The Eviction Process FAQ
Evictions are often stressful and scary for most renters. In many evictions, renters only get three days' notice to fix the underlying problem or leave their rental unit. Three days to pack up their personal property, find a new place to live or a storage unit, and vacate the unit. Many people don't know their options when faced with an eviction and allow it to proceed unchecked.
This Findlaw article reviews the eviction process and answers some frequently asked questions (FAQ).
What Is an Eviction?
The eviction process is a tool landlords or property management use to force renters to leave the rental property. Landlords cannot use self-help to evict a tenant from their rental unit.
Self-help includes the following:
- Changing the locks
- Removing the tenant's property from the unit
- Cutting off utilities, including electricity and gas
Instead, landlords and property managers must follow the local laws of the rental property's location or applicable state laws.
What are evictions for cause?
Most evictions are for cause, meaning the landlord has a legally valid reason for evicting a residential tenant. Lease agreements are binding legal contracts. Breaking a lease before it expires often has consequences, so landlords should have a valid reason to evict a tenant. One exception to this is a month-to-month lease. Under a month-to-month lease, either party can give one month's notice to vacate.
A few common reasons for eviction include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Consistent late payment of monthly rent
- Criminal or illegal activity on the rental property
- Lease violations, such as occupancy limits
- Violation of pet policy
Unless the underlying cause is an emergency, landlords usually follow the eviction process to end a tenancy and remove a tenant.
How does the eviction process work?
The first step in the eviction process is giving the tenant written notice, a due process requirement. Under the law, the tenant has a right to a hearing. Eviction notices should give the renter information about the reason for the eviction and a certain amount of time to vacate the rental property.
There are three types of written notices a landlord can use during this stage of the eviction process. These include the following:
- Notice to quit: a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent should include the following:
- Landlord and tenant's contact information
- Address of the rental property
- The period of time for the tenant to pay past due rent and late fees or vacate the rental unit
- Cure or quit: a notice to quit for lease violations should include everything listed above for a regular notice to quit and the reason for the notice. For example, if you have a pet in a non-pet building, your landlord may issue a cure or quit notice, giving you several days to either rehome the pet or move.
- Unconditional quit notices: These notices are for extreme situations, like a tenant who causes severe damage or engages in dangerous behavior on the rental property. Under an unconditional quit notice, the renter does not have an opportunity to cure the underlying problem.
Many property managers leave a copy of the eviction notice on the tenant's door and send a copy via certified mail. Be sure to check your local laws for specific rules about giving notice.
What are eviction proceedings?
Property management can file an eviction lawsuit in their local housing court if the tenant is nonresponsive to the eviction notice. Property managers in some states, such as Maryland, can file lawsuits in the local district court. The landlord or property manager must pay a filing fee and serve the notice to the tenant. The court clerk will then schedule a court hearing on the matter.
At the hearing, the court will review the terms of the lease and evidence from both sides before making a decision. If either party fails to appear they risk a default judgment, with the court automatically ruling for the opposing party. If both parties appear, the court will issue a court order in favor of one party. The court can also assign court costs and attorney's fees to the prevailing party.
Can I appeal my eviction?
Yes, although it may not always be the best course of action for tenants. If a judge rules in favor of the landlord and the tenant disagrees, they can submit a motion for reconsideration. This motion provides the judge with an opportunity to reconsider their decision. If the tenant still doesn't get the decision they want, they can then submit an appeal.
Are there any exceptions to eviction rules?
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many workers suddenly lost their jobs and could not pay for their housing. In response, the federal government enacted an eviction moratorium. That moratorium prevented landlords from evicting tenants who couldn't pay their rent due to the pandemic. The national eviction moratorium expired in 2021, but some states have enacted their own eviction limitations.
Some state laws limit utility cancellations separate from any pandemic-related measures. For example, Minnesota has a Cold Weather Rule. Under this rule, utility companies cannot turn off utilities during winter.
Do I have to move out immediately?
It depends. The eviction process is often longer than most people imagine. Most tenants choose to fix the underlying issue, such as late rent, banned pet breeds, etc. If the tenant cannot remedy the issue, they may still have a few weeks to move out before the eviction process escalates.
If a tenant loses an eviction case, the tenant may have to move out immediately after the court issues an order. However, it is more common that they'll have a few weeks to get their affairs in order.
Will I lose my security deposit if evicted?
Not necessarily. Every state has rental laws, but the purpose of a security deposit is to protect the landlord financially. Some rental contracts have clauses that state that landlords can keep the security deposit to make up for unpaid rent or a breach of contract. Still, landlords cannot keep security deposits without notifying the tenant.
If a landlord wants to keep or use any portion of a security deposit, even after an eviction, they must notify the tenant in writing within the timeframe allowed under state or local laws. These laws determine the timeframe to return a security deposit.
How will my bankruptcy impact an eviction?
When you file a bankruptcy, the court grants you an "automatic stay" from any debt collection activity. Any current debt collection activity ceases when you file the petition. This includes utilities and foreclosure proceedings. This does not always include evictions.
You can file a bankruptcy under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code; both grant an automatic stay. Under a Chapter 7 filing, your landlord can ask the court to lift the stay. Under a Chapter 13 filing, you have a reasonable time to pay past-due rent.
For the best legal advice, you should consult with a bankruptcy attorney.
Can my landlord evict me if I have exercised my tenant rights?
No. The law in most states prohibits residential landlords from retaliating against tenants who exercise their tenant rights. For example, tenants have a right to organize or form tenant associations. They also have the right to file a complaint against the landlord or property management company with a government agency. A court will carefully scrutinize a landlord's attempt to evict a tenant for six months to a year following the protected activity.
Get Legal Help
If you or someone you love is facing an eviction, you should get legal help. A qualified landlord-tenant attorney can help you navigate the eviction process. They can review your lease or rental agreement, give sound legal advice, or accompany you on your court date. Speak to an experienced, local landlord-tenant attorney today.
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