Jun 26, 2017

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How Committing a Crime as a Renter Jeopardizes your Housing

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Committing a Crime

Being charged with a crime is a frightening proposition.  Beyond the potential of going to jail and paying hefty court costs, legal fees, and fines; there is the social stigma of being identified as a criminal and the potential of losing your job or professional licenses.  But did you know being charged with a crime could also leave you homeless if you are renting a home or an apartment?

Over the last fifteen years, there is a been a rise in the inclusion of “crime-free” provisions in and addendums to residential leases.  The specific language of these “crime-free” provisions will vary from lease to lease, but generally the language used is designed to give a landlord the right to evict a tenant should they engage in criminal activity.

Some leases may specify the criminal activity needs to take place in or around the residence.  Other leases may restrict the type of criminal activity that could result in eviction (most commonly drug related).  But the most restrictive leases will spell out that the tenant shall not engage in criminal activity on or off the property.  It is also not uncommon to see leases that include language permitting landlords to evict tenants should their guests engage in criminal activity at the leased residence.

You may think that these “crime-free” provisions are really only intended for people who rent a house and use it for the sale, manufacturing, or production of illegal drugs.  And while that may have been the real impetus behind the start of these provisions, such activity is only a very small area of the criminal code.

Suppose you have a party in your apartment and two of your guests get into an argument that spills out in to the street.  If the police arrive and make arrests, there is a very real chance that your landlord could seek to have you evicted.  What if you have a teenage son who gets caught experimenting with marijuana?  That criminal activity could lead to an eviction.  What if you are on vacation, have one too many drinks, and wind up with a DUI nowhere near your home?  Depending on the wording of your lease, it could lead to the landlord trying to evict you.

It is important to note that landlord-tenant issues fall are part of civil law (rather than criminal).  As you may know, the burden of proof in a civil matter is much lower than it is in the criminal courts.  To be convicted of a crime, someone’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Whereas, in the civil system an allegation (such as you having engaged in criminal activity at your rented residence) only needs to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.

How different are these burdens?  Beyond a reasonable doubt can be described as a 90 percent or more certainty, while by a preponderance of the evidence is just that something is more like than not (or anything greater than 50 percent likely).  What this means is that you could eventually be exonerated by a criminal court, yet still evicted from your rented home related to the same charges.

It is also much more likely that you would face eviction long before the criminal charges would be resolved.  And, because the criminal matter would not yet be handled, it is very likely a criminal defense attorney would advise you (or the person who has been charged with a crime) to refrain from testifying since any statements made at this civil eviction preceding could potentially be used against the defendant at a future criminal trial.  That realistically means that the only person who testifies at the eviction regarding criminal activity is going to be the landlord who wants to have you evicted.  With no one refuting that testimony, it is not hard to imagine the eviction being granted.

Now your lease may not contain any “crime-free” language, but that does not mean you still could not be facing eviction just as though such language were in your lease.  Many communities have enacted local ordinances which permit landlords to seek evictions for crime-related reasons.  Some communities even have adopted rules permitting neighbors to seek evictions when criminal activity has happened in their community.

When it comes to being a renter, you need to be aware of the potential of eviction in relation to criminal activity.  You also need to carefully read your lease and be aware of additional rules put in place by your community.  Should you find yourself facing criminal charges, you are going to need to consult with not only a criminal defense attorney but also someone versed in your local landlord-tenant rules. A criminal lawyer Pottstown PA can assess your situation and assist you in finding a reasonable solution.

Rick | LinnThanks to our friends and contributors from Rick Linn, LLC for their insight into criminal law and landlord tenant law.