Often, in disputes between landlords and tenants, neither side understands the law. Because leases are long and full of "lawyer talk," people sometimes sign one without knowing what it means. As a tenant, not knowing can land you in the street.
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What is an eviction?
An "eviction" is a legal proceeding by which the landlord seeks to reclaim the premises and put the tenant out.
If you are a landlord, you should find out the legal grounds for evicting a tenant as well as the proper notification requirements. A tenant could receive compensation for costs paid because of unlawful eviction.
If you are a tenant, you need to know how you can defend yourself against an unjustifiable eviction. To protect yourself, know what your lease says. Also find out the eviction laws in your area:
- contact your lawyer
- contact your local government—many cities have a department of consumer affairs or housing department to help you
- if your rent is subsidized, check whether the subsidy program will help
- ask the local library for the municipal code regulations on eviction
What are the legal grounds for eviction in most areas?
Non-payment of rent
The landlord must inform the tenant in writing that full rent is due by a specific deadline or the lease will be terminated.
If the landlord refuses to take full payment and the tenant can prove it, the eviction can be challenged in court. After the deadline, the landlord doesn't have to accept payment.
Other tenant violations
The landlord must inform the tenant in writing of the supposed violation. The tenant must have ample time to correct the problem. If the tenant does nothing to correct it, the landlord may evict.
Lease has expired
If the landlord doesn't extend an expired lease and the tenant refuses to leave, the landlord may evict. The tenant must be given written notice.
When a tenant rents month to month without a lease, a landlord needs only to give written notice (usually 30 days) to terminate the lease. If the tenant does not leave at the end of that time, the landlord can evict.
What happens in court?
If the tenant chooses to fight an eviction, the case goes to court. Once there, it is likely to become more costly and complicated to resolve.
To streamline the process, here are some suggestions:
- Both the landlord and the tenant should come to court to tell the judge exactly what happened.
- Having eyewitnesses can strengthen your position.
- If you present documents, use originals or high quality copies. All cash transactions should be documented with receipts. Canceled checks and money orders are good proof of payments.
If the court orders you evicted, you can postpone eviction if you have a good reason.
The judge will consider hardships, such as young children or a sick or elderly family member, in setting the eviction date.
You may file a request for an "extension of time" if hardships keep you from making the deadline.
If the extension is denied, you should prepare to move immediately to avoid having your belongings put in the street.
Can a tenant legally withhold rent?
The law in most places requires the tenant to inform the landlord in writing that he or she intends to withhold rent if a specific problem isn't solved by a certain date. Tenants must give the landlord reasonable time to comply with their requests.
Where can I get more information?
Many states and cities have departments of housing, fair housing, or human affairs. Employees there can usually answer questions and accept complaints of discrimination. Municipal housing departments can also receive complaints of inadequate maintenance. Check government listings in the local telephone directory.