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Like most property laws, the relationship between landlords and tenants is regulated by state law. Because eviction laws vary from state to state, there is no uniform law of eviction. These state eviction laws lay out rules that landlords must follow in order to evict tenants. This article will explain some basic facts about eviction.
Written by the Upsolve Team. Legally reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated December 31, 2021
This article will explain some basic facts about eviction. There are many reasons that a landlord may try to evict a tenant from a rental unit. Because a landlord-tenant agreement is a binding contract, a landlord may not terminate a tenancy and evict a tenant without a valid reason.
We’ll discuss why landlords evict tenants and explain the eviction process and how it affects a tenant’s credit report. Finally, we will briefly discuss what efforts Congress has made to counter the pandemic’s effects on evictions.
What is the typical eviction procedure?
Like most property laws, the relationship between landlords and tenants is regulated by state law. Because eviction laws vary from state to state, there is no uniform law of eviction. These state eviction laws lay out rules that landlords must follow in order to evict tenants. These procedures usually apply regardless of whether the tenant has broken their lease, which breaches the contract between them and their landlord.
Generally, a landlord cannot simply change the locks while a tenant is away from the rental property to evict a tenant. Landlords must follow the applicable local court procedures for evictions. They may not use “self-help” tactics to force you from your home, even if you fail to pay rent.
The first step of the eviction process involves the landlord sending an eviction notice to the tenant. If, for example, the notice is sent because of past-due, unpaid rent, the written notice should describe the issue and the amount necessary to cure, or resolve, the delinquency. This gives the tenant time to resolve the issue and get current on paying their rent. The tenant may be able to negotiate with the landlord to pay some amount other than the total amount of rent past due. Then, they could reinstate the lease.
If the tenant pays the past-due rent, the problem is solved. Both parties can return to peaceful coexistence as landlord and tenant, hopefully throughout the remainder of the tenancy. But what happens if the problem continues and the tenant fails to resolve the issue? If the tenant remains on the property, the landlord may initiate local eviction procedures. The landlord will generally be required to serve the renter with an eviction notice in writing. This may require the landlord to post the eviction documents on the door of the leased property.
The eviction notice must specify that the tenant has the number of days that the law allows to become current on the rent before eviction proceedings will begin. This timeline varies by state. For example, Arizona and Virginia require landlords to give five days of notice before eviction proceedings may begin, while California and Florida require only a three-day notice. Tennessee requires a 14-day notice. Some states, like Minnesota, don't require landlords to provide this notice.
An eviction proceeding is a legal matter, so a court date will be set for an eviction lawsuit after a landlord gives notice. An eviction lawsuit is typically known as a special or unlawful detainer action. Both the landlord and tenant will have an opportunity to be heard in court and present their case to a judge. If you receive a summons, do not ignore it. If you believe that you are current in paying your rent, bring a detailed record of all rent transactions with written receipts to serve as proof.
If the landlord wins because the tenant has breached the landlord-tenant contract by failing to pay rent, the tenant will have a chance to become current on the rent. The tenant will have some defined amount of time set by state law. Based on if and when the lawsuit is filed, a tenant will have to pay some rent to reinstate the lease.
Here are examples from Arizona law.
If the tenant pays all past-due and unpaid rent and a reasonable late fee as outlined in the written rental agreement before a detainer action is filed, the rental agreement must be reinstated.
The rental agreement is typically reinstated after a detainer action is filed if the tenant pays all past-due rent, reasonable late fees as outlined in a written rental agreement, legal fees, and court costs.
After a judgment has been entered in a detainer action (known as a special detainer action in Arizona) in favor of the landlord, any reinstatement of the rental agreement is solely at the landlord’s discretion.
If the tenant fails to comply with the court order and refuses to leave the property, the judge may order local law enforcement to remove the tenant from the property. The tenant will usually receive notice of this forcible removal and be given an opportunity to comply with the eviction order and leave peacefully.
For example, California gives tenants five days to vacate the rental premises. The local sheriff goes to the property and posts a 5-day notice to vacate on the front door. If the tenants fail to vacate within that time, the sheriff will return and physically lock out the tenants. Possession will be restored to the landlord.
Reasons for Getting Evicted
Unpaid rent is the most common reason tenants get evicted. Other reasons include causing damage to the property and not vacating the property after the lease expires. It is important to note that the lease may specify other reasons the landlord can evict tenants, so read your lease agreement carefully to understand what is and is not permitted on the property.
As noted above, property damage is a common reason for eviction. While a leased unit is subject to normal wear and tear by a renter, renters cannot cause excessive damage beyond this. It’s important to know the difference between normal wear and tear and damage to the property. Normal wear and tear results from everyday use. One example might be worn carpet or small scuffs on the wall. Damage to the property goes beyond this and requires an extraordinary cleaning effort or expensive repair costs to address. Examples include holes in the wall or stains on the carpet.
Some other grounds for eviction commonly found in rental agreements include the following:
Lying on the rental application
Failing to maintain the premises so it doesn’t negatively affect the health and safety of the tenant or others living there
Subletting the property without the landlord’s permission
Living with people who are not listed on the lease
Running a business from the property
Having a pet when not permitted
Engaging in illegal activities on the property
It is also possible for a landlord to try to evict you through no fault of your own. The landlord may prefer to sell the property rather than continue to lease it. The landlord may want it for personal use. It may be more profitable for the landlord to develop the property by converting it into condominiums or even demolishing the building. If this happens, tenants may have some legal protections that allow them several months to vacate the premises. Your landlord may even offer to pay you to leave early.
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Eviction and Your Credit Report
If you are evicted from a property, this action doesn’t usually appear on your credit report. But unpaid rent can show up on your report and have a negative impact on your credit score. If your landlord filed a lawsuit to evict you, the court case is public record. A judgment that awards a landlord the right to evict you is also a public record. These can appear in a consumer history background check and make it more difficult for you to rent property in the future.
Eviction Moratorium Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted by Congress last year included a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. Originally, this was set to expire on June 30, 2020, but it was extended to July 25, 2020. Most CARES Act protections have expired. But if your landlord is trying to collect fees or evict you for unpaid rent or fees charged between March 27, 2020, and July 24, 2020, you may have some protections under federal law. Many states and localities also placed a moratorium on eviction proceedings during the pandemic to prevent evictions and homelessness from occurring as a result of the high unemployment rate. If you need help understanding your rights as a tenant, contact a lawyer in your area.
Generally, landlords are not legally permitted to evict their tenants without justification. Most municipalities have landlord-tenant laws that strictly regulate the process of landlords evicting tenants.
As a tenant, you must clearly understand your rights and responsibilities under your lease and the law in your city and state. You must also understand the eviction process. If you believe that you’re being unfairly or illegally evicted, contact a local attorney. Or investigate the resources that your local court has available for tenants in your city or county.