The eviction process is the proper method for removing a renter from a rental property. Landlords and property managers cannot use self-help, such as changing locks or removing the tenant's property, to evict a renter. The eviction process is legal and ensures the landlord's and tenant's rights are fully afforded.
Landlords who use self-help risk paying their tenants a month's rent, court costs, and attorney fees.
Reasons To Evict a Tenant
Landlords and property managers need a valid, legal reason to evict a tenant. They can't evict someone because they don't like the person. Typically, landlords evict tenants who violate the terms of the lease.
Here are a few legally valid reasons to start an eviction case:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Illegal activities on the rental property
- Violation of occupancy limits
- Violation of terms of the lease
Landlords can evict a tenant for cause or without cause, but the steps of the eviction proceedings are relatively routine.
First, the landlord must give the renter written notice to vacate the rental unit. They must also provide the renter a reasonable amount of time to respond to the written notice. The written notice should include ways to contact the landlord, like an email address or phone number. To avoid conflict during the process, landlords should send the notice via certified mail, with a return receipt proving that they sent it.
Often, landlords give a three-day notice to vacate. This changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when landlords had to provide a 30-day notice to vacate under the CARES Act. As of 2023, this notice requirement was only still in place for public housing and other properties that get aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Be sure to give proper notice, as the failure to do so may hinder your case.
If the renter does not comply with the written notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit in the appropriate court. The court will set a date for a hearing, which all parties must attend. Both parties should bring a copy of the written lease. If either party does not attend, they risk a default judgment or a ruling in favor of the opposing side. After the hearing, the court may issue a court order, including attorney fees and court costs.
In some states, the landlord may use the security deposit to cover unpaid rent if the renter moves out within the time frame outlined in the eviction notice. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, and the tenant still refuses to vacate the rental unit, the landlord can involve local law enforcement to carry out the eviction. If that happens, the tenant may only have a few minutes to gather their personal property.
Eviction for Cause
Most evictions are for a particular reason or cause, such as failure to pay rent or repeated lease agreement violations. Regardless of the cause (unless it's criminal activity involving law enforcement), landlords must go through the eviction process that allows the tenant to answer the landlord's claims. There are three basic types of eviction notices that a landlord may send a tenant:
- Pay rent or quit: Landlords and property managers use this notice if a tenant has missed their rent payment beyond a certain number of days (typically included in the lease agreement). The notice gives the tenant a few days to either pay the rent or quit the lease.
- Cure or quit: This is very similar to the "pay rent or quit" notice but requires the tenant to either cure the given problem (perhaps an unauthorized pet or other lease violations) or quit the lease.
- Unconditional quit: If a tenant gets this notice, the landlord will not allow them to correct the offending behavior or pay back rent. Rather, they must leave or quit the lease, although state laws sometimes limit the conditions to use this type of notice.
Eviction Without Cause
Landlords often can evict tenants who pay rent on time and honor the lease agreement, but they must typically give the tenant 30 or 60 days to leave. Under a fixed-term agreement (such as a one-year lease), the landlord must honor those terms before giving notice. This also applies to month-to-month tenancies, in which the tenant's lease automatically renews at the end of each month.
Defenses to an Eviction Notice
You should consider available defenses before packing your things after receiving an eviction notice.
These defenses include:
- Improper notice: The landlord must follow legal protocol when carrying out an eviction, which includes sufficient notice and proper filing of the court papers.
- Acceptance of partial rent: If your landlord accepts partial or late rent, they generally may not claim a lease violation (and thus initiate the eviction process) based on the partial or late rent payment.
- Poor maintenance of rental property: To claim this defense, the tenant must first notify the landlord of a housing code violation (such as a nonfunctioning toilet) and allow a reasonable time to fix it.
- Retaliation: Landlords may not retaliate against tenants who, for example, report housing code violations to authorities.
- Constructive eviction: When a rental property becomes uninhabitable, and the landlord is unresponsive to requests to remedy this, the tenant has effectively been evicted.
- Fair Housing Act: Your landlord may not evict you based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or familial status (such as having children).
Click on a link below to learn more about the eviction process and the rights of the parties involved.
Learn About Eviction
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