Every state has laws that regulate the landlord-tenant relationship, including when and how a landlord can evict a tenant. The most common reasons for eviction are failing to pay rent or violating the lease or rental agreement. A tenant facing eviction for one of these reasons may be able to defend against the eviction.
This article will examine the eviction process in Connecticut along with some of the most common defenses available to tenants.
Evictions in Connecticut are governed by the Landlord and Tenant Act, which sets out all the rules landlords and tenants must follow. The only way a landlord can legally evict a tenant is by receiving a court order from a judge that gives permission for the eviction to proceed. Before the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord must give the tenant notice. The type of notice required depends on the reason the landlord is trying to evict the tenant. Failure to pay rent and violating the lease are the two most common reasons a landlord might choose to evict a tenant, and they require different types of notice before eviction can occur.
By law, a tenant has a nine-day grace period to pay rent after it is due before a landlord can take any steps toward eviction (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-15a). If the tenant has not paid rent within nine days after it is due, the landlord can then give the tenant a three-day notice to quit. This notice to quit must state that the tenant has three days to move out of the rental unit or eviction proceedings will begin against the tenant. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit within three days, the landlord can proceed with the eviction (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-23).
If a tenant violates any portion of the lease, the landlord must give the tenant a fifteen-day notice before filing an eviction lawsuit with the court. The notice must state that the tenant has fifteen days to correct the violation or the lease will terminate. If the tenant does not correct the violation within fifteen days, the landlord can terminate the lease (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-15). Then, the landlord is required to give the tenant a three-day notice to quit that states the tenant has three days to move out of the rental unit or eviction proceedings will begin against the tenant. If the tenant does not move out within three days, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the court (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-23).
If the tenant corrects the lease violation within the fifteen-day period but then commits the same violation again within six months, the landlord is not required to give the tenant another fifteen-day notice. Instead, the landlord can proceed directly to the three-day notice to quit and begin eviction proceedings after the three days have ended (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-15).
Examples of lease violations include having a dog when no pets are allowed or having unauthorized people living in an apartment.
If the tenant has not moved out of the rental unit by the end of the three-day notice to quit, then the landlord can file a writ, complaint, and summons with the housing court or superior court of the judicial district in which the rental property is located (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-23a). The court will set a hearing date before a judge and notify both the landlord and tenant. The tenant will also receive a copy of the filed writ, complaint, and summons. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must attend the hearing before the judge. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and make a final decision regarding the eviction.
The tenant may find that challenging the eviction is not always the best option. The tenant might have to pay the landlord's court and attorney's fees if unsuccessful in court. 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; 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.
There are several potential defenses a tenant could use to challenge an eviction.
A landlord can only evict a tenant by going to court. It is illegal for a landlord to try to evict a tenant without a court order. For example, a landlord cannot force a tenant out of the rental unit by turning off the utilities to the rental unit or changing the locks on the doors. This type of eviction is often called a "self-help" eviction. If a landlord attempts to evict a tenant through "self-help" actions, the tenant can sue the landlord for possession and damages (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § § 47a-43, 47a-46, and 53a-214). For more information on "self-help" evictions, see the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Connecticut.
When evicting a tenant, it is very important for a landlord to carefully follow all the rules in the Connecticut Landlord and Tenant Act. Otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. For example, a landlord is required to give a tenant a fifteen-day notice if trying to evict the tenant for violating the lease. If the tenant does not fix the violation within fifteen days, the landlord is then required to give the tenant a three-day notice to quit. Only after the three days have expired can the landlord then file the eviction lawsuit with the court. If the landlord fails to give the tenant either of the notices before filing the eviction lawsuit, the tenant can use lack of notice as a defense to the eviction. The lawsuit would likely be stopped and the landlord would be required to give the tenant the appropriate notice. At the end of the notice period, the landlord would have to file a new eviction lawsuit. The eviction would then proceed as normal.
It must be noted that this type of defense will not stop a justified eviction. It will simply delay it until the landlord has corrected the deficient procedure. Once corrected, the eviction will proceed.
A tenant who is being evicted for failing to pay rent may have a defense available.
According to Connecticut law, a tenant has nine days after rent is due to pay rent in full. This means that a landlord cannot begin eviction proceedings against the tenant until the end of the nine-day grace period. If the tenant pays rent during the nine days, the landlord is prohibited from evicting the tenant (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-15a). When paying rent during the nine-day grace period, the tenant may wish to ask for a time-stamped receipt. This way, if the landlord proceeds with the eviction anyway, the tenant has proof that the rent was paid during the appropriate time frame.
A landlord is required to maintain a rental unit according to a set of minimum standards put forth by the law. According to Connecticut law, the landlord must:
If the landlord fails to supply an essential service, such as electricity, heat, or running water, and the tenant has given the landlord notice of the required essential service, the tenant has several options available.
For all other types of necessary maintenance and repair, the tenant is required to give the landlord a written notice that specifies the type of repair or maintenance needed. The landlord will then have fifteen days to make the repair. If the landlord does not make the repair within fifteen days, the tenant can terminate the rental agreement. Then the tenant can move out of the rental unit and is not required to continue paying rent to the landlord.
If the landlord makes the repair within the fifteen days but then fails to make the same type of repair or maintenance within six months, the tenant can provide the landlord with a fourteen-day notice that states the lease will terminate at the end of fourteen days, regardless of whether the landlord makes the repair (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-12).
If a landlord tries to evict a tenant for failing to pay rent after the tenant has proceeded under one of these options, the tenant can defend against the eviction by proving the landlord did not make necessary repairs as required by law.
For more information on this topic, see the Nolo article Connecticut Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct."
If a tenant has violated the lease, the landlord is required to give the tenant a fifteen-day notice stating the specific lease violation. If the tenant corrects the violation within the fifteen-day period, the landlord must not proceed with the eviction. If the landlord tries to evict the tenant anyway, the tenant can use proof that the violation was corrected as a defense to the eviction.
Keep in mind that if this is the second notice for the same violation within six months, the landlord is not required to give the tenant any time to fix the violation and can proceed directly with the eviction (see Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 47a-15).
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, Connecticut has also made it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant based on marital status, age, sexual orientation, legal source of income, and gender identity or expression (see the Connecticut Fair Housing Center for more information). 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.
Connecticut Legal Services can provide free or low-cost legal assistance to those who qualify based on income. Connecticut Legal Services also provides an online self-help center with information related to housing topics. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.
Eviction lawsuits are filed in either the superior court or housing court of the judicial district in which the rental property is located. To find your court, visit the online directory maintained by the Connecticut Judicial Branch. The Connecticut Judicial Branch also provides an online self-help center with housing and eviction information.
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 Lawyer.
Also check out Nolo's Lawyer Directory for Connecticut 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).