Three Steps to Staying Housed
According to the New York Times, homelessness keeps rising, exhibiting a steady increase for four consecutive years nationwide. One of the reasons people continue to fall between the cracks of homelessness is lack – lack of information, lack of preparation, lack of affordable housing, etc.
Harmful and misleading narratives have made homelessness look like a personal problem that happens over time following a series of bad decisions. However, the reality of homelessness is a far cry from that narrative.
Indeed, the most common kind of homelessness is transitional homelessness, which, by definition, is a sudden and often immediate transition into the state of homelessness following a singular catastrophic event. That event could be a passing storm, the loss of a loved one, a single missed paycheck, and, yes, an eviction notice hanging on the door. Perhaps you’ve seen one of these in your lifetime. You might even be holding one between your fingers while reading this post.
Understanding Your Eviction Notice: Wording Vs. the Actual Law
Oftentimes, these “notices” are filled with legal jargon that is both difficult to decipher and impossible to ignore. The language used can be intimidating, to say the least. The landlord or property management company might do any or all of the following:
- Give you an unfair deadline to pay the rent, typically five days
- Accuse you of breaking laws or tenant codes
- Threaten to take legal action that might affect your ability to obtain housing in the future
- Threaten to remove you, your family, pets, and possessions from the property in a very short amount of time
- Claim that any failure of yours would be considered a “holdover” and result in further legal penalization
*Please note that much of what you’ll find in a typical eviction letter is a string of scare tactics attempting to get you to leave the property before the case even makes it to a courtroom. Do not fall for this. In almost all eviction cases, the tenant has the right to a hearing before they are forced to evacuate.
A Run-Down on Self-Help Evictions
In addition to threatening letters left on the doorstep, tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent might also experience attempts of self-help eviction. This is a tactic used by landlords to try and trick the tenant into leaving the home of their own accord due to harassment.
Self-help eviction, while rampant, is illegal. Examples include:
- Turning off utilities
- Changing locks
- Removing doors or windows
- Sending threatening emails or text messages
- Tampering with your property
- Taking or destroying your property
Self-help evictions are strictly illegal. If this is the kind of eviction you are facing, you likely have the right to sue your landlord for damages and violations.
Now that you know a little about your rights and the tactics some landlords implore to try to infringe on them, here’s a brief overview of what to do if you’re facing eviction.
Step 1: Get All of Your Paperwork in Order
The very first thing you should do when facing eviction is to review your paperwork and finances. It is always possible that you are paid up, and your landlord miscalculated. Even if you have fallen behind, sit down, look over your finances, and make a list. The list should cover the following:
- How far behind are you on your payments?
- Have you worked out any special payment plans with your landlord?
- What does your lease say?
- What does your state law say about eviction?
Once you have familiarized yourself with the above, it’s time to move on to step 2.
Step 2: Calls and Emails
If you are facing an eviction and you and your landlord seem to be on good terms, the first person you should call is that landlord. In some cases, a simple explanation for why you’re behind can lead to a little leeway in the form of a special payment plan between you and your landlord.
If you contact your landlord or property manager and they agree to make an exception for you, be sure to get that in writing, particularly if they have already sent an eviction notice. There needs to be more than a verbal agreement and a handshake to stave off an eviction if it becomes your word against your landlord’s in a court of law.
The next person you should contact, either by phone or email, is an eviction lawyer. Many will work for free or offer services at low prices, particularly for low-income and severely rent-burdened tenants. Even if you work out an agreement with your landlord, it is always best to contact an eviction lawyer because they have access to resources you might not even know about.
Some eviction lawyers work hand-in-hand with social workers to prevent homelessness even if you get evicted. They do this by placing renters and their families in supportive housing units if an eviction is completed. This is to say that hope is far from lost, and resources are closer than they might appear.
After contacting a lawyer, be sure to dial 211, especially if this looming eviction has reached emergency status. 211 is a phone number dedicated to serving all Americans’ basic human needs, including shelter. The number is available in all 50 states, and operators are trained to connect concerned citizens with social service professionals.
Some services connected to 211 include:
- General resources for basic human needs. This encompasses things like food, shelter, clothing, and utilities.
- Physical and mental health assistance. The looming threat of eviction can take a severe toll on mental, emotional, and even physical health, which is why operators are available to connect vulnerable renters to counselors, doctors, insurance programs, and much more.
- Job-seeking assistance. Is your eviction taking place because you have suddenly become unemployed, underpaid, or underemployed? If so, 211 can connect you with job-seeking services as well as services providing financial assistance.
- Services for families with children. Family resource centers can offer unparalleled assistance to families with children facing eviction.
*If you’re facing eviction and do not speak English as a first language, 211 operators have translators and interpreters on-hand to suit your needs.
Step 3: Apply for Emergency Rental Assistance
When in place, nationwide eviction moratoriums cut evictions in half. Sadly, since these temporary measures were removed, eviction levels have shot back up to pre-pandemic proportions. But even though the moratoriums are over, there are still resources left for at-risk renters.
Emergency Rental Assistance is still available in many states nationwide. Click here to be redirected to the National Council of State Housing Agencies, and then select your state from the map to see if emergency rental funds are available in your area.
Contact Your Legislators About Ending Eviction and Solving Homelessness
According to HUD, recent data suggests about 2 million renter households are subject to eviction each year. In the most recent year on file, that number shot up to 3.7 million. Of these filings, approximately 900,000 of these tenants will endure an eviction, and many will be thrust unexpectedly into homelessness.
This is a complex but fixable epidemic, and in the end, it starts with you. Please urge your local legislators to draft laws that provide rental protection and prevent eviction, stopping homelessness before it happens.