-Tenant Laws. The University of Wyoming's law school also maintains a useful website on landlord-tenant issues, especially regarding evictions. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
A tenant should also be familiar with the local courthouse where an eviction lawsuit is filed, and resources that may be available there. The Wyoming court system maintains an online directory of all the district courthouses in the state.
If you have more specific legal questions about your eviction case or the landlord has already retained a lawyer, you should probably also contact a lawyer. A lawyer can handle the whole case or give you advice on how to proceed. A lawyer can also let you know how likely you are to win your case. You may especially want to hire an attorney if you are confident of your case and your lease or rental agreement entitles you to attorney fees if you win in court.
For advice on finding a good lawyer, see the Nolo article How to Find an Excellent Attorney.
Also check out Nolo’s Lawyer Directory for Wyoming lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.
For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).