Follow these steps if you receive an eviction notice.
The eviction process is stressful. But losing your home isn’t inevitable. It’s possible to delay or prevent eviction. Help is available — you just have to know where to look. And you need to act fast.
What to do after receiving an eviction notice depends on your lease, your state and even your ZIP code. Knowing and defending your rights, working proactively with your landlord or property manager and accessing local, state and federal resources can keep you in your home.
What is an eviction?
“Eviction is a legal process that may be undertaken to remove a tenant from a rental property,” explains a definition on LegalDictionary.net. “The majority of evictions are the result of a tenant’s failure to pay rent, or the tenant’s frequent violation of the terms of the lease or rental agreement. Regardless of the purpose of the eviction, the landlord must follow a process specified by the law.”
Legal grounds for eviction
Landlords and property managers must follow particular steps and a certain order during the eviction process. They’re required to document every step so the eviction will hold up in a court of law.
Landlords must have a legal reason to evict a tenant. Legal grounds for eviction include:
- Non-payment of rent
- Incomplete rent payments
- Criminal activity
- Committing an act of domestic violence
- Not abiding by community health and safety standards
- Not vacating a property when the lease is up
- Violating the term of the lease by subletting (or subleasing)
- Housing an unauthorized tenant who doesn’t appear on the lease
- Keeping an unauthorized pet not specified on the lease
- Causing significant damage to the property
How long does the eviction process take?
The eviction process varies from state to state. Check the eviction process in your state.
The Eviction Lab provides an overview of eviction rates across the country. The site’s Eviction Tracking System also details the weekly eviction rates in 27 U.S. cities and five states and lists if a state eviction moratorium is in place.
How does the eviction process work?
The eviction process is specific to your state. But the key steps are similar across the country.
The eviction notice
The eviction process begins when a landlord or property manager gives the renter an eviction notice. This is often called a Pay or Quit notice or a Pay or Vacate notice. It serves as a formal, documented warning that a renter violated the lease.
Landlords may post this on the door of a unit. But they usually send it by certified mail so there’s a legal record of the sent and received dates.
This notice tells the renter what they need to do to comply with the lease and avoid eviction. It also lists the number of days permitted before the official eviction notice is filed. The time in between these steps is often just a few days, so it’s important to act immediately.
If you get one of these notices, don’t panic. If you take steps to resolve the issue, your landlord may not file the eviction.
You must comply with the terms of the lease by the deadline specified in the Pay or Quit Notice. If you don’t, the landlord will file an eviction complaint form to begin the eviction case.
Once a court date is on the books, you’ll receive a summons to court. Both documents will come via delivery by local law enforcement.
Court hearing and judgment
A judge will review documentation in the eviction case. This can include the lease, the payment record and all relevant communication between you and the property owner or landlord.
After reviewing the facts, the judge will issue their ruling. If they find it in your favor, you’ll be allowed to stay in your home.
Even if you win your case, the court case remains part of the public records for up to seven years — just like an eviction. If your next landlord doesn’t read the details of the case, this can negatively influence your background check. That’s why it’s so important to stop the eviction process before it gets to this point, if possible.
If the judge sides with the landlord, you’ll be forced to leave your home. Depending on the rules in your state, unclaimed belongings will be removed through the court process, put in storage or set out on the curb.
What to do if you get an eviction notice
It’s normal to feel shocked or overwhelmed by an eviction notice. But since the time between an eviction notice and an eviction filing is short, it’s important to act quickly to stop the process early.
The effort is worth it. An eviction stays on your record for seven years and makes it difficult to rent an apartment in the future. Unpaid rent can damage your credit for years to come. And the stress of eviction has negative physical, mental and emotional effects on the entire household, especially children.
Review the steps below and reach out for help the moment you get an eviction notice or know you’ll be short on the rent. Every step takes time, so pursue multiple resources simultaneously. Don’t wait to hear back from someone before moving down the list.
1. Review your lease
If you’re served with an eviction notice for violating the terms of your lease, review your copy. Make sure any violations you’re accused of are actually listed in the lease.
Paperwork errors can happen. And vague or general language can lead to confusion. If you find an error or wording that’s open to interpretation, contact your landlord for clarification immediately. Document all correspondence.
2. Correct any lease violations
If you’re violating the terms of your lease, change your behavior right away. Unauthorized roommates and pets must find a new place to live immediately. Repair any property damage.
Document your compliance in writing. Supply photos and receipts for repairs. Communicate all positive changes to your property manager or landlord.
3. Make a payment plan
If you’re behind on the rent, create a payment plan and present it to your landlord. This document should tell them why you’re experiencing financial difficulties. It should also give a reasonable repayment schedule.
You can request to delay payments, make smaller payments or ask for rent forgiveness, depending on your financial situation. Stay realistic about what you can afford.
Property managers aren’t obligated to accept your plan. But many would rather have some income and a realistic plan for repayment instead of dealing with the eviction process.
4. Take advantage of temporary eviction moratoria
If you lost your job during the pandemic (or experienced a loss of income) fill out the CDC Declaration Form and provide a copy to your landlord immediately. The eviction moratorium suspends the eviction process during the COVID-19 public health crisis. This temporary stop to evictions for non-payment of rent extends to June 30, 2021.
