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Just the thought of getting served with an eviction notice is scary for most people. Fortunately, landlords are not allowed to use self-help, such as changing the locks, making living conditions unbearable, or threats of force, to evict a tenant. Additionally, most states and cities have specific procedures that must be followed for an eviction to be valid.
Unfortunately for tenants, most cities do not have strong rent control protections like in San Francisco or Toronto. This means that in most places, after a lease term has ended, or is on a month to month basis, so long as a landlord follows the law, a tenant can be rightfully evicted with relative ease.
Here are the top three do's and don't's to follow if you've received an eviction notice.
No. 1: Don't Ignore Eviction Notices. Do Attempt to Resolve Problems Before Court Action.
Ignoring an eviction notice is a good way to make sure you lose in court and get evicted. In some cities, an eviction notice can easily be resolved, and is one or two steps before court filings begin. If you read it, you may be surprised. After all, it could all just be a simple misunderstanding, such as a check getting lost in the mail, or a passive-aggressive neighborly dispute.
An eviction notice will generally state whether there is a way to avoid the eviction, as well as the basis for the eviction. If you don't ignore the notice, you may be able to avoid a having your eviction processed through the courts.
No. 2: Don't Face It Alone. Do Hire a Lawyer or Get Legal Help.
Landlord tenant law is rather nuanced and can frequently vary from city to city within a state. When you are served with an eviction notice, if it is not clear to you how to stop the eviction from moving forward after reading it, you should hire a lawyer or get legal help right away. Some eviction notices could require you to act within time periods as short as a day or two, depending on why and when you receive them. Don't forget, landlords are business people, and hiring a lawyer can help level the negotiation "playing field," and help alert you to any foul play.
If you are being evicted for failing to pay rent because of a financial inability to do so, you may qualify for low cost or free legal assistance, as well as temporary rental assistance. Contacting your city or state's bar association may be able to help you find non-profit, pro-bono, or reduced cost, legal assistance. If you're facing an eviction for a reason other than non-payment, you may still be able to obtain free or low costs assistance, as these services usually rely on level of income to qualify. If these are not available in your area, you may be able to find an attorney who will work at a reduced rate, or be willing to bill you after the fact.
No. 3: Don't Make Things Worse. Do Keep Paying Rent and Living Peacefully.
If you don't want to move out, it is in your best interest not to make things worse. For example, you don't want to start doing things that would give the landlord any additional reasons to evict, such as destroying the property, harassing the neighbors, failing to pay rent on time, parking in the property manager's spot, or violating the lease agreement.
However, in some specific scenarios, if advised by an attorney knowledgeable about your specific situation, you may want to pay rent into escrow, or simply save it in your own account, while an eviction is pending.
Just because an eviction notice was served, there is no guarantee that you will have to move, unless you do nothing. Seeking legal advice as soon as possible after receiving a notice of eviction is a good idea particularly as legal eviction proceedings, called unlawful detainers, frequently are expedited and can be over in a matter of weeks.