No one enters into a lease agreement planning to break the lease, but unfortunately things happen. Maybe you lost your job and you can’t make the rent, maybe you have a problem with your neighbor, or maybe you’re stuck under the thumb of a bad landlord.
Knowing your rights ahead of time will help you get through the process intact – especially if you feel that you’re being unfairly evicted.
Here are six steps you can take to protect yourself as a tenant during the eviction process.
6 Tips to Stop Eviction
1. Know the Laws in Your State
Every state has a version of the Landlord and Tenant Act. This act basically lays the groundwork for the relationship between you and your landlord. Most Landlord and Tenant Acts have a lengthy section on the eviction process. Get a copy of this act and read it cover to cover. Most states post a copy on their attorney general website. You can also get a copy by visiting a local courthouse.
When reading through the act, pay special attention to the sections on notices and illegal evictions. Many states require that your landlord give you proper notice before filing an eviction, and some states require that the landlord give you time to correct the action. If your landlord has not done this, he may have violated the law. An illegal eviction occurs when the landlord tries to evict you himself, like changing the locks or removing your property. Most states will not allow this and you have the right to sue your landlord for damages.
2. Keep Good Records
It’s a good idea to keep records of any interaction you have with your landlord. If you haven’t yet done so, you need to start as soon as you think you may get evicted. Keep a copy of every notice your landlord gives you. If your landlord speaks to you in person, make a note of the time, date and nature of the visit. Find copies of cashed checks or rental receipts to prove past payments. Finally, go around the rental and use a digital camera with a date stamp to take photos of the property’s condition. (Some landlords will go as far as to claim nonexistent property damage, or damage you did not cause, on you). Basically, you want to build your case against the eviction using as much documentation as you can collect.
3. Talk to a Lawyer
While you do not have to have a lawyer during an eviction, getting legal assistance will help tremendously. If you cannot afford a private attorney, you can get assistance from Legal Aid. Legal Aid has a branch in nearly every major city in the U.S. and will provide their services for free or at a reduced cost. You can get a consultation and the service may send a lawyer to help you during the eviction hearing. When you visit the Legal Aid office, bring your documentation. It also helps to mentally run through your case before visiting with the lawyer.
4. Attend the Eviction Hearing
In order to evict you, the landlord will need to schedule an eviction hearing through the local court. A great many tenants choose to simply skip out on the rental property and not show up for the eviction hearing. This is a mistake. If you do not appear in court, the judge will decide in favor of the landlord. Not only will appearing in court give you a chance at beating the eviction, but it will prevent the landlord from claiming any property damage, undue rent or other fines that you did not cause.
Prepare what you will say to the judge before the hearing. Go through all of your documentation and get a good idea of what defense you have against the landlord. On the day of the hearing, dress in business clothing, arrive early, and bring all of your documentation with you.
5. Handling an Eviction
Despite your best efforts, the judge may decide in favor of the landlord and you may get evicted. Prepare for this possibility ahead of time and make arrangements to stay somewhere else. You may also need to rent a storage unit to hold your stuff if you have not found another rental yet. The amount of time a landlord has to evict you varies by state, but some areas give the tenant less than 48 hours to leave the building. If you get evicted, you will need to leave quickly.
6. Renting Another Apartment
Your landlord can notify the credit bureaus of your eviction, but most won’t go this far. However, a few companies collect information on renters and then sell that information to prospective landlords. If you get evicted, there is a good chance your next landlord will find out about it. When you go to rent your next apartment, be upfront with the landlord and explain the circumstances of the eviction. Offer to show the new landlord your documentation. Don’t bash your old landlord or refuse to accept responsibility for something that was your fault, such as not paying the rent. Doing so will make you look like a problem tenant and the landlord may not approve your application.
You may have a hard time finding new digs with an eviction on your record, but many landlords will still approve you. However, you may have to pay a higher deposit or your last month’s rent upfront. As time goes on, the eviction will have less of an impact on your renting life.
An eviction may seem like the end of the world, but many renters go through it and come out on the other side with a new apartment and a second chance at renting. No matter what the circumstances are, following the laws and being upfront will give you the best chance at beating the eviction or handling the fallout afterwards.
Have you ever been evicted from your apartment? What was the process like and what did you do to fight back? Share your story in the comments below.