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Eviction Explained

Lisa Bernstein · Jul 10, 2009

Eviction, a term with negative connotations, is a legal process whereby a landlord removes a tenant from an apartment. As with all legal processes, both sides (landlord and you as tenant) have legal rights. Each state (legal jurisdiction) has different laws. So, if you find yourself facing eviction, you must take steps to learn the eviction laws in your own jurisdiction. Some general rules apply to all states. Familiarity with them will prove an advantage in navigating the eviction process.

Reasons for Eviction

Nonpayment of rent is the most common reason for an eviction. Other reasons include:

  • Violation of lease terms
  • Creation of a health or safety hazard
  • The lease expired and the tenant won’t leave
  • Illegal activity in the apartment

Often, an expedited process is available to evict tenants for nonpayment or late rent payment. You are served with a legal notice requiring payment of the rent by a specific date. If the rent is unpaid by the deadline, your landlord commences with an eviction action. To avoid legal action, your landlord may agree to accept partial payment, with an understanding that the remaining rent due will soon be paid in full.

If your landlord accepts partial payment before obtaining a judgment, most jurisdictions will dismiss an eviction proceeding based on nonpayment of rent. For this eviction type, even after judgment, there is a time period when the overdue rent can be paid to avoid eviction.

For evictions due to violations of the lease, you should review your lease to determine whether the violation exists. If so, you should either correct the violation, or ask the landlord for an exception to the disputed clause. If you fail to do that, you could ask to be released from the lease and move.

Evictions for creating a safety or health hazard can sometimes be delayed by correcting the problem. However, if you engage in illegal activity on the premises (e.g. drug dealing), most landlords will evict you immediately.

The Eviction Process

The process begins when your landlord serves notice of the eviction to you, the tenant. Then, there is an eviction proceeding, a court procedure where your landlord explains the reason for the eviction. The court sets a date for your defense. Both parties, landlord and tenant, must appear. If your landlord fails to appear, the case may be dismissed. If you fail to appear, your landlord may win by default, depending on the circumstances. If the judge rules in favor of your landlord, you may have the right to appeal.

First Steps When Facing Eviction

The first step is to call a Legal Aid Office or your local Tenant’s Union for advice. Legal assistance is available for tenants who qualify. Without a lawyer, you may not understand the legal process or what must be proven to win an eviction action.

You can consider a counter claim if your landlord allowed a significant problem with the apartment (a health or safety issue) to go unaddressed. This requires keeping proper documentation, showing that you took action before your landlord started the eviction process.

By understanding the eviction process and getting sound legal advice, you can assert your right to the full extent of the law.

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Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.

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