Sometimes things just don't work out the way we envisioned them, and leases sometimes end in a landlord evicting a tenant. It can happen for a lot of reasons including non-payment of rent, unreasonable damages, or that the owner is simply selling the property. Before a tenant starts to pack they should get a better understanding of what is going to happen so you can properly plan for their next step. In this article, we are going to go over the basics of what a tenant should know if their landlord is evicting them.
1. Know Your Rights and Read the Lease.
Getting that notice is a scary experience. The first thing a tenant should do is read through the notice and their lease. A tenant should also look at their state laws. It is important to know that a landlord cannot "constructively" evict a tenant before a court order is issued. When a landlord attempts to change the locks, turn off the electricity, or remove a tenant's belongings before receiving a court order, that type of behavior is commonly called being constructively evicted and is by and large illegal in most, if not all, states. Even when a court order is issued, in most states the order must be executed by the Sheriff's office and not the landlord.
2. Respond to the Notice.
Once a tenant has had a chance to process the information they can begin formulating how they want to respond to the notice. The notice is usually sent before a lawsuit is filed but the form is usually dictated by state law and may at first glance look like an official legal document. The notice will usually give a reason the landlord believes they have the right to evict the tenant.
If the tenant agrees with the notice, they might want to contact their landlord about arranging a move-out date and time. A landlord might be willing to work with a tenant if the landlord thinks it might save them the cost and hassle of having to file the lawsuit and go through the court system. If a tenant does not believe it is lawful or proper, they should provide a written response to the landlord as to why they believe the notice is improper.
3. Respond to the Complaint.
If a landlord takes the next step of filing a lawsuit, the tenant will be served with an action, complaint, or petition. The complaint should tell the tenant how, by when, and where to respond. If a tenant is uncomfortable handling the response on their own, they should consider hiring an attorney. If a tenant chooses to respond to the complaint themselves, they will want to make sure the response is filed timely. In most states, if a tenant does not timely respond to the complaint the tenant may have waived any arguments they had.
4. The Process takes Longer than Most People Think.
A tenant will most likely not have months to plan their next move if the landlord wins the case, but the tenant will probably have at least a month. In most states, a notice will be sent, followed by a complaint being filed with the court. The tenant will have approximately seven to fifteen days to respond, and then the court may enter an eviction order. Once the order is entered, the Sheriff will usually serve the tenant with a writ of possession giving the tenant 24-72 hours to vacate. This entire process can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months depending on which state it occurs in and how diligent the landlord is about moving the process along.
5. How to Recover after Eviction.
There are few bright line rules here, and everyone's situation is unique, but generally speaking it will show up on a credit report and a background search. It will generally fall off a credit report or background search after seven years. If possible, try and make things right with the landlord and see if they are agreeable to having it removed from the credit report. Regardless of whether the landlord is willing to remove the delinquency, a tenant should work at restoring their credit. Until their credit is repaired, a tenant will need to try and find landlords willing to work with them. There are plenty of landlords willing to work with tenants that have been evicted, but it might take longer to find the right property and landlord.
Being evicted is not the end of the world. A resourceful tenant will be able to recover from this and still find a property to rent if they need to. The key to making the best of this bad situation is to remain calm, get educated, and stay vigilant.