Eviction Lab updates July 26, 2021

Questions and answers about evictions

  • The Eviction Lab
  • Princeton University

With most COVID-19 aid now in the rearview mirror, eviction filings are once again reaching, or even surpassing, pre-pandemic levels in cities across the country. As many tenants are left to navigate an eviction with few protections, we believe that everyone deserves a safe and affordable home.

The following guide includes some of the most relevant questions that tenants could have as they face an eviction notice. We encourage everyone to learn about their rights in court, search for legal counsel, and apply for rental assistance if it is available.

This page was updated on October 31st, 2023.

Note: this page is intended to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney barred in your state for advice about a specific legal matter.

What to Expect from the Eviction Process

While there is nothing preventing landlords from filing an eviction in court, renters do have rights. Across the country, renters have a constitutional right to due process, which means they have the right to be heard and can dispute an eviction in court. Although it is not common, in some specific places like Florida, tenants might have to post a bond to get a hearing. In other words, they have to pay the rent they owe to an account held by the court system in order to dispute their eviction.

Tenants’ rights vary state to state, and specific locations may have additional protections. For example, some places have laws that protect tenants with disabilities or prohibit evictions if there is no “good” cause. But how these protections can help you, and how to apply for them, varies depending on where you live. This is why it is important to reach out to local experts.

Contact local housing advocates and legal aid organizations in your city or state to learn your rights, seek legal counsel, and find the most up-to-date information. Legal aid providers can be found through state bar associations (associations of all attorneys in the state) and NAIP. Legal assistance can be found from the American Bar Association and LawHelp.org. Find or post resources in your community on our sister websites Just Shelter and End Poverty in America.

Various groups, from your local and state government to housing organizations and charities, may be able to help with short-term rental assistance. Learn more about rental programs in your area here or use this tool by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Stanford Legal Design Lab. Calling your local 2-1-1 can also give you insight into what is available locally.

Depending on where you live, these programs might be managed by your city, your county, your state, or a non-profit. Programs may be able to help you with back rent or future payments, including relocation in some cases. However, some may also require your landlord to cooperate in order to access these funds. This is why it’s important to see what programs are available in your area and learn about their individual requirements.

Apply for rental assistance as quickly as you can. If your landlord files to evict you while you are waiting to hear back about your application, be sure to let the court know that you have an application for rental assistance pending.

If you’ve already lost your home, call 2-1-1 or check our sister sites Just Shelter and End Poverty in America to find shelters, housing providers, and support available in your community. In some states, there are programs that can help with relocation or security deposits and you could be eligible for other benefits. Veterans and active duty service members also have additional benefits when facing an eviction.

Find a Lawyer

Renters may have an attorney represent them in court. In fact, working with a housing attorney could strengthen a renter’s case. Attorneys can help tenants raise defenses, ask the judge for more time (called requesting a continuance), or request to have the case sealed or dismissed.

In some specific locations, if someone is evicted, they may be eligible for emergency rental assistance and housing counseling services to help locate, and pay the rent in, a new home.

There are free legal services across the country. To apply, contact a local legal aid office. The following resources can help you find legal answers or legal representation in court:

Sometimes for undocumented tenants, finding free legal aid can be difficult. You can send a WhatsApp message to the number +1-971-401-2210 to ask about options in your area.

What to Expect from Housing Court

A notice to vacate letter

A “notice to vacate” is the first step in a process that can last weeks or even months. Most states require landlords to give you a notice of their intent to file an eviction. States have different requirements for what a notice to vacate looks like: it might be a piece of paper taped on the door or sent by certified mail, or your landlord might contact you in person or over the phone to let you know that they intend to file an eviction case against you.

Depending on your state and local law, you may have a right to address any issues cited in the notice and avoid an eviction case. This is called the “right to cure.” For example, if you live in a state with the right to cure and the intended eviction is for non-payment of rent, you can avoid an eviction by paying back rent.

The stages of eviction

The stages of eviction

After delivering the notice of eviction and waiting a certain period of time, the length of which varies by state, the landlord typically files an eviction case in court and the court serves the renter with a summons for a hearing. During the hearing, renters can raise defenses to the eviction. Defenses vary based on where you live, so it’s important to talk to a legal aid provider to find out what defenses exist in your location.

