What to Do When Facing Eviction as a Tenant
When facing eviction, you should understand your local laws and state-specific rights, respond promptly to notices and consider legal defense in court. Seek aid from federal initiatives or local nonprofits for support.
Facing eviction is a stressful and uncertain experience for many. Tenant rights vary by state, so knowing how you should be treated during the process can empower you to make better choices and avoid manipulation. Federal initiatives and local nonprofits are also available to provide financial and legal assistance if you are dealing with eviction.
Whether you're currently facing eviction or want to be prepared for it, MoneyGeek examines process intricacies to help you protect yourself and maintain housing stability.
What Is Eviction?
Eviction is the legal process by which a landlord removes a tenant from a rental property due to specific contractual infractions, often lease violations or failure to pay rent. It's a structured procedure requiring proper notice and, in many cases, a court hearing.
Common Reasons for Eviction
Understanding the grounds for immediate eviction can help you navigate avoidable pitfalls. It’s important to fully comprehend the dos and don’ts of your lease agreement to avoid accidentally violating those terms. Typical evictable infractions include:
Non-Payment of Rent
Timely rent payments maintain trust with landlords, prevent late fees and help establish good credit. Not all states require leases to have late payment grace periods, so you can start accruing late fees immediately.
Major Property Damage
While properties naturally experience wear and tear, you should know how to identify and take action on major damage. Neglecting this damage can result in additional repair costs and even eviction. As a protective measure, always document any damages with photographs or videos to safeguard yourself against potential wrongful accusations.
Engaging in unlawful activity on the premises, like drug distribution or unlicensed business, has legal repercussions beyond eviction. The severity and type of illegal activity can influence the eviction process. Minor infractions might not lead to immediate eviction, but more severe illegal activities likely will.
When a landlord chooses not to renew a lease, tenants must vacate the property. Open communication with landlords can prevent unexpected non-renewals. Always discuss lease renewal well before its expiration to ensure clarity and avoid last-minute surprises.
Health and Safety Violations
Activities that jeopardize health and safety, like hoarding or creating fire hazards, can lead to inspections, citations and eviction. To avoid such complications, proactively address potential violations. Regular cleanups or self-inspections can help identify and rectify issues before they escalate.
Can You Get Evicted for Not Having Renters Insurance?
If your lease requires renters insurance, a landlord can take legal action against you for non-compliance. Before considering eviction, landlords usually request the tenants to secure the insurance or issue a warning. Eviction for not having renters insurance depends on the laws of the specific state or jurisdiction.
More landlords are recognizing the benefits of renters insurance and are making it a mandatory clause in their lease agreements. Renters insurance safeguards your and the landlord's best interests in unforeseen events.
- Mutual Protection: It protects the tenant and the landlord from mishaps or disasters.
- Damage Risk Reduction: It helps ensure the property remains in good condition over time.
- Application Screening: It can be mandated so landlords can filter out tenants they consider higher risk.
Explore MoneyGeek's renters resources to inform your decisions as a tenant.
Reduce the risk of facing eviction by understanding one's responsibilities, maintaining open communication with landlords and ensuring financial stability.
- Understand your lease agreement. Read and understand every clause to prevent potential misunderstandings and avoid unintentional lease violations. Ask questions before signing a lease.
- Communicate early with your landlord. Let your landlord know in advance if you foresee any challenges, such as a delay in rent payment.
- Plan your finances. Set a budget, save for emergencies and live within your means to reduce the risk of falling behind on rent.
Eviction Data by State
Eviction challenges are widespread, touching every corner of the nation. The following map provides 2018 data on eviction filings across each state.
Source: Eviction Lab
Navigating the Eviction Process
The eviction process starts with an eviction notice, progresses to a lawsuit, and, if unfavorable, ends with a move-out. Let's walk through each step to help you navigate this challenging journey.
