In Oklahoma, a landlord can evict a tenant for not paying rent or violating a portion of the lease or rental agreement. This article examines some of the most common defenses tenants have when faced with an eviction.
Evictions in Oklahoma are regulated by the Landlord and Tenant Act, (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41, § §101-136) which provides the rules for both landlords and tenants to follow. Landlords can only evict tenants after receiving a court order. Before filing an eviction lawsuit, also known as a forcible entry and detainer action, the landlord must provide notice to the tenant. The notice requirements for nonpayment of rent are different from the notice requirements for lease violations.
In Oklahoma, if a tenant does not pay rent on time, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice that gives the tenant five days to pay the rent. If the landlord does not receive the rent within the five days, then the landlord can proceed with an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant pays the rent during the five-day period, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (see Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41 § 131(B)).
If a tenant violates a term of the lease or rental agreement, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written notice requesting the tenant to fix the violation, if possible. The notice must inform the tenant that unless the tenant fixes the violation within ten days, the rental agreement will terminate. The landlord must wait another five days before filing an eviction lawsuit if the tenant does not fix the violation within the ten-day time period, making a total of fifteen days from when the tenant first received the notice. If either the tenant or the landlord fixes the violation within the ten-day time period, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41 § 132(B)).
Examples of lease violations include having pets when none are allowed or parking in an unauthorized parking space.
If the tenant has not paid rent or fixed the lease violation within the given time frame, then the landlord can terminate the rental agreement and file an eviction lawsuit (forcible entry and detainer action) with the court. These lawsuits are typically filed in the small claims court of the district court in the county where the rental unit is located (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 12 § 1148.1). After the landlord files a petition and summons to begin the forcible entry and detainer action, the tenant will receive a copy of both documents. The summons will have the date and time for a hearing that both the tenant and the landlord must attend (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 12 § 1148.4). At the hearing, the tenant must tell the judge any and all defenses the tenant has to challenge the eviction. The judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and make a final decision about the eviction.
There are several potential defenses available to tenants facing an eviction in Oklahoma.
When a landlord wants to evict a tenant, the landlord must go through the court system. The landlord cannot force a tenant out of a rental unit in any other way, such as turning off the utilities in the rental unit or changing locks on the doors. This type of illegal action is often referred to as a "self-help" eviction. If the landlord tries to force a tenant out of the rental unit using illegal means, the landlord will likely be liable to the tenant for damages (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 40 § 123). The article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Oklahoma, published by Nolo, provides more information on "self-help" evictions.
When a landlord evicts a tenant, the landlord must carefully follow all the rules and regulations that are set out by Oklahoma law. For example, a landlord cannot terminate a rental agreement for nonpayment of rent without giving the tenant a written notice with five days to pay the late rent. If the landlord files a petition with the court to start the forcible entry and detainer action without first giving the tenant written notice to pay rent, the tenant could use the lack of notice as a defense to the eviction lawsuit. This type of defense does not stop a justified eviction, though. This option merely gives the tenant more time to remain in the rental unit. If the landlord is justified in evicting the tenant, the landlord just has to correct the deficient procedure and then proceed with the eviction lawsuit.
There are a few defenses available to a tenant who is facing an eviction for not paying rent.
If a tenant does not pay rent on time, Oklahoma law requires the landlord to give the tenant five days to pay the rent before filing an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant pays the rent within the five-day time period, the landlord cannot proceed with the eviction lawsuit (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41 § 131(B)). If the tenant pays the rent within the five days, the tenant should ask for a time-stamped receipt to prove the rent payment. If the landlord proceeds to file the eviction lawsuit after receiving the tenant's rent payment, the tenant can use evidence of the paid rent as a defense against the eviction.
Under Oklahoma law, the landlord must maintain the rental unit in a habitable condition. This means the landlord must:
If the rental unit needs maintenance in one of these areas, the tenant must provide the landlord with written notice. The written notice must give the landlord fourteen days to make the required repairs. If the landlord does not make the required repairs within fourteen days, the tenant can arrange for the repairs to be made and then deduct the amount of the repairs from the rent (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41 § 121(B)).
If the landlord fails to maintain and provide heat, running water, hot water, electricity, gas, or another essential service, the tenant has a few more options available:
1. The tenant can terminate the rental agreement after giving the landlord written notice.
2. The tenant can find a way to get reasonable amounts of the essential service and then deduct the costs from the rent.
3. The tenant can recover damages from the landlord equal to the decrease in value of the rental unit.
4. The tenant can find substitute housing until the landlord provides the essential service again. The tenant does not have to pay rent to the landlord while living in the substitute housing.
If the landlord tries to evict the tenant after the tenant either pays reduced rent or does not pay rent at all based on the legal requirements listed above, the tenant can use evidence of the landlord's failure to maintain the rental unit or provide essential services as a defense against the eviction. The Nolo article Oklahoma Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct" has more information on the topic.
Before a landlord can begin eviction proceedings against a tenant who has violated the lease agreement, the landlord must give the tenant ten days to fix the violation, if possible. If the tenant fixes the violation within the ten-day time period, the landlord cannot proceed with the eviction lawsuit. The landlord also has the right to fix the violation within the ten-day time frame, and if the landlord does so, then the landlord cannot proceed with the eviction (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 41 § 132(B)). If the landlord proceeds with the eviction lawsuit even after the violation has been fixed, then the tenant can use evidence that the violation was corrected as a defense against 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. In addition to adopting the federal Fair Housing Act, the Oklahoma Fair Housing Law also makes it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on age (defined as anyone who is eighteen years or older). If a landlord tries to evict a tenant based on any of these characteristics, the tenant can use the discrimination 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 an eviction is not the best option for all tenants. Without a strong defense, a tenant will often lose the case and have to pay 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. The best option for the tenant might be 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; for local resources see below. The mediation faqs on the Nolo site provide more information on the subject.
Legal aid organizations provide legal help to those who qualify based on income, but their online websites offer information for everyone. Oklaw.org, a service provided by Oklahoma Legal Aid, has a section on Landlord and Tenant Problems. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Local courthouses may also be good resources, since evictions are typically filed in the small claims division of the district court in the county where the rental unit is located. The Oklahoma State Courts Network provides an online directory where you can look up your court information. Some courts, such as the Oklahoma County court system, provide helpful information online, like forms and information about how to file claims.
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 Oklahoma 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).
See Oklahoma's Fair Housing Law for more information about state-specific fair housing law.
For more information on the eviction process, see the article Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent at oklaw.org, a legal aid website in Oklahoma.