You? Get kicked out of your apartment? Never. But no matter how unlikely that scenario may seem, all renters should have a firm understanding of eviction laws, just in case. Because even if you are a model tenant, you just might end up with a despotic landlord or vengeful subtenant who’s determined to see you and your belongings out on the street.
Here’s what to expect if you end up the target of eviction proceedings—and how to fight back.
You can’t be evicted for no reason
In most cases, landlords can’t evict their tenants just because they don’t get along. They must provide proof that a tenant broke terms of the lease. In other words, they must have photos of property damage, paperwork proving your rent has gone unpaid, or documented warnings against having unpermitted pets on the premises, which were then disregarded. The landlord then submits these documents to housing court, which will assess whether eviction is warranted.
Your landlord can’t just change the locks and throw you out
As much as landlords may fancy themselves all-powerful, they can’t take matters into their own hands. In other words: No, they can’t change the locks. No, they can’t throw your stuff on the sidewalk. All that amounts to an illegal eviction. Tenants who believe their landlord has evicted them illegally can initiate their own court case, and potentially receive damages.
Evictions can’t be retaliatory
While this restriction does depend on your state, most prevent landlords from using eviction as a retaliatory act. In other words, landlords can’t evict you because you’re complaining about the lack of heat in your apartment or a cockroach infestation. This allows tenants to safely complain about health issues, safety concerns, or discrimination. You can check your state’s laws here.
You’ll receive a warning in writing
Landlords must notify tenants of an impending eviction by serving a notice, typically sent by certified mail and taped to the front door. There are four common types of notices:
Pay or vacate:
Comply or vacate:
Waste or nuisance notice:
Tenants must abide by the notice. If it says rent must be received in three days, there’s no wiggle room, unless the landlord feels generous.
“If you are issued a three-day notice to pay and you come in on Day 4 with the rent, your landlord doesn’t have to accept it and can evict you,” says Reid Breitman, a California lawyer.
You don’t have to leave immediately
After the grace period is up on your written warning, you will receive an official eviction notice—also typically delivered by certified mail and taped to your door by the landlord. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave just yet. You can stay put until your court hearing, although you should continue to pay rent. (Not doing so might be a show of bad faith, meaning you’ll be less likely to win in court.)
How to fight an eviction
Just because your landlord has filed for an eviction doesn’t mean you have to go. You can, and should, fight back. To do that, gather all of the documentation you can. Did your landlord claim you failed to pay rent? Bring copies of canceled checks. Does he claim you’re a nuisance to your neighbors? Certified statements from Nancy who lives downstairs saying you’ve never so much as stomped on your floor will be helpful.
This process can often be lengthy and drawn out; expect several months before a decision is made, with much of that time simply spent waiting for a court hearing. Tenants that lose will be expected to vacate the premises immediately (with a marshal or sheriff as escort), but if you have a case, you can take a stand—and win.