You Receive an Eviction Notice From Your Landlord
Receiving an eviction notice is the first step in the eviction process. You have to understand the type of notice you've received:
1. Notice to Quit or Pay Rent: If you've missed rent payments, this notice gives you a brief window, usually 3 to 5 days, to either pay the overdue rent or vacate the property. Act promptly during this period to prevent further legal actions. These timeframes, like the 3 to 5 days, might vary based on local legal guidelines. Always consult the regulations in your specific state.
2. Notice of Lease Violation: This notice is for breaches other than non-payment, like having unauthorized pets or causing property damage. It outlines the specific violation and gives you a set time to rectify it.
3. Unconditional Quit Notices: The most stringent of all notices, it orders you to vacate without any chance to remedy the situation. Such notices are typically issued for repeated lease violations, multiple instances of late rent payment, significant property damage or engaging in illegal activities on the premises. These notices are typically reserved for grave or repeated infractions, and their issuance can differ according to local legal guidelines.
Upon receiving an eviction notice, take these steps:
- Understand Terms: Decipher the notice's wording and its legal meaning. Seek legal advice if needed.
- Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with local eviction laws as they differ by state.
- Address the Issue: If you've missed rent or violated the lease, act within the specified period.
- Stay Put for Now: An eviction notice isn't an immediate eviction order. The legal process can span several weeks.
- Open Dialogue: Talk to your landlord. If the notice seems unjust, explore legal options.
Your Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit
If the issues aren't resolved following the eviction notice, your landlord may escalate the matter by filing an eviction lawsuit. This lawsuit is a formal process where both parties present their case. At this stage, consult with a legal expert or attorney who can help you present a strong defense.
- Receiving the Summons: Your landlord must properly serve you with a copy of the eviction complaint and a summons. This document will provide specific details about the hearing, including the date, time and location. Ensure you understand the summons' contents and follow its instructions. It's also a good time to review your tenant rights, which can vary by state.
- Court Appearance: After being served, you'll be required to appear in court on the specified date. Failing to show up could result in an automatic judgment in favor of the landlord.
- Prepare Your Defense: During the court hearing, you have the right to present a defense. You can base your defense on the condition of the property, any discrepancies in the eviction notice or other valid reasons. Gather all relevant documentation, such as your signed lease, payment records and any correspondence between you and the landlord.
- Judge's Ruling: After reviewing all presented evidence and documentation, the judge will issue a ruling. If the judgment is in your landlord’s favor, you must vacate the property. If you win, you can continue residing in the property.
Eviction lawsuit procedures and timelines can vary significantly based on local laws and regulations. Beyond the immediate requirement to vacate the property, an eviction judgment can have other repercussions. This might include financial judgments against you, and it can adversely affect your credit report and future renting prospects.
If the court's decision doesn't go in your favor, you have the right to appeal. You can file a Notice to Appeal within 10 days after the judgment is entered. While an appeal bond is typically required, it may be waived if you can't afford it and if you have a valid, non-frivolous defense.
The process and timeline for filing an appeal may differ according to local legal guidelines. Always seek legal guidance to ensure you're taking the right steps.
Moving Out and Law Enforcement Involvement
If the judge's ruling sides with your landlord, the eviction process enters its final stages.
- Receiving the Execution Order: The judge's eviction order signifies the official directive for you to vacate the property. Typically, the court grants your landlord this execution order 10 days after the judgment.
- Sheriff’s Involvement: Since your landlord cannot physically evict you, they will engage the local sheriff with the court order to escort you off the property if you don’t vacate. You will receive a written notice specifying the eviction date and time at least 48 hours in advance. This notice serves as your final reminder to vacate the property voluntarily. It's best to leave before this to avoid confrontations.
Timelines and procedures, such as the 10-day post-judgment period and the 48-hour notice, can differ based on local laws and regulations.
