These are troubling times for all of us, but even more so for the poor. Thanks to devastating job losses, wage cuts, and rising prices, ‘the poor’ encompasses more and more of the population every day.
As eviction moratoriums began to expire state-by-state this summer, anxiety rose. Some much-needed good news came in the form of a new moratorium on evictions put in place by the CDC, which will last through the end of this year. However, there are some major drawbacks:
- You must attest to a list of statements describing why you can’t pay rent and what you’re doing, to start. Not everyone deserving a reprieve meets these guidelines.
- You’ll still owe the cumulative rent you didn’t pay when the moratorium expires. If you don’t make at least a portion of the payments during the moratorium, this lump sum could result in swift grounds for eviction.
- Housing groups and landlords may try to challenge the moratorium order in court.
Whether you are facing eviction now or anticipating it come January 1st, you need to know what your rights are and the actions you can take. This guide will prepare you to fight to retain safe housing.
This article will cover eviction processes that exist in every state, as well as general information about fighting eviction. This information will help you better understand what you’re up against and what your rights are. When fighting eviction, there are some state-to-state differences in processes that are important to be aware of, as well. They will be covered in a separate article.
You Were Served an Eviction Notice, Now What?
No matter what state you live in, under the current COVID-19 moratorium, your first step to prevent eviction is to sign a Tenant Declaration form and give it to your landlord. Assuming you meet the terms of the declaration, this prevents you from being evicted until December 31st, 2020. After that—or if you cannot meet the terms of the declaration—the following steps/resources will be useful to you.
It’s also important to check whether you qualify for financial help through a COVID-19 relief program. Many states have funds set aside to help people who are struggling to pay rent during the pandemic. The National Low Income and Housing Coalition has an online database through which you can find local emergency assistance programs.
The following information describes how the eviction process works. This information is true, with minor differences, in each state. By understanding how things are supposed to work according to the law, you can make a case against illegal action being taken by your landlord.
Make sure you are educated in your rights and stay vigilant. Many landlords do not expect their tenants to understand eviction proceedings and try to take advantage of them.
A landlord files one of three types of evictions. The terms used below may be different depending the state you live in, but they mean more or less the same thing.
- Pay Rent or Quit Notices: This type of notice is given when you aren’t paying rent. The notice gives 3-5 days to pay or vacate (otherwise you’ll be taken to court).
- Cure or Quit Notices: This notice is given when you violate a term on your lease—through excessive noise, having pets, etc. You’re given a set amount of time to fix the problem.
- Unconditional Quit Notices: These notices don’t give you a certain amount of time to vacate, meaning you must leave immediately. They’re reserved for more serious offenses like going a long time without paying rent, extensively damaging property, or committing serious crimes on the property like selling drugs.
Remember that just because you receive an eviction notice doesn’t mean you have to vacate the premises. You can’t be forced to leave until you’ve been taken to court by your landlord. How does the whole process work?
- You are served an eviction notice. Landlords may do this in-person or place the notice on your door as well as in the mail.
- If you don’t vacate, the landlord can take you to eviction court.
- Go to court, with a lawyer, and present your case.
- Be evicted through a Writ of Possession. This gives you a certain amount of time—usually 24 or 48 hours—to move out, otherwise a sheriff can forcibly remove your belongings and padlock your door.
The following are a few things to be watchful for:
- Make sure your landlord is not discriminating against you on the basis of sex, race, disability, family status, or any other reason prohibited by law.
- If your landlord is refusing to renew your lease, make sure you had advanced notice of the non-renewal; this is required by law.
- Your landlord cannot forcibly remove you and your belongings without a court order. They may threaten you with this to try to get you to leave voluntarily, but until they have gone through the courts and have a Write of Possession, they cannot.
What Varies State-by-State?
There aren’t many state differences in how the eviction process works. However, there are some technicalities, such as amount of time between steps of the process, and avenues you and your lawyer can pursue. These technicalities may help you build a better case against your landlord. A few differences include:
- Number of days you have to leave the premises after you’re served the eviction
- How many days you have to vacate after being served a Writ of Possession
- Some states allow for specific motions to be filed, which may help you in your court case
In nearly every eviction case, you should have a lawyer helping you. Lawyers are expensive, and if you’re facing eviction, you probably don’t have excess funds to hire one. That’s why there are legal aid agencies. These agencies exist to help people who can’t afford to hire lawyers and offer legal advice and representation for little to no fees.
Don’t feel obligated to immediately move out. Instead, explore and exhaust every option you have. Below are resources and information about specific states’ eviction processes. It’s important to remember that no matter the reason for eviction, there are resources and advocates available to help.
