In the event that you have been served an eviction notice and missed your hearing, follow these steps to ensure that you are not unlawfully evicted. Although at this stage of the game the courts generally follow the same procedures, landlord/tenant law varies from state to state; so check your local real estate laws to be sure you are following the right course of action.
What You Missed
Generally, when you do not appear in court, the judge rules against you by default. Next, the judgment is signed by the judge, stamped by the court, or, alternatively, notarized and sent to you by mail.
You then have a certain period of time (usually 10 days from the court date) to either file a defense or comply with the conditions set forth in the judgment. Most likely, you will be evicted from the unit and ordered to pay any rent you may owe, plus court costs.
How to File a Defense
If you feel you are being evicted unfairly, you may file to set aside the judgment. At this point, it is wise to get legal assistance. You are required to have a lawyer, which definitely helps ensure that you fill out the correct forms, file them properly, and build a solid defense.
If you think you cannot afford legal assistance, please see the resources section for help locating low-income legal services. At this point your lawyer will help you file the correct paperwork stating why you missed your court date, and presenting your defense to the court.
Understand that filing these papers does not necessarily stop the eviction process. The court will evaluate your request and notify you whether or not an additional hearing will be set, and if there is anything else you will need to do.
What If I Received An Eviction Notice for Non-Payment of Rent, But I Paid In Full Before the Court Date?
If your landlord showed up for court and you did not, it is possible that the landlord did not tell the court that you have paid your rent. In this case, a judgment would still be filed against you, and you could still be evicted.
Retain your receipt and seek legal counsel to avoid a wrongful eviction. Do not assume that because you made payment, the eviction process will come to a halt. However, you will be cleared of charges when you appear in court with a receipt of payment.
What If I Did Not Pay Rent Due to Lack of Repairs?
You will need to check your local legislation, but generally speaking it is not acceptable by law to withhold rent payments due to lack of maintenance.
Alternatively, when you present your case at your trial, you may ask the court to reduce the amount you owe. Until a judge orders reimbursement, you are liable for the amount stated in your lease agreement. If you have made any repairs yourself, be sure to bring the receipts with you to court.