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I Received an Eviction Notice. What Does It Really Mean?

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In a Nutshell

When you receive a residential eviction notice from your landlord, there are different ways you can respond and the strategy you choose may depend on the type of eviction notice you receive. This article covers the different types of notices required for eviction proceedings and what options you have if the landlord fails to send an eviction letter before an eviction.

Written by Attorney John Coble
Updated December 31, 2021

You've received an eviction notice from your landlord or property managers. Unless you comply with the landlord's demand in the eviction notice, your rental agreement will be terminated. What are you going to do now?

This article explores the different strategies available for renters to deal with a residential eviction notice. The strategy you choose may depend on the type of eviction notice you receive. We'll also cover the different types of notices required for eviction proceedings and what options you have if the landlord fails to send an eviction letter before an eviction. 

Types of Eviction Notices

The most common type of eviction notice is the pay rent or quit notice. These notices indicate that you have a short period of time to catch up on your late rent or you’ll have to vacate the premises. If you fail to catch up with the unpaid rent or leave the property, the landlord will move forward with the eviction process. 

The time limit for these pay rent or quit notices varies by state. In most states, renters will have three or five days to comply with the eviction notice. Some states, like Alabama and Kentucky, allow just seven days. Colorado gives tenants 10 days' notice, and other states allow 14 days or longer. Washington, D.C. is the most favorable jurisdiction for tenants. It requires a 30-day notice. In Georgia, there is no state time limit requirement. The language of the written lease agreement controls how many days' notice you’ll receive. For this reason, in Georgia, it might be legal for the landlord to file an eviction lawsuit and send the eviction notice on the same day.

Another type of eviction notice is a cure or quit notice. These notices require you to address or “cure” any noncompliance with the terms of the lease or leave the premises. An example of such a lease violation would be a renter who has pets living with them but signed a lease that prohibits pets. In this case, the landlord might send a cure or quit notice requiring you to vacate the rental unit or get rid of your pets. Another example would be if your neighbors are accusing you of being too loud.

Cure or quit notices often have different time-limit requirements than pay rent or quit notices. Again, this will depend on the state law. In some states, the timeline will be longer and in others, it’s shorter. In many states, there is no time limit for a cure or quit notice. Some of these states include Michigan, North Carolina, and West Virginia. In some states, the landlord must send a notice to cease the lease violation before they can send the cure or quit eviction notice.

The last type of eviction notice is the unconditional quit notice. With these notices, there's nothing you can do to cure the problem. The landlord wants you out. A landlord will send one of these if you've been selling drugs or conducting other illegal activity on the property, if you're late again after having paid past due rent multiple times, if you've caused serious damage to the property, or if there is some other extreme issue.

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When Does the Landlord Have To Send an Eviction Notice?

If the landlord wants to evict you, they have to send an eviction notice. The eviction notice is usually the first step in the eviction process. If you fail to comply with the eviction notice, the landlord may file an eviction lawsuit (sometimes called an unlawful detainer lawsuit). 

Your residential landlord can't evict you without going to court. If they try evicting you without following the processes required under your state's eviction laws, you may have a claim for wrongful eviction. An illegal eviction can take many forms. The following are examples of how a landlord might try to illegally evict you:

  • Change the locks

  • Remove doors or windows

  • Cut off utilities

  • Move your furniture out

  • Harass you until you move

  • Try to physically force you out of the rental property

The damages you could win from the landlord can include as much as three times actual damages such as damaged property, physical injury, mental anguish, and more. You may also be able to recover any legal fees you incurred, the costs of any temporary housing, and lost work time due to the illegal eviction.

What Happens to the Landlord if They Fail To Send the Eviction Notice and Go Straight to Court?

Is it an illegal eviction if the landlord fails to send the required written notice of eviction before going to court? Probably not, but it could cause an eviction case to be dismissed. That means the landlord will have to start over again. But, if the landlord fails to serve an eviction notice on you and then fails to serve the eviction lawsuit on you, you will have a claim for wrongful eviction. That's because your first notice of the eviction would be the arrival of the sheriff’s department to remove you and your things.

If the landlord's only mistake is not serving an eviction notice on you, the remedy is for the landlord to start over. But, what if the landlord did send the eviction notice, but it wasn't the proper notice required by state law? If you were removed from the rental unit as a result, you may have a claim for an illegal eviction.

You may live in a state that requires the eviction notice to give you 20 days to cure any lease violation other than nonpayment of rent. For example, this is the law in Rhode Island where tenants only have five days to respond to an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. In neighboring Connecticut, the timeline is three days. If you live in Rhode Island and get a three-day eviction notice to cure or quit the lease violation when the law requires 20 days, the eviction notice isn't in compliance. 

If this case goes through the legal process and you're evicted, you might have a claim for wrongful eviction due to the faulty eviction notice. You should have had 20 days to cure the situation, but you were told you only had three days. Maybe you could have fixed the problem within 20 days, but there was no way you could do it in three days. 

There are several other examples of faulty eviction notices. For example, the landlord must give a reason for the eviction and how to remedy it, if possible. If they give you a “pay or quit eviction” notice, but it doesn't say you need to catch up on the rent or leave, how are you supposed to know what it's about? It may be that you don't realize you're behind on the rent or you're not actually behind on the rent. If the landlord fails to properly serve the eviction lawsuit on you or serves a faulty eviction notice, you might have a claim for wrongful eviction.

The eviction notice form should also include:

  • The landlord and tenant's names and addresses

  • The reason for the eviction

  • An explanation of what can be done to avoid terminating the lease

  • A correct timeline to solve the problem

  • A signature and date 

The landlord must also serve the eviction notice on the tenants in compliance with state law. If they fail to meet the state's requirements for an eviction notice, you can use this as a defense in an eviction lawsuit or in a claim of a wrongful eviction action.

Let’s Summarize…

Most eviction notices are sent for failure to pay rent. If you receive an eviction notice, it isn't the end of the world. It's best to talk to your landlord and see if you can find a solution to catch up on your rent.

If you're unable to work something out with your landlord, you may have to go to court. If you have claims against the landlord, they should be raised in court. The judge may determine that you're right and the landlord is wrong.

If your landlord is unreasonable and resorts to self-help eviction, you may be able to recover significant damages. If you need legal advice, it's a good idea to contact an attorney. If you have difficulty paying for an attorney, you may qualify for legal services provided by legal aid

Written By:

Attorney John Coble


John Coble has practiced as both a CPA and an Attorney. John's legal specialties were tax law and bankruptcy law. Before starting his own firm, John worked for law offices, accounting firms, and one of America's largest banks. John handled almost 1,500 bankruptcy cases in the eig... read more about Attorney John Coble

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