Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Kentucky

Learn when tenants may have the legal right to fight an eviction in Kentucky.

In Kentucky, a landlord can evict a tenant for failing to pay rent or for violating the lease or rental agreement. A tenant who is facing eviction for one of these reasons may have at least one defense available.

Grounds for Eviction in Kentucky

Kentucky has adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA), which sets forth the rules and regulations landlords and tenants must follow when renting property. According to the URLTA, a tenant is required to pay rent on time and honor the lease. Failure to pay rent and violating the lease are the two most common reasons evictions occur. Before a landlord can evict a tenant for either of those reasons, though, the landlord must give the tenant notice.

Notice Requirements for Nonpayment of Rent

A landlord can evict a tenant for not paying rent when it is due. However, before filing the eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord is required to give the tenant a seven-day notice. The notice must state that the tenant has seven days to pay rent or the lease will terminate and eviction proceedings will begin (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.660(2)).

Notice Requirements for Lease Violations

A landlord can also evict a tenant for violating the lease or rental agreement. If a tenant has violated the lease, the landlord is required to give the tenant a notice that states the tenant has 15 days to fix the lease violation (by either stopping a certain act or paying for damages) or the lease will terminate.

If the tenant commits the same lease violation within six months of receiving notice for the first violation, the landlord is only required to give the tenant 14-day notice that states the lease will terminate at the end of 14 days. The landlord is not required to give the tenant any time to fix the violation (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.660(1)).

Examples of lease violations include throwing loud parties during designated quiet hours or having unauthorized people living in the apartment.

Eviction Process

If the tenant has not paid rent or fixed the lease violation during the appropriate time period, the landlord can then file an eviction lawsuit with the district court of the county in which the rental property is located. The eviction lawsuit is also called a forcible entry and detainer suit. The landlord can also sue for unpaid rent or damages (seeKy. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 383.210 and 383.685).

The landlord must file a complaint and summons with the court to begin the lawsuit. The tenant will then receive a copy of the complaint and summons, along with a date and time for a hearing before a judge. If the tenant wishes to challenge the eviction, the tenant must attend the hearing. At the hearing, the judge will listen to both the landlord and the tenant and come to 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.

Eviction Defenses in Kentucky

A tenant facing eviction for failing to pay rent or violating the lease may have a defense against the eviction.

Landlord Evicts Tenant Illegally

In Kentucky, the only legal way to evict a tenant is by receiving a court order from a judge allowing the eviction to proceed. If a landlord attempts to remove a tenant through any other means, such as changing the locks to the rental unit or shutting off the utilities, the tenant can sue the landlord for damages. This type of illegal eviction is often referred to as a “self-help” eviction or unlawful ouster (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.655). For more information on “self-help” evictions, see the Nolo article Illegal Eviction Procedures in Kentucky.

Landlord Does Not Follow Proper Eviction Procedures

When evicting a tenant, it is very important that the landlord carefully follows all the rules set forth in the Kentucky statutes. If the landlord does not follow all the rules, the eviction may not be valid. For example, the landlord is required to give the tenant a seven-day notice before filing an eviction lawsuit for failure to pay rent. If the landlord does not give the tenant any kind of notice and just files the lawsuit, the tenant can defend against the eviction by claiming lack of notice. The judge would then stop the lawsuit, and the landlord would be required to give the tenant a proper seven-day notice. At the end of the seven-day period, if the tenant still has not paid all the rent due and owing, the landlord can file a new eviction lawsuit.

It is important to note that this type of defense will not stop a justified eviction; it will merely delay it. As soon as the landlord fixes the deficient procedure, the eviction will continue.

Landlord Evicts Tenant for Not Paying Rent

A tenant may have a defense if facing eviction for not paying rent.

Tenant Paid Rent in Full

A tenant has seven days after receiving notice from the landlord to pay late rent in full. If the tenant pays during the seven-day period, the landlord must not continue with the eviction lawsuit (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.660(2)). When paying rent during the seven-day time frame, the tenant should ask the landlord for a time-stamped receipt. Then, if the landlord continues with the eviction lawsuit anyway, the tenant will have proof that rent was paid during the appropriate time frame.

Landlord Did Not Maintain the Rental Unit

A landlord is required to keep a rental unit in Kentucky fit and habitable. This means the landlord must:

  • comply with all building and housing codes that affect health and safety
  • keep all common areas clean and safe
  • maintain in good and safe repair all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities at the rental unit
  • supply running water, including hot water, at all times, and
  • supply heat between the months of October 1 and May 1.

See Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.595.

If the rental unit is in need of repair in any of the above areas, the tenant has several options available. The tenant can only choose one of these options at a time.

  1. If the cost of the repair is less than half the monthly rent, the tenant can give the landlord a notice that states that the landlord has 14 days to make the necessary repairs or the tenant will cause the repairs to be made and deduct the cost of the repairs from the rent. If the landlord fails to make the repairs within 14 days of receiving the notice, the tenant can arrange for the repairs to be made. The tenant needs to keep all the receipts and give an itemized statement to the landlord when deducting the costs from the rent (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.635).
  2. If the landlord fails to supply the rental unit with an essential service, such as heat, electricity, or running water, the tenant can give the landlord written notice of the services needed. Then the tenant can procure the essential service and deduct the costs from the rent, or the tenant can find another place to live until the landlord supplies the essential services. The tenant would not have to pay rent while living in a different location (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.640).
  3. The tenant could also choose to give the landlord a 30-day notice that states that unless the landlord makes the necessary repairs within 14 days, the lease will terminate at the end of 30 days. If the landlord does not make the repairs within 14 days, the tenant can move out of the rental unit and is no longer required to pay rent (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.625).

If the landlord tries to evict the tenant for failure to pay rent because the tenant either pays reduced rent or pays no rent, the tenant can defend against the eviction by proving that the landlord failed to make necessary repairs. The court may require the tenant to pay rent to the court, and then the court will determine who receives the rent at the end of the lawsuit (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.645).

For more information on the topic, see the article Kentucky Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or “Repair and Deduct,”published by Nolo.

Landlord Evicts Tenant for Violating the Lease Agreement

A landlord is required to give the tenant at least 15 days to fix a lease violation before filing the eviction lawsuit. If the tenant fixes the violation within 15 days, the landlord must not continue with the eviction. If the landlord proceeds with the eviction anyway, the tenant can use proof that the violation was fixed within the appropriate time frame as a defense against the eviction.

Remember that if this is the second notice of the same violation within a six-month period, the landlord does not need to give the tenant any time to fix the violation. At the end of a 14-day notice period, the lease will terminate and the landlord can proceed with the eviction (see Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 383.660(1)).

Landlord Evicts Tenant Based on Discrimination

The federal Fair Housing Act and Kentucky’s Fair Housing Law make 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 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.

Additional Resources for Tenants in Kentucky

Legal aid organizations, such as the Legal Aid Network of Kentucky, can provide free or low-cost legal aid to those who qualify based on income. The Legal Aid Network of Kentucky also provides free online housing resources for anyone with questions. Tenants who live in federally assisted housing should also check out the tenant resource page at HUD.gov.

When to Hire an Experienced Lawyer

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 Kentucky lawyers who specialize in landlord-tenant law.

More Information on Evictions and Terminations

For more articles on the subject, see the Evictions and Terminations section of Nolo.com.

For more information on tenant rights, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).

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