I'm Being Evicted! What Are My Rights and Legal Options?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
Landlords can choose to evict tenants for a variety of reasons, but they have to follow established processes.
Knowing your eviction rights can help you fight the eviction or have enough time to find a new place to live. Here are some details on the process, but eviction laws vary by area, so consider your state's variations.
Not every state handles evictions the same way, so there could be different steps or varying time frames for each step. However, the eviction process typically involves the following steps:
1. Notice of Intent to Evict
If you're behind on rent, your landlord will send you a Pay or Quit notice, which tells you to pay the rent or move. A Cure or Quit notice is what you'll receive if you break other terms of the lease, such as having pets when your lease says you can't. This notice gives you time to fix the violation. Unconditional Quit notices don't allow you to correct the issue and tell you to move out. This type of notice is usually limited to certain situations, such as multiple violations or illegal activities.
2. Correction Period
Once you receive the notice, you have a set amount of time to fix the situation or move out. Read the notice carefully, so you know how long you have.
3. Eviction Filing
If you don't fix the situation or move out of the rental, your landlord can file eviction paperwork through the court system. The local sheriff's office usually delivers the eviction complaint and summons to you.
Eviction cases typically involve a hearing where you and your landlord can present evidence.
The court decides whether the tenant should be evicted. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, they'll order you to move out of the property by a specific date. If you win the hearing, you can stay in your rental. However, you'll need to continue paying rent, and your landlord can initiate the eviction process again.
If you're still in the rental property by the deadline, your landlord can request for local law enforcement to remove you.
All landlords are supposed to go through these steps and not just lock you out of your home or toss your belongings on the street. Familiarize yourself with the specific process in your state to understand your eviction rights.
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Eviction rights vary by state, but you almost always have the right to receive notice before being kicked out of your rental. If your landlord proceeds with the eviction process, you have the right to receive the paperwork and summons promptly, so you can prepare for the hearing.
You have the right to fight the eviction and to defend yourself during the hearing portion of the eviction process. You also have the option to work directly with your landlord to remedy the situation before they file the eviction paperwork. This won't always work, but it's worth a try if you have a decent relationship with them.
Your landlord should never force you out of the rental without following the proper eviction processes. This includes doing things such as changing the locks, shutting off your utilities, removing your belongings from the home or having someone physically remove you from the property. If this happens, you have the right to file a lawsuit against your landlord. Landlords are also typically prohibited from harassing or threatening tenants. However, if the landlord goes through the proper processes and the courts uphold the eviction, the sheriff's office can force you out of the home.
Landlords can evict you if you haven't paid rent or are violating the terms of your lease. However, landlords must have a valid reason for the eviction and can't violate fair housing laws. Additionally, you may have a defense against eviction if the landlord violated the lease or failed to maintain a habitable property. These situations can be tricky, so you may want to speak to a lawyer or legal aid group.
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Fighting an eviction isn't easy, especially if you haven't paid your rent or you violated the lease terms. However, you have some options for stopping the eviction, including:
- Correcting the situation: The way to fight eviction with the least amount of conflict is to fix the violation. However, if you can't do that, there are other options.
- Working with your landlord: See if you can solve the conflict directly with your landlord. This could help you avoid going to court and being evicted.
- Defending yourself in court: If your landlord files eviction paperwork, show up at the hearing. If you don't, the judge might automatically rule in favor of the landlord. The hearing is your chance to defend yourself and show evidence that supports your arguments.
- Requesting a continuance: You might not have much time to prepare for the hearing. In some states, you can request a continuance, which would cause the courts to set a new hearing date. This gives you more time to prepare for the hearing.
- Appealing the ruling: Some states allow you to appeal the ruling if the judge decides in favor of the landlord. This gives you another chance to defend yourself in court.
- Filing for bankruptcy: If you're struggling financially, filing for bankruptcy could prevent your landlord from filing eviction paperwork if they haven't already initiated the court process. By choosing Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you could be able to repay your past-due rent over several years, but you'll also need to stay current on future rent payments. Bankruptcy processes vary by state, so make sure you verify that this is an option in your state. Bankruptcy also hurts your credit significantly.
If you want to fight the eviction, consider getting legal counsel. A lawyer specializing in evictions can help you build your case. You might qualify for free legal aid, or you can check with local colleges with law programs to see if they offer low-cost legal services. If you don't hire a lawyer, make sure you understand state and local laws.
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