Fighting Eviction: A Guide to What You Need to Know

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Eviction is the dreaded circumstance every renter fears . . . and for good reason. Losing one’s home to any event can be traumatic, but the idea of an eviction in particular can make anxieties flair, in part because we’ve all heard the horror stories of the abused tenant put on the street by the vindictive landlord. Unlike a natural disaster, maintenance issue, or a handful of other events that can lead to losing a residence, an eviction comes down behind the shroud of the court system and a labyrinth of complex housing laws that can leave a renter feeling confused and powerless. The truth is that the tenant does in fact have power in many cases though. A great deal in fact, and the housing laws are there to protect you for getting tossed out at a landlord’s beckoning. Here’s what you need to know:

Landlords Don’t Want to Evict You

Here’s the thing about eviction: it’s a long and expensive process. For the landlord. If they want you out, they have to file through housing court. It takes time, it costs money, and you don’t have to leave until the city orders you to. Even if the order comes, a tenant normally still has at least 30 days in most states, and that’s only after being notified. In many circumstances, a landlord could be waiting three months or more for the ball to get rolling, and in that time they could be dealing with a tenant who’s not paying rent, yet still not legally obligated to leave.

Even if a landlord threatens eviction, it’s normally the absolute last thing they want to do. They’re probably hoping the simple threat will scare a bad tenant into leaving, or a better one into paying up or stopping the behavior that’s ruffling their feathers. Just remember that, pretty much across the board, a landlord would much rather work it out with you than deal with the headache of housing court.

Eviction Can Only be Filled in a Very Specific Set of Circumstances

Not paying rent is the offense everyone’s familiar with when it comes to eviction, but there aren’t actually that many other causes for eviction other than that. They’ll likely be due to specific prohibited acts that are stipulated in the lease such as:

  • Smoking in unit
  • Having a pet
  • Subletting without permission
  • Damage to unit
  • Criminal activity

 

A landlord absolutely cannot evict you just because they don’t like you, or because they just want to. Moreover, they have to prove their case in housing court before the city will even consider it, and the reality is that that’s challenging for a landlord even if you were doing something wrong. They have to deal with the burden of proof.

Evictions Must be Filled Properly, Take Time, and Can be Easily Reversed

If a landlord decides they want to evict you they can’t just nail a notice to your door, or tell you to move out. Eviction is a very formal and official process that must be handed down from the city, and the landlord has no authority to evict you on their own.  Further still, the landlord has to first inform you of any infraction and give you the opportunity to correct it with a notice of lease violation (normally at least 30 days). That means that in most municipalities, even if the landlord discovered you were secretly harboring a pet for example, they would have to give you notice and time to get rid of it. Only after would they be permitted to begin the eviction process.

Also, even if eviction began, you’d still have the opportunity to reverse it in most cases. If you were backed up on rent payments for example, given a notice of eviction, then somehow came up with the money owed, you’d normally be able to stop the eviction. You may also be responsible for court fees at that point, however.

You Can Fight it

Remember that a notice of eviction doesn’t have to be the final word in your housing battle. It is fully your right to challenge an eviction if you feel it’s unwarranted. If you were withholding rent because your landlord was refusing to make repairs, for example, that’s the kind of thing you could try to duke out in housing court (so long as you play it smart and put your withheld monthly rent into escrow while you’re disputing repairs). If you think you’re going to try to make sure you get a lawyer who can represent you though. They’ll know the laws better than you. Better yet, if you think you’re in danger of eviction in the first place, try to meet with somehow who knows the law, so you can be prepared and ensure your rights are protected.