With the federal eviction moratorium expiring and no stimulus checks in sight, nearly one in 10 Americans are at risk of being evicted in coming months, according to survey data by the Aspen Institute. If you’re facing eviction, you’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know.
What is an eviction?
An eviction is a formal legal process in which a landlord forces their tenant to vacate their rental unit. Each state has its own version of a Landlord and Tenant Act which outlines valid reasons for eviction. These can include:
- failure to pay rent on time or at all
- causing a lot of property damage
- breaking any occupancy, noise, or health ordinances
- causing health or safety hazards
- violating terms of the lease such as having unapproved pets
In most states, the first real step of an eviction is when a landlord notifies the tenant with a formal written letter, or a “notice to pay or quit,” which outlines their concern. If the concern is rent payment, the notice will give you a certain number of days to pay (usually mandated by your state), or leave the unit. If the tenants don’t pay in time, the landlord can file an eviction suit. According to Lawyers.com:
In some states, landlords must give a pay or quit notice every time the tenant is late, giving tenants unlimited chances to pay late and stay. Other states limit the number of second chances to two or three in a certain time period. After that, the landlord can use an unconditional quit, which means that tenants must move out or face eviction [without a last-chance option to pay].
Fighting an eviction
If you don’t move out or pay your outstanding rent, a landlord will get local law enforcement involved and they will issue you an official summons to eviction court hearing. At this stage, you’ll have the opportunity to argue your case in front of a judge. Knowing your state rights as a tenant can help: Check out these resources on rental laws for each state, as well as state-by-state laws on unconditional quit notices. Pay special attention to the sections on notices and illegal evictions and see if your landlord has been following the rules.
Also, if you can argue that you weren’t paying rent for a valid reason—like the landlord not making necessary repairs—you might have a good argument in court, where a judge can hold off on an eviction and put you on a payment plan.
However, it’s difficult to fight in court on your own, and a lawyer can be expensive when you’re already short on cash. If you feel like you’re being unfairly evicted, contact your local legal aid office or tenant’s advocacy groups, which can guide you on next steps. Note: If you don’t respond to the summons, you essentially forfeit your rights and a judge can allow the eviction to proceed.
What happens when you’re evicted?
If the court ruling is in your landlord’s favor, the judge will issue an order called a Writ of Possession, which allows your landlord to take possession of the property. Your landlord won’t (and shouldn’t) evict you himself as law enforcement will carry out the Writ and escort you off the property (a locksmith will be present to change your locks). If you don’t have a way to transport your belongings or a place to store them, they will be put on the curb.
Typically, you’ll have some notice before law enforcement comes to take over the apartment—it’s best to vacate the rental before this happens, to avoid the stress of a forced eviction. Try to make arrangements for another place to stay before the Writ is enforced, like staying at the home of family or friends.
The federal moratorium on evictions is still in effect through the rest of the year, which buys you some time.
If you’ve fallen behind on rent payments or face imminent eviction, check to see if you qualify for local emergency housing assistance and consult RentAssistance which has a list of government programs, nonprofits, and religious institutions offering financial assistance in your area (you can search by ZIP Code). Student Loan Hero also has a great list of charitable resources available. Another option is to free up rent money by subsidizing your food bill using these government programs.