The Hardship Stay of Eviction allows tenants to seek an eviction date extension due to specific hardships. After an eviction judgment, you can request a Hardship Stay within three days of receiving the "Warrant For Removal." This can delay eviction due to hardships like lack of alternative housing or having children. The availability and criteria for such stays can vary by jurisdiction. To qualify:
- Settle all dues by the hearing, including unpaid rent and fees.
- Show evidence of genuine hardship, like no alternative housing or having children.
- Maintain regular rent payments during the stay.
- Stays can last up to six months, but extensions require proof of your housing search efforts.
Contrary to belief, 30-day post-eviction stays aren't automatic and can be challenging to secure, especially for non-payment cases.
Know Your Tenant Rights and Protections
While landlords have certain prerogatives, tenants also have rights and protections to ensure fair treatment. Maintaining open communication with your landlord and keeping a record of all interactions can be instrumental in resolving potential disputes. If you face serious issues like eviction or discrimination, seek legal advice to be fully aware of your rights and the available legal recourse.
As a tenant, your rights include the specifics of eviction notices and the rules surrounding landlord access to rented properties.
Each state, through its landlord-tenant laws, mandates the type and duration of notice required before eviction. For instance, California landlords must provide a 3-day notice for unpaid rent or lease term violations.
Cure the Violation
Many states grant tenants a window to "cure" a violation, such as settling overdue rent to avert eviction. In New York, for example, tenants usually have a 10-day grace period to address a rent default.
It is each state’s responsibility to establish and enforce tenant due process during an eviction proceeding. That usually means the distribution of an eviction notice and an official court proceeding before action is taken.
State-specific laws stipulate the conditions under which landlords can access rented properties, often mandating prior notice.
Protections to Tenants
Tenant protections help prevent unjust evictions, spanning issues from retaliatory measures to discriminatory actions.
State-specific statutes shield tenants from evictions believed to be retaliatory. In Oregon, retaliatory evictions are prohibited, especially after a tenant lodges complaints about housing conditions.
The Fair Housing Act, a federal statute, bars landlords from evicting tenants based on race, sex, color, religion, national origin, disability or familial status.
Self-Help Evictions refer to scenarios where landlords sidestep legal procedures to evict tenants, like altering locks or terminating utilities. In many jurisdictions, these tactics are illegal and expose landlords to potential penalties.
Tenant Rights and Protections by State
While there are federal guidelines on renter rights, each state has the autonomy to introduce additional protections and stipulations tailored to its residents. MoneyGeek compiled resources and relevant readings for each state to provide you with a deeper understanding of your area’s regulations.
Eviction Assistance Programs
Federal initiatives and local non-profits provide financial aid, legal support and educational resources to prevent evictions and maintain housing stability.
1. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP helps low-income households with their urgent home energy needs.
2. Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8). This Housing Choice Voucher Program allows low-income families to lease safe, affordable private housing by subsidizing a portion of their rent.
3. HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). FHEO ensures equal housing access and handles housing discrimination complaints.
4. Community Action Agencies. Local organizations like Community Action Agencies address poverty-related challenges and offer services like rental assistance to low-income families.
5. State Housing Finance Agencies. State HFAs provide resources and programs to assist renters and address state-specific housing needs.
FAQ for Tenants Facing Eviction
Here are some frequently asked questions to guide tenants through this challenging time:
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- Avail. "“Steps in the Eviction Process: How Does Eviction Work?." Accessed October 18, 2023.
- Central Jersey Legal Services. "Hardship Stay of Eviction." Accessed August 28, 2023.
- Eviction Lab. "National Eviction Map." Accessed August 28, 2023.
- FindLaw. "Tenant Eviction: What You Should Know as a Renter." Accessed August 28, 2023.
- Mass.gov. "Tenants’ Guide to Eviction." Accessed October 18, 2023.
- Nolo. "How Evictions Work: What Renters Need to Know." Accessed October 18, 2023.
- Nolo. "How Evictions Work: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers." Accessed October 18, 2023.