How to Fight an Eviction

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Getting behind on rent and receiving an eviction notice can be a traumatic experience. While every state is different, most share certain characteristics, and it is important to know how evictions work in order to know what you should do.

First, you should know there are resources available for you. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development website has a detailed listing of each state’s laws regarding tenants and landlords. Similarly, if you live in government subsidized housing, there may be specific resources to help you through an eviction process.

Despite differences from state to state, most jurisdictions have similar laws regarding the process of eviction. The most typical reason for eviction, of course, is nonpayment of rent. In this case, the landlord must tell the tenant, in writing, that payment is due by a specific date. Most states have very specific requirements for how that notice is provided and how long you have to respond with payment. Failure by the landlord to strictly adhere to those requirements can actually prevent their eviction from moving forward, often requiring them to wait another month before they can begin again.

If a lease has expired, or there is no written lease, and the tenant does not want to leave, the landlord is within his rights to issue a written eviction notice. Often a landlord first needs to give the tenant notice equivalent to the period over which rent is paid (i.e., if rent is paid monthly, the notice must give a month's notice). If the notice is ignored, the landlord can move forward with eviction.

Whatever the circumstances, if you have received an eviction notice, you need to take action swiftly or you may lose your rights to the property. Your best bet is to contact an attorney. You should also gather any information you have pertaining to the property, such as leases, notices, e-mails with the landlord, photographs, receipts, etc. If you receive any paperwork, particularly from a process server, you should immediately review it and determine what kind of response you need to make. Evictions tend to be expedited proceedings, so time is definitely of the essence and failing to act can end your case. Be prepared to go to court and to testify. Bring evidence with you to your hearing. Since your landlord must provide you with a written eviction notice, make copies of the letter to bring to court when you defend the eviction. Canceled checks are also solid proof that payment has been made and received, even if you have no receipt otherwise.

If you have a written lease, read it carefully and learn about the provisions for terminating the lease by either party. Some states allow eviction notices to be sent through the mail while others require delivery in person or tacked to the door. Oral leases can also be binding, but because there is nothing in writing the terms of the tenancy may be determined by the actions of the parties.

No matter what, always remember that only a court can pass can issue a judgment of eviction. A landlord can put that process into motion, but the directive has to come from the local court. The landlord does not have the legal authority to remove a tenant's belongings from the premises; this can only be done by law enforcement, with a court order. The court will also determine whether back rent is owed or if other fees must be paid.

If your pending eviction presents an emergency situation for your family, contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They offer a one-time $250 emergency housing assistance grant to low-income households with children. A $150 grant to prevent utility shut-offs is also available, as well as other assistance. Contact your state for further information. There may also be help available in locating an attorney. Check to see if your community has legal services, or a legal aid organization. If you are hiring an attorney on your own, look for one who specializes in real estate issues, particularly tenant evictions. The only thing you do not want to do is nothing. Doing nothing will have one very definite outcome that will leave you in the street and potentially having to pay a large amount of money on top of it.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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