You come home to find an eviction notice posted to your door. Do not panic. While eviction is a matter that should be taken seriously, and handled immediately, the notice does not mean that you have to move out tomorrow. It is important, however, to understand your rights and the eviction process.
The Notice to Pay or Quit
The notice on your door is not an actual eviction. An eviction can only be mandated by the court. The notice on your door is really a Notice to Pay or Quit. This notice is issued by the landlord, and includes the date the landlord is requiring you to vacate the rental unit. The notice should also include the reason the landlord is requiring you leave. If the reason given is due to non-payment of rent, the notice will generally give you a choice to pay that rent within a certain number of days (usually mandated by your state), or vacate the unit. If the reason given is something else – perhaps numerous tenant complaints, you will only be given a Notice to Quit, or vacate the unit. Chances are, however, if you have a rental agreement, your landlord has probably already given you a 30-day notice of his intent.
While this notice is not a legal document, if you do not move or pay the rent due, the landlord will have local law enforcement issue you a Summons and Complaint, signaling the start of the eviction process. If you do move prior to the date indicated on the notice, the landlord will not take any further action towards eviction.
The Summons and Complaint
The Summons and Complaint is a legal document. If you have not hired an attorney by this point, you should do so immediately. If you do not respond to the Summons and Complaint, you essentially forfeit your rights. Law enforcement will come to your apartment to remove you, sometimes without your belongings.
Make sure you respond to the Summons and Complaint. In your response to the Summons, you will explain your defense, and you will be scheduled to appear before a judge.
A Tenant’s Defense
If you are in disagreement over the reason for eviction, make sure to collect copies of all canceled checks for rent payments. Also, read your rental agreement. The rental agreement should stipulate how the landlord is to notify you of his intent to evict. If this process has not been followed, then he generally cannot evict you. Also, if the landlord accepts any payments from you after the Notice to Pay is served, he cannot evict you. If you have filed complaints with the landlord, and consequently withheld rent, collect these letters as evidence in your defense.
Things to Remember
Remember to take the Notice to Pay or Quit seriously. Handle all matters professionally. If you are unprofessional, you will only be adding more fuel to the fire, giving the landlord further cause to evict. Also, if in the end, you are served an eviction by the court, make sure to fill out a Stay of Execution, which will grant you additional time to move out and collect your belonging.
Emily Gojko: I am a writer, marketer, and manager with a strong background in real estate development and management. I am also a native New Yorker with an obsession for home design shows, so I have personal and professional experience making the most of small spaces, and dealing with good and bad living situations.