Eviction Laws: What You Need to Know as a Renter

Most renters realize that you can be evicted if you don’t pay your rent. But that’s only the beginning. For example, many renters aren't aware of the other possible grounds for eviction, or don’t understand how the eviction laws works if they haven’t paid the rent. Though the details vary a bit from state to state, here’s an overview of the key things you need to know.

Non-Payment of Rent Isn't the Only Reason for Eviction

When most people hear eviction, they think about people getting kicked out of rental property because they didn't pay the rent. That’s certainly the most common reason for eviction, but it’s definitely not the only one. Generally, a renter may be evicted for any significant breach of the terms of the lease. That may mean damage to the property, noise or cleanliness issues or other actions prohibited by your rental agreement. Make sure you know what it says!

Also, be aware that most of the legal information you’ll find around the Internet and in brochures and such addresses eviction for non-payment of rent. If you’re facing eviction for a different type of breach of your lease, the procedures and time frames may differ.

Once the Eviction Process Starts, Your Landlord May Not Accept Partial Payment

If you’re having trouble paying your rent on time, talk to your landlord or property manager as soon as possible. It is generally much more difficult to negotiate after you've received an eviction notice, and the time frame to cure your delinquency by bringing the rent current is quite short. This varies from state to state, but is typically between three and ten days. Once that window closes, the eviction may go forward even if you've caught up on the rent.

Show Up in Court

In most states, your landlord must provide you with that notice and short period in which you can pay the past-due rent before taking legal action. Once that window passes, you may receive a notice to appear in court. Many people facing eviction don’t appear in court, but this is a big mistake. If you’re not there, the court will usually grant whatever the landlord is asking for.

If you have any legal defenses, you will waive them by failing to appear in court, which means that you probably won’t ever get to address those issues. The court will typically order you to pay the past-due rent, possibly your landlord’s expenses for coming to court, and to move out by a specific date. If you’re not there, that date may be just around the corner. Even if you’re not able to pay the past-due rent in full, many courts will allow you a reasonable time in which to find another place to live and make moving arrangements—but only if you show up and ask for it.

Free or Inexpensive Help May be Available

If you do think you have a defense to the eviction, free help may be available to you. Check with your local Legal Aid office to find out whether they handle eviction cases, and look online for a Tenants Rights organization in your area.

Photo credit: David Goehring/Flickr

Read more advice about apartment eviction and other legal issues:

Have any other questions on eviction laws? Leave them in the comments section, or find more information in our landlord and lease issues section.

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