What leg do I have to stand on to file a small claims suit against a brother that does not pay rent?

UPDATED: Mar 28, 2011

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What leg do I have to stand on to file a small claims suit against a brother that does not pay rent?

My brother is no longer paying rent or paying any utility bills. He is living off of my wife and I for free. Also, lost our house/car keys when we went on vacation and has no intention of paying us back. Just to change the locks, getting everything re-keyed for the house/cars costing us $500+ plus 2 months rent left unpaid.

Asked on March 28, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Washington


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

If he at one point did pay rent/utilities (even though he has now stopped), legally he will be considered to be a tenant.  The lawful way to remove them is to file for an "unlawful detainer" (i.e. eviction).  At that point, you can go to small claims court and try to sue for reimbursement of your out-of-pocket expenses, plus the amount of back rent that he owes you.  However, as a practical matter, it may not be worth your time and trouble if your is the kind of person that you make him out to be.

Note:  Since he is a tenant (as least in the eyes of the law), don't take any "self-help" measures to remove him from your home (i.e. putting his belongings out in the street or locking him out).  If you do, ironically you could find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit (for illegal eviction for one).

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