This is not a rent forgiveness program. Your rent is still due. But it could buy you some very valuable time to access rent assistance programs and find employment.
Many states are also halting evictions during the pandemic. Regional Housing Legal Services displays temporary state eviction moratoria on an interactive map.
5. Access federal, state and local funding resources
Federal, state and local governments offer emergency rent assistance programs and other resources to help renters secure more affordable housing. You may qualify for more than one program, so reach out to as many as you can, as soon as you can.
The Apartment Guide Eviction Resource Guide lists federal eviction resources. It also helps renters search for service organizations and government programs in their home states. Charitable organizations also offer grants and emergency rent payment assistance.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides affordable housing options across the country. Contact a Public Housing Agency (PHA) for rental advice at (800) 569-4287. Or search by state for an agency near you.
Renters who already receive assistance from HUD may qualify for lower rent through income recertification or hardship exemptions. A PHA representative can help you file the correct paperwork.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition (or NLIHC) maintains a list of emergency rental relief programs by state. It also offers rental assistance.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) features comprehensive advice for renters facing eviction in eight different languages, including Spanish and Tagalog. It includes resources for active duty service members and a list of emergency rental assistance programs across the country.
Get help with housing expenses by calling 211 or searching 211.org. Renters can connect with local health and human service agencies, food and clothing banks, shelters and utility assistance programs.
6. Know your rights
If you receive an eviction notice, review your tenant’s rights. These vary by state, but there are commonalities. Your eviction is not valid if a landlord has discriminated against you, violated your rights, harassed you or provided a home that is not safe.
Property managers and landlords can’t discriminate against a renter because of race, religion, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation or physical or mental disability. A landlord can’t evict you because of your marital status, whether or not you have children or the language you speak.
Landlords cannot harass you until you move out or cite personality conflicts as a reason for eviction. They can’t change the locks, throw you out without proper notice or prevent you from entering your home.
Housing law states that tenants have the right to live in clean homes that protect from the elements. They must have working heat, plumbing and electrical systems. Homes should meet all health and housing code standards and be safe and accessible for residents.
7. Contact a fair housing organization
If these rights are violated, call in the experts at your local fair housing agency. These organizations can also help renters facing eviction examine their options. Services and programs vary by state.
“Almost every state has a fair housing organization. And there’s a National Fair Housing Alliance that can help as well,” said Michelle Rydz, executive director of High Plains Fair Housing Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota. “We can help them fill out the paperwork and find money to pay for rent. And we have lawyers that work with us that can help clients when they have a court date.”
8. Get a lawyer
Finding a lawyer might sound like an unnecessary cost. But the eviction process moves quickly and the financial consequences of a judgment are dire. Seek council at the first sign of trouble.
“I think that tenants should seek the advice of counsel at the notice stage,” said Emily Benfer, law professor at Wake Forest School of Law and the chair of The American Bar Association’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee on Eviction.
Retaining an attorney can stop an eviction from becoming part of a renter’s permanent record. Attorneys also help more renters win their cases and stay in their homes.
“Nationwide, only 10 percent of tenants are able to secure representation in eviction cases, compared to 90 percent of landlords,” Benfer said, “Where tenants are not represented, the vast majority lose their case.”
A study conducted by The Kansas City Eviction Project found that 72 percent of tenants without legal representation had monetary damages and/or an eviction judgment entered against them. For renters with attorneys, the percentage fell to 56 percent. Benfer’s article cites a study that shows that 84 percent of New York City renters represented by an attorney remained in their homes.
Free and affordable legal resources
Paying for a lawyer is a major concern for people facing eviction. There are resources available for renters on a budget.
The American Bar Association’s FreeLegalHelp.Org connects low-income renters with federally funded legal aid services. It also includes pro bono attorneys who volunteer their services for free.
Search LawHelp.org for legal assistance and free legal aid programs by state and a list of legal resources. Or visit JustShelter.org to find resources listed by state. The site also links to several legal aid organizations across the country.
How to get an apartment after an eviction
It isn’t easy to get an apartment after an eviction. But it can be done. Some basic tips can help you build up your credit and get back on your feet.
- Rebuild your credit: Work with a credit counselor, consolidate your debt, reduce your expenses and pay all your bills on time.
- Get a co-signer: Ask someone you trust with good credit to co-sign your lease to help lessen your landlord’s financial risk and share the financial burden.
- Find a roommate: Move in with friends or family to minimize expenses, pay off debt and save money for a larger deposit
- Demonstrate your credibility: Dress to impress and be polite. Tell landlords (ideally in writing) about your eviction and provide evidence that it won’t happen again.
- Show financial responsibility: offer a larger deposit upfront to minimize the landlord’s financial risk. Produce paycheck stubs and reference letters from your employer and demonstrate how you’re rebuilding your credit.
Keep calm and take action
Eviction isn’t inevitable. By understanding the eviction process, acting quickly and using all your resources, you can hopefully delay or prevent eviction and stay in your home.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.