Landlords have a right to terminate a tenancy if a tenant violates a lease in any of numerous ways. If you have violated a provision of your lease, you may receive a notice from your landlord terminating the tenancy. You may have the option to fix the violation within a certain time, which would allow you to stay, or the landlord may require you to leave without giving you this option. Termination notices must follow very specific procedures, or any ensuing eviction lawsuit will be dismissed. Tenants thus often have strong procedural defenses to a landlord’s effort to evict them. However, this is usually a matter of buying time rather than defeating the landlord permanently.
Types of Notices
There are three main types of notices. A landlord can send you a Pay Rent or Quit notice if you have not paid the rent. This will give you three to five days, generally, to pay the rent or move before the landlord proceeds with the eviction. A landlord can send you a Cure or Quit notice if you have violated the lease in a different way, such as bringing a pet into a no-pets property. This gives you time to fix the violation and preserve your tenancy. Finally, a landlord can send you an Unconditional Quit notice, which does not give you a chance to pay rent or fix the violation. These apply only when the violation cannot be fixed or when the tenant has not only violated the lease, failed to pay rent, committed crimes on the property, or caused serious damage, but also done these things repeatedly.
Landlords in some states must comply with a statutory grace period if a tenant fails to pay the rent on time. This means that they must wait a certain number of days before sending a termination notice based on non-payment of rent. The landlord cannot file for an eviction until both the grace period and the time provided in the Pay Rent or Quit notice have expired.
Types of Violations
The most common violation is failing to pay rent. If you receive a Pay Rent or Quit notice, but then you pay all of the rent that is due, and the landlord accepts it, this allows you to stay for the rest of the period covered by the rent. However, this can expose you to an Unconditional Quit notice if you are late on rent again, since you would be considered a chronic late payer. Some states do not allow a landlord to send an Unconditional Quit notice unless they have previously sent a Pay Rent or Quit notice.
If the landlord accepts a payment of part of the rent, this generally will cancel the effect of the existing notice. The landlord still can serve you a new notice soon afterward, though, requiring you to pay the rest of the rent or leave.
In addition to failing to pay rent, some common examples of violating lease terms include adding a tenant without the landlord’s permission, subletting or assigning your unit without the landlord’s permission, using common areas improperly, or bringing in a pet if the landlord does not allow it. You may have as much as 30 days under a Cure or Quit notice to fix a violation that does not involve non-payment of rent, unless your violations are repeated or permanent. As mentioned above, this can lead to an Unconditional Quit notice.
Other Reasons for Termination
Even if you have not violated the explicit terms of the lease, the landlord has the right to terminate the tenancy if you violate certain legal responsibilities. Some situations in which this may occur include when a tenant seriously damages appliances, causes an unsanitary situation by allowing garbage to pile up, repeatedly disrupts the lives of other tenants with noisy activities, or causes substantial damage to the property, such as its walls or doors. If any of these things happens, you may not have an opportunity to fix the problem and may have a relatively short time to move, possibly only five to 10 days.
A tenant also can be removed if they commit crimes on the property, such as drug dealing, prostitution, or gambling, or if they allow their guests to commit crimes on the property. In some states, you do not need to be arrested or convicted of a crime to be removed on this basis, as long as the landlord has a reasonable suspicion that the tenant or their guests are involved in criminal activity. This will result in an Unconditional Quit notice, an expedited eviction proceeding, and a very short time window to move out afterward.
Negotiation and Mediation
Rather than proceeding directly to fight an eviction, you may want to try to reach an agreement with the landlord, especially if this is your first violation and the violation is not severe or permanent. If you believe that the landlord is in the wrong, you can try to persuade them that they have made a mistake, possibly bringing in other tenants to support your position. You can also explain that you unintentionally violated the lease because of good-faith confusion.
Some areas offer community mediation programs or landlord - tenant mediation programs, which can be the next step to take if directly negotiating with the landlord does not resolve the problem. If your relationship with your landlord has broken down, a mediator can communicate with them for you and try to arrange a compromise.
Fighting the Termination Notice
If you have not reached an agreement with your landlord, you will need to either move out (or fix the problem if that is possible) or fight the landlord in eviction proceedings. You may want to take this approach if the landlord has sent the notice in error, if the landlord is unlawfully retaliating against you for exercising a legal right, or if you just need more time to find a new home. Hiring a lawyer can be helpful during this process.
If you are planning to argue that the landlord is wrong, you should make sure that you have evidence to prove it. This can be a combination of witness testimony and documentary and visual evidence. You also will want to point out any procedural violations by the landlord in issuing the notice.
If you are planning to argue that the landlord is retaliating against you, it may be worth checking the law in your state to find out whether your violation of the lease will prevent you from making this argument. Some states require a tenant to be free of any violations or misconduct to hold a landlord accountable for retaliation.
If you decide to move out, whether or not you were in the right, you should know that you still have a right to get back your security deposit or the amount that remains after the landlord covers unpaid rent and repairs. You probably will not be liable for future rent under a lease that the landlord terminates early. There may be some exceptions if a tenant has engaged in criminal or otherwise egregious conduct.