Tenant Eviction: What You Should Know as a Renter
An eviction occurs when a landlord or property manager removes a renter from a rental unit, often for lease violations. Since lease and rental agreements are binding legal documents, landlords need a valid reason to evict a renter. Without a valid reason, they are likely breaking the lease.
As a renter, you should understand tenant rights regarding eviction to protect yourself. This FindLaw article explores the eviction process and possible defenses to eviction for tenants.
State law and local ordinances govern eviction processes. Landlords need a valid reason to end the tenancy and evict their tenant. They must follow the eviction process or risk the consequences of breaking the lease agreement.
A few valid reasons for evicting a tenant include:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Illegal or criminal activity on the rental property
- Damage to the dwelling unit or rental property
The first official step in the eviction process is the eviction notice. This written notice tells the tenant the reason for the eviction and gives them time to cure the lease violation.
State and local laws and the circumstances of each case determine the type of eviction notice a landlord will use. There are three types of eviction notices landlords and property managers use.
These three types of eviction notices include:
- Pay rent or quit
- Cure or quit
- Unconditional quit
Pay Rent or Quit
Landlords use this option for nonpayment of rent and can issue this notice after a tenant misses one month's rent. In this notice, the landlord gives the tenant a set period of time to pay the outstanding rent or move out of the dwelling unit. Landlords often use the security deposit to cover any unpaid rent if the tenant opts to quit the lease.
Cure or Quit
Landlords use this option for lease violations, such as a failure to abide by the occupancy limits. Tenants have a set time to cure the violation or vacate the rental property.
Landlords and property managers reserve this notice for difficult or extreme cases. Some examples of reasons for an unconditional quit include:
- The tenant is habitually late with rent.
- The tenant seriously damaged the rental property.
- The tenant is engaging in illegal or criminal activities on the rental property.
Eviction Notice Timing
State and local laws also dictate the amount of time for eviction notices. For example, a landlord who wants to evict a tenant on a month-to-month lease must give that tenant 30 days' notice. The notice period increases to 60 days for tenants with leases for one year or more.
Evictions Without Cause
Sometimes, a landlord may ask you to vacate the rental property before the lease term ends without a valid reason. Foreclosure is one reason for evictions without cause. If the bank or mortgage lender forecloses on the rental property, they can ask the tenants to vacate. However, in these cases, the eviction notice should give the tenant more time to leave the dwelling unit, often 30-60 days. This lengthened period gives the tenant extra time to find a new place to live.
If you are facing an eviction without a cause, speak to an attorney about your renter rights. If your landlord is in breach of contract, you will likely have a legal action against him in small claims court.
If you receive an eviction notice, you have two choices: fix the underlying issue or leave the rental unit. If you refuse to do either, your landlord may proceed with the eviction. The case will go before a judge, where both parties can present evidence. The court can assess late fees and attorney's fees against the losing party.
If your landlord prevails, the court usually issues a writ of possession to the property owner. This court order allows law enforcement to physically remove you from the rental property. Tenants must also remove their personal property from the rental unit when they leave.
Defenses to Eviction
You can fight against an eviction action with a valid defense. A few common defenses to evictions include:
- Housing discrimination
- Breach of the implied warranty of habitability
- Retaliatory eviction
Federal law and local housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing. On the national level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enforces the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone in a real estate transaction based on a protected characteristic.
Protected characteristics include:
- National origin
- Familial status
A landlord cannot evict you based on a protected characteristic. For example, a landlord can't evict you because you are not married (familial status).
Breach of the Implied Warranty of Habitability
The law reads an implied warranty of habitability into every lease agreement. These are basic standards, often found in local housing codes, to ensure each rental unit is fit for human life. Ensuring their rental property is suitable for human life is a fundamental landlord responsibility.
The following are a few examples of things that fall under this implied warranty:
- Running water
- Hot water
- Working plumbing
- No pest or rodent infestation
- Working electrical systems
Landlords must upkeep the common areas of the rental property and fix necessary repairs in the rental unit. The common areas include, but are not limited to:
- Front Steps
Tenants faced with unsafe or unlivable housing have a valid reason to leave their dwelling unit.
If the landlord does not maintain or keep the property in livable condition, the tenant can self-evict. First, they should send the landlord a written notice via certified mail of why the rental is uninhabitable and give a reasonable time to make good repairs.
If the landlord does not make the repairs, the tenant can move out. This is a constructive eviction because the tenant cannot use the dwelling unit, the underlying lease is invalid, and the tenant does not have to pay rent.
Retaliatory evictions are illegal. A retaliatory eviction occurs when the landlord evicts a tenant for exercising their legal rights. Consider a landlord who files an eviction notice against a tenant two weeks after that tenant reported them for a housing code violation. This tenant may use a retaliatory eviction claim as a defense because the eviction notice came a few days after the report.
If you are facing an eviction, you are not alone. A landlord-tenant attorney can help. They are experts in landlord-tenant law and well-versed in landlord-tenant issues. They can review your written lease and provide you with sound legal advice. Speak with an experienced, local landlord-tenant law attorney today.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.