If the judge decides in favor of the landlord, the judge may issue a writ of possession. Renters can appeal the decision, leave the property, or wait until the sheriff or other party executes the writ by removing the renters’ possessions out of the unit.

That depends on where you live. In many states, landlords are allowed by law to start eviction proceedings once the tenant is late on rent, and they’re not required to accept late or partial payments. In other states, landlords might be able to accept the late payment, but can still evict you for paying late. On the other hand, in some places, landlords are required to accept a late payment that you make soon after the eviction filing, and withdraw the court case against you.

In some states and cities, there might be regulations that allow tenants to catch up in rent or create a grace period before starting an eviction court case. Contact legal services and 2-1-1 to inquire about the regulations where you live. Ask whether landlords are required to accept late payments, and whether the court must dismiss your eviction case if you pay what you owe before your eviction hearing.

A landlord must have a cause of action and follow the local notice requirements before they can evict you. In most places, “causes of action” include non-payment of rent, lease violations, and damage or harm to property or other tenants. While most evictions are filed for owing rent, in most jurisdictions, a landlord can also ask you to leave at the end of your lease. If you refuse to leave, they can file to evict you for staying past the lease term. Landlords might also be able to end your tenancy for several other reasons including their plans to move into or renovate the property. However, in some places there are laws that require a landlord to have a “good” or “just” cause to evict. The specific details vary by location but in general this means that a landlord needs to have a valid legal reason (which is usually detailed in local law), like non-payment of rent or lease violations, to evict a tenant. “Good” or “just” cause protections can protect tenants from displacement and veiled discrimination and retaliation.

It is critical to know that these protections don’t exist everywhere so you must check with local legal services to see what is available to you.

An eviction doesn’t directly affect the credit score, but outstanding debts could show up in your credit report, including late rent payments and late fees that are owed.

Evictions can appear though in other consumer reports and make it harder to apply for a rental unit in the future, as landlords check your history as a renter.

When an eviction case is filed, it can become a public record. This could allow a future landlord to check your eviction history and deny your application—even if you won your case or did not leave your home. In some states, renters are allowed to seal the record of the eviction case. This could make it easier for you to find new housing in the future. In other places, some eviction cases are sealed automatically.

Check with the court system in your area, or with legal services, to see if or how you can request to have your eviction case sealed. Legal services may be able to help you get your eviction case sealed, especially if you worked with legal services during your eviction hearing or if you won your case.

In most states, a unit must be “habitable,” implying that the landlord is responsible for keeping a home in decent conditions. However, what “habitable” means can differ depending on where you live. It usually implies a unit needs to meet the area’s housing basic codes like working heat, air conditioning, bathroom, etc. If a landlord is renting a unit that doesn’t have these or refuses to make repairs, a tenant may be able to file a complain at the city or county level.

In some locations, it is even possible for a tenant to pay for the repairs themselves and deduct it from their rent if the landlord is not making repairs in a timely manner. But this is not the law everywhere, so be sure to check your local law or contact housing organizations or legal aid providers in your area before withholding any rent.

No matter your legal status in the United States, you are still entitled to a hearing in court, although in some specific places you might need to post a bond. According to new policies issued during the Biden administration, officers from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can’t detain people in a courthouse.

In some cities you may also be allowed to apply for free legal assistance, and there are non-governmental organizations and pro bono (free) attorneys that provide legal support and consultation for immigrants. Many rental assistance programs also accept applications from undocumented renters.

If a landlord or an apartment manager threatens to call immigration officers to force you out, you could find help in immigrant organizations as well as some legal aid organizations. You can find a list of organizations that help and support immigrants in legal affairs here.

How to make a difference

Renters across the United States have found strength in connecting with each other and organizing for better housing conditions, from the Great Depression and the 1970s to today. Consider contacting your neighbors, local tenants union, and housing advocates to learn more.

You can find a list of local organizations that need your support in our sister sites, Just Shelter and End Poverty in America.

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