Damages Recoverable in a North Carolina Wrongful Eviction Claim

wooden doors with a yellow note on the front that reads "final notice of eviction"

Maginnis Law recently has filed several class action lawsuits alleging that a landlord unlawfully charged attorney fees and costs to a tenant without having obtained a judgment through a summary ejectment action. If this has happened to you, contact our firm as soon as you can. You can also subscribe to our mailing list to learn about the rights you have under consumer protection law against large corporations.

All North Carolina residential landlords are required to use the statutory “summary ejectment” procedure to evict a tenant that has breached a residential lease. A summary ejectment action permits the landlord to quickly and peaceably obtain possession of the property. If, contrary to law, a landlord uses “self-help” and forcibly evicts a tenant, or retaliates for some lawful action on behalf of the tenant (such as reporting a building code violation), the landlord can be held liable for wrongful eviction.

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(a), “[d]amages in any action brought by a tenant [for wrongful eviction] shall be limited to actual damages as in an action for trespass or conversion and shall not include punitive damages, treble damages or damages for emotional distress.” While this statutory section purports to limit a tenant’s wrongful eviction recovery to actual damages, such as lost or damaged personal property, costs of moving, and increased rent, the courts have nevertheless permitted a separate claim under North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1, et seq.

In Stanley v. Moore, 454 S.E.2d 225 (1995), the North Carolina Supreme Court found that the landlord’s abusive actions in demanding a tenant vacate the property and thereafter making it impossible to live in the property after the tenant did not leave (by, among other things, cutting off the electricity) constituted unfair and deceptive acts. The Court took note of 42-25.9(a), but also pointed out that that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 42-25.9(c) provides that “[t]he remedies created by this section are supplementary to all existing common‑law and statutory rights and remedies.” The Supreme Court construed this section to mean that, along with the wrongful eviction claim, the tenant could also bring an action for Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices. Stanley was an important opinion, because if a plaintiff can prove a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices statute, he or she is entitled to treble the recoverable actual damages and may also be awarded attorneys’ fees.

If you have been evicted without use of the summary ejectment procedure or have otherwise been subjected to abusive and harassing treatment from your landlord, contact the landlord-tenant and civil litigation lawyers of Maginnis Law at 919.526.0450. You may also send a confidential message through our contact page. The firm regularly represents clients throughout Wake County, including Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, Garner, Apex, and Zebulon. Maginnis Law also represents clients in Durham and Orange Counties, including Chapel Hill.