Stop an Eviction in Its Tracks: Legal Defenses

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Eviction Notice

No one ever plans on being evicted. Unfortunately, there may be times when you don’t hold up your end of a lease agreement and will have to face some serious consequences. Late or missing rent, property damage, expired leases, and participation in illegal activity all constitute grounds for eviction. While you should do your best to never break a lease agreement, you should also be aware of a few things that could potentially stop an eviction in its tracks:

Read Your Lease

Go over your lease carefully until you can understand all of its terms and conditions. You should know exactly what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do in and to your rental property. This way, if a future eviction notice is based on your breaking the lease, you can at least be sure of the claim’s accuracy. If you receive an eviction notice but have not broken your lease, it’s within your rights as a tenant to retain possession of the property.

Know Your Rights

Take it upon yourself to learn all of your rights as a tenant, even if you’ve never received an eviction notice. Any person renting an apartment or home should learn their rights as early into their lease as possible. Every state has their own Landlord and Tenant Act, so be sure to look up your state’s specific renting laws. The Landlord and Tenant Act will lay out all of your and your landlord’s respective rights.

Talk to Your Landlord

Depending on why you have received an eviction notice, it might help to speak with your landlord. For instance, if you’re being evicted because of late payments, you can offer to pay what is owed immediately or to establish some kind of payment plan. You should definitely arrange a meeting with your landlord if you don’t know why you’re being evicted. If it’s because of your behavior (e.g. too many loud parties), you might be able to apologize and ask for another chance. In these cases, it’s especially helpful to know the terms of your lease agreement.

Keep Records

Dedicate a folder in your filing cabinet exclusively to rental property. Keep your lease agreement, rent receipts, and any records of interaction you have with your landlord or the building’s superintendents inside this folder. Any notice your landlord gives you should also go in here. If you ever have an in-person interaction with your landlord, make a record of it by writing the date, time, and topic of conversation down on a piece of paper. You should also keep pictures of your apartment in this folder. This might seem excessive, but as a renter it’s important to protect yourself with as much evidence as you can get a hold of.

Talk to a Lawyer

When faced with an eviction notice, you’ll find it extremely helpful to consult a lawyer. If you can’t afford to hire your own lawyer, there is always the option of getting affordable help from Legal Aid, which has a branch in almost every major U.S. city. Make sure to take any relevant records with you when meeting with a lawyer. It helps to go in completely prepared, so practice what you are going to say like you would for a job interview.

Attend the Eviction Hearing

In order to actually evict you, your landlord will need to schedule an eviction hearing. You must attend this hearing. A lot of tenants choose to skip it, but be warned: if you do not appear in court, the judge will rule in favor of your landlord. Attending the hearing will at least give you the opportunity to state your side of the case and a chance to beat the eviction. Your attendance will also prevent your landlord from claiming any false property damages, rent fees, or other fines. Again, be prepared. Practice what you are going to say and remember to bring all necessary records and documentation.

Dealing With It

Unfortunately, eviction is a legal process. As such, the judge can order the landlord’s request to either be ignored or followed. If the judge rules in favor of your landlord, you will be evicted. This is a real possibility that you must always bear in mind. It’s a good idea to form a back-up plan as a safety precaution. Make arrangements to stay somewhere sooner rather than later, and get estimates on storage units for your belongings. Each state grants evicted tenants a different amount of time before they must leave the building. Some states will only give you a couple of days. In the event that you do get evicted, you will have to move out quickly.

Moving Out

Despite your best efforts, you might get evicted. Maybe you’ll just choose to leave after receiving an eviction notice. Either way, it’s important to know that an eviction can show up on your credit and can be shared with property owners. When looking for a new place, be truthful and explain the situation without saying awful things about your previous landlord. You do not want to come across as a difficult tenant. Plenty of landlords are willing to give honest people a chance, so don’t worry. As time passes, this eviction will have less and less of an impact on your renting life. It’s not the end of the world.

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