What Tenants Need to Know About Evictions
March 24, 2023
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Every tenant’s eviction is different.
Each one depends on the rental agreement signed by the tenant and the landlord and the local laws.
As a tenant, it’s always wise to keep meticulous records and receipts, in case you encounter this situation.
The more knowledge you have on your rights and the laws surrounding evictions, the better prepared you’ll be if your landlord serves you notice.
So, without further ado, let’s look at what you need to know about evictions.
Evictions must be court-ordered
The first key thing you need to know is that only courts have the authority to evict you. Almost every state forbids landlords from conducting do-it-yourself evictions (including actions like changing the locks or removing the tenant’s belongings). These actions are illegal and can lead to legal penalties.
To get a court order, landlords must follow specific legal procedures. This process differs by jurisdiction, but usually involves the following steps:
- The landlord must provide the tenant with proper notice for eviction, which can vary depending on the reason for the eviction and state or local laws. This notice must be in writing and state a specific time frame wherein the tenant can remedy the issue before the landlord files for eviction.
- If the tenant doesn’t comply with the notice, the landlord can file a lawsuit with the court to obtain an eviction order. The landlord must properly serve the tenant with a copy of the complaint and summons, which usually requires personal service or a posting on the property.
- The tenant must then go to court and defend themselves against the eviction. If your landlord follows proper procedure and you ignore a lawsuit, then they will probably be able to obtain a default judgment, which often results in a court order for eviction.
- If the court grants the eviction order, landlords must obtain a writ of possession, which allows a sheriff or law enforcement officer to physically remove the tenant and their belongings from the property.
Evictions require valid reasons
Your landlord cannot evict you because they don’t like your décor. Evictions require specific reasons, and landlords must have a legal basis for trying to remove you from the property. Some common reasons for eviction are:
- Non-payment of rent: If a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time and in full, the landlord can file for an eviction.
- Violation of lease agreement: If a tenant violates the terms of the rental agreement (I.e., moves a pet onto the property when the lease has a no-pets clause), the landlord may be able to file for eviction.
- Illegal activity: If a tenant engages in illegal activity on the rental property like drug dealing or solicitation, the landlord may be able to file for eviction.
- End of tenancy: If the lease agreement expires or the tenant has a month-to-month lease, the landlord can end the tenancy with proper notice.
It’s worth mentioning that some jurisdictions have extra protections for tenants like restrictions on no-fault evictions. Conduct thorough research on local laws, understand tenant rights for eviction and meet with an attorney if you’re unsure about anything.
Evictions may require court hearings
Can you fight an eviction? Absolutely. It may be prudent, however, to get a knowledgeable lawyer, if you can afford it. In court, the landlord will need to prove their case based on the legal reason(s) they provided in the notice. Common legal defenses for tenants include:
- Improper notice: If the landlord didn’t provide proper notice before filing for eviction, the tenant may be able to challenge the eviction based on this issue.
- Discrimination: If the tenant believes that the eviction is based on a protected characteristic, such as gender, race, or disability, the tenant may be able to challenge the eviction based on this issue.
- Retaliation: If the tenant has a record of complaints against the landlord or authorities about housing violations (I.e., health or safety issues), the tenant may be able to challenge the eviction based on the possibility that the landlord is using the eviction as retaliation.
- Improper maintenance: If the rental unit is dilapidated or unsafe, the tenant may be able to challenge the eviction based on the landlord’s failure to keep the unit livable.
If you go to court and the court grants the eviction order, the landlord must obtain a writ of possession. This order permits a sheriff or law enforcement officer to physically remove you and your belongings from the property.
You will only have a certain amount of time to vacate the rental unit after the court order. If you don’t leave the premises during the specified time frame, the sheriff or law enforcement officer may forcibly remove you.
Evictions may affect credit and rental history
If you win an eviction case, the eviction won’t proceed, and you can remain on your property.
On the other hand, losing an eviction case can negatively impact tenants in many ways. An eviction can hurt your credit score, rental history, and future relationships with new landlords. Furthermore, tenants may be responsible for court costs and lawyer fees, which can add up quickly.
Therefore, it’s important to consider seeking legal help if you face an upcoming eviction hearing. Legal aid organizations, tenant unions, and private lawyers may be able to help you with counsel, advice and representation.
What else do you need to know?
If you receive an eviction notice, it’s in your best interest to act quickly. Evictions are costly and time-consuming, so you want to avoid them, if possible. Here are some suggestions on what courses of action you should consider:
- Pay outstanding rent: If the eviction is due to non-payment of rent, the tenant may be able to avoid eviction by paying the outstanding rent. Some landlords may be willing to set up a payment plan with the tenant.
- Remedy lease violations: If the eviction is due to lease violations, the tenant may be able to avoid eviction by fixing the violations in a timely manner.
- Negotiate with the landlord: Sometimes, the tenant may be able to negotiate with the landlord to avoid eviction. For instance, the landlord may agree to a temporary rent reduction, lease modification, or other special arrangement to help the tenant stay on the property.
Lastly, even if you get evicted, you may be entitled to relocation assistance. Some states require landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants who are being evicted for certain reasons. For example, if the landlord ends a subsidized housing program, or if the rental property is being demolished, the landlord may need to provide relocation assistance to the tenants being displaced.
So, if you get evicted, review state and local laws to see if you’re entitled to relocation assistance. If you qualify for assistance, you may need to notify the landlord or property manager in writing and follow specific procedures to request the assistance. Sometimes, you may also need to provide documentation, such as proof of income, to qualify for relocation assistance.
It’s important to understand your rights as a tenant, especially if you’re facing an eviction. These events can have lasting consequences, so you want to avoid them whenever possible.
Check out our tenant guide for other helpful renting tips!