An eviction is a legal proceeding that occurs when a landlord forces a tenant to move out of a rental property. While the laws governing evictions vary significantly between states, the following summary provides a general overview of the eviction process.
Grounds for Eviction
There are several legal grounds for eviction, including non-payment of rent, violation of lease terms, and expiration of the lease.
Non-Payment of Rent. If a tenant does not pay rent by the end of the grace period specified in the lease, the landlord must issue a pay rent or quit notice. A pay rent or quit notice gives the tenant a specific deadline by which to pay rent before the lease is terminated. If the tenant renders full payment, the landlord must accept the payment and end the current eviction process. A landlord is not obligated to accept partial payment from the tenant. However, a landlord who accepts partial payment is required to terminate the eviction proceedings. If the non-payment of rent continues for a significant period of time, such as several months, the landlord may issue an unconditional quit notice that requires the tenant to move out immediately.
Violation of Lease Terms. If a tenant violates the terms of the lease (by keeping a pet, making excessive noise, etc.), the landlord is obligated to issue a cure or quit notice. A cure or quit notice typically gives the tenant three days to fix the problem before the lease is terminated. If the tenant has engaged in illegal behavior on the property, or has caused significant damage to the property, the landlord may issue an unconditional quit notice requiring the tenant to vacate the premises immediately.
Expired Lease. If a lease has expired and the landlord has not extended the lease, the tenant is obligated to move out. If the tenant has been given written notice, but refuses to move out, the landlord has grounds to evict the tenant.
In some cases, a landlord may evict a tenant without cause. Leases entered into on a term-to-term basis (such as week-to-week, or month-to-month), may be terminated by the landlord for any reason, so long as the landlord gives the tenant appropriate notice. Appropriate notice is typically measured by one term of the lease period. Thus, a month-to-month tenant must be given a month's notice before they are required to move out.
Unlawful Detainer Lawsuits
If a tenant receives a proper eviction notice and refuses to leave the property, the landlord may file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Once an unlawful detainer action is filed, the tenant has several options:
Move out. If the tenant does not wish to fight the eviction, the tenant may move out of the rental property. Once the tenant has vacated the premises, the judge is obligated to dismiss the unlawful detainer action. The landlord may, however, file additional charges against the tenant for unpaid rent.
Do nothing. If a tenant ignores a notice of unlawful detainer, the local sheriff may take action to forcefully evict the tenant.
Attempt to settle the lawsuit. A tenant may wish to avoid court fees and costs by settling the unlawful detainer action out of court. A tenant may negotiate directly with the landlord, or may use a mediator to help resolve the conflict.
Go to trial. A tenant is typically given five days to respond after being served with a notice of unlawful detainer. Unlawful detainer actions generally go to trial soon after the tenant files a response.
If an unlawful detainer action goes to trial, a tenant may rely on the following defenses:
The eviction notice was improperly served.
The eviction notice was unclear.
The eviction notice did not provide sufficient time for the tenant to respond.
The tenant was justified in not paying rent because the rental unit was uninhabitable.
The tenant complied with the lease provisions as they were understood by the tenant.
If a court orders a tenant to be evicted, the tenant can file a stay of enforcement that allows the tenant to remain on the property. A stay of enforcement will be granted only if a tenant can show that he or she is in a position of extreme hardship. A tenant is required to pay rent in advance in order to receive a stay.