How to Face Eviction in Your State
If you’ve received an eviction notice, it’s important to understand the basics of the eviction process. There’s a standard procedure in every state:
- Being served an eviction notice
- Landlord taking you to eviction court
- Presenting your case in court
- Being forcibly moved out through a Writ of Possession
However, it’s important to understand the unique procedures in your state of residence, too. This doesn’t take the place of having a qualified lawyer. No matter what your circumstances are, you should always have a lawyer, or at least legal advice, when facing eviction. Knowing local laws will help you understand the timeline you’re working with, utilize best resources, and make informed decisions.
The following is a list of states with the highest rates of evictions. In all of the states listed below, over 45% of renter households are unable to pay rent and are at risk for eviction. Pertinent eviction information is listed under each along with local legal aid agencies.
If your state is not on this list, the American Bar Association has a directory of legal aid agencies and law firms offering low-cost or pro bono services.
Landlords in Florida must give a 3-day written warning to tenants who are not paying rent. They must give a 7-day written notice before evicting tenants for other lease violations. For violating terms of the lease, the tenant has the right to fix or “cure” the problem within seven days. If the tenant breaks lease terms again within 12 months, they don’t have to be given a chance to fix the problem.
Also unique to Florida, renters who are taken to court can dispute the amount of rent they owe their landlord by filing a “Motion to Determine the Amount of Rent to Be Paid.”
In Texas, a 3-day notice must be given for both nonpayment of rent and violating another term of lease. Exceptions are made if the lease specifies the amount of time a tenant has to pay rent or fix the violation.
It’s important to note Texas landlords are able to change the locks before having a Writ of Possession from a court hearing. However, tenants must be granted entry to the property immediately upon request. Landlords may do this as a scare tactic.
Renters in Mississippi are given a 3-day notice in cases of nonpayment. For reasons other than nonpayment of rent, a 30-day notice is given.
If your landlord hasn’t made repairs you properly requested, you could be entitled to an offset of rent due to the failure to repair. If you had to make repairs to your rental after properly requesting your landlord make the repairs, you could also be entitled to an offset of rent.
Landlords in West Virginia can go directly to court, without having to give notice to tenants to vacate. The same applies if you’ve violated the terms of your lease in any way.
Landlords still must go through the proper court proceedings and obtain a Writ of Possession before forcibly removing tenants. Tenants also still have the right to contest any eviction.
Tennessee gives renters a bit longer to vacate or pay rent after being served an eviction notice. Here, a 14-day notice is given. If the eviction is due to breaking terms of the lease, a 30-day “notice to cure” is given, which means the tenant has 30 days to fix the violation.
A separate 3-day notice is given to tenants participating in any kind of drug-related activity.
Landlords in Louisiana are required to serve a 5-day Notice to Vacate for non-payment of rent or other violation of lease terms. In this state, landlords aren’t required to give the tenant any amount of time to pay. Tenants must leave after 5 days, regardless of whether or not they pay, or else be taken to court.
Like West Virginia, landlords in Georgia can begin court proceedings right away if tenants don’t immediately vacate upon request. However, tenants have seven days after the fact to reverse any legal action if they catch up on rent.
There are no statutes for evictions for other reasons, like breaking lease terms. This gives more freedom to landlords and no protection to tenants.
If tenants do not pay rent, landlords can serve a 3-day eviction notice. Other reasons a landlord in Iowa may evict someone with 3-day notice include creating a clear and present danger or staying over after the lease has expired. For breaking any other term of lease, a 7-day notice is given.
In Missouri, landlords can take tenants straight to court if they don’t pay owed rent immediately upon request. They still must serve an eviction notice, but there’s no set amount of time they must wait before filing an eviction case. Tenants have until the date of the trial to pay back their debt. For lease violations other than rent, tenants have 10 days to correct the issue.
Missouri tenants who have lost their court case can appeal the judgment up to 10 days after the hearing. In order to stay in the property during the 10 days, tenants must pay the courts (post bail) for a full amount of the judgment.
Landlords in Kentucky must give tenants a 7-day notice to catch up on rent before filing for an eviction court hearing. For all other lease violations, they must give tenants a 14-day notice to vacate.
Unique to Kentucky, a “forcible detainer settlement agreement” is an agreement the tenant and landlord can make during a court hearing. It outlines the damages and money owed to the landlord, stipulates when the tenant will pay it back, and when the tenant can expect to stay or move out.
The two types of evictions in New York are “nonpayment cases” and “holdover cases.” The former is a result of not paying rent, and the latter results from any other type of lease violation. A 3-day notice is given for nonpayment cases. The length of notice for holdover cases depends on the type of violation. There are different “predicate notices” for different lease violations, and in many cases your landlord must have served you the correct one to evict you for the violation.
Never Give Up Hope
Landlords can never demand you move out immediately. You always have time, at the very minimum the length of time it takes to plan a court hearing, to come up with a plan. Use this time wisely by working with your resources as best you can. Even during the court hearing, there are many avenues you and/or your lawyer can explore to win your case. Continue to educate yourself on eviction processes so your landlord doesn’t take advantage of you and your situation.