Think of eviction as a nasty divorce between a landlord and a tenant. It's a parting of the ways, and the landlord is the unhappy spouse. He may be unhappy for good reasons (like you sublet your apartment to a rock band as a practice studio) or for bad ones (he doesn't like your ethnicity), but the eviction notice is the beginning of a campaign to get you out. Do you have to move? How long do you have to move out? The answers to both those questions depend on the reason for the eviction, the circumstances of your tenancy and the state or jurisdiction where you live.
What Is Eviction?
You rent an apartment or house and it becomes the center of your life. You eat there, sleep there, invite your friends and family and settle right in. Suddenly you understand the old saying that a person's home is their castle, so it's an awful shock to get an eviction notice.
What is eviction? It's a legal pathway the law provides for landlords who want to get their tenants out. Forget the "change the locks" and "dump belongings in the street" drama you might see on television sitcoms. The only legal way for a landlord to budge an unwilling tenant is to follow the state eviction laws.
Anyone who thinks all states have similar laws hasn't lived in this world very long. Eviction is governed by state law and, in some states, by city ordinance, so there is not one eviction law, there are well over 50 of them. Both landlords and tenants had best read up on the laws in their own state (and sometimes city) before they flail around in the eviction pond.
Despite these monumental differences, eviction laws across the country have a few things in common. First, all require that the landlord notify the tenant of his intention to evict her from the premises. That written notification is called an eviction notice. It may be that the tenant already has been told verbally that she will be evicted, but the notice is the first step down the legal pathway toward eviction.
If you are wondering what an eviction notice will say, how long you have to move out, or the reasons for which you can be evicted, there is no simple answer. It all depends on the applicable laws, the reason for the eviction and the facts of your case.
Why Do People Get Evicted?
Why do people get evicted? The simple answer is: because the landlord wants them out. The more complicated answer is that old standard: it depends. A landlord must follow the laws of her state or jurisdiction when she evicts a tenant. The laws vary enormously.
In some states, a landlord can evict for any reason at all. In these "no-cause" jurisdictions, you can be evicted without any reason or explanation and, as long as the landlord follows the requisite procedure and has no illegal intent, the eviction will be upheld. What would be an illegal intent? Well, under the Constitution, a landlord (or any other business owner) cannot discriminate against someone because of factors like race and ethnicity. Some states make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their gender, gender identification, or the fact they have children. If a landlord evicts you and you have evidence that it is because of illegal discrimination, you can challenge it in court. It is also illegal for a landlord to evict a tenant because he has exercised his legal right to complain about housing law violations or the like. Note: this illegal discrimination is hardly ever overt and can be hard to prove, so it may be a good idea to consult an attorney if you think this is happening to you.
Other states allow evictions only for "cause." Cause means different things in different laws but generally a landlord has cause if a tenant violates the rental agreement or lease contract. Perhaps the most common reason an eviction notice is sent is when rent is not paid in a timely fashion. But in "cause" states, you might also be evicted for breaching another rule in the contract, like no pets, no smoking or no illegal activities. Creating a nuisance (think of the rock band example) could also be cause for an eviction.
At the far end of the spectrum, you will find jurisdictions that have enacted rent control ordinances to protect tenant rights. In California, cities can (and many do) enact their own rent control laws. Under these ordinances, the amount that rent can rise every year is severely limited, and the landlord's right to evict is also very limited. Not just "cause" is required, but "just cause," as defined in the ordinance.
How Long Do You Have to Move Out After an Eviction Notice?
The amount of time between the moment you get an eviction notice and the day you are ordered out will pass in a heartbeat, no matter how many 24-hour periods it actually includes. And the time specified can range from three days to 60 days or even more. It depends, once again, on the cause for the eviction, your circumstances and the applicable laws.
In no-cause states, where a landlord can boot out a tenant at will, he is still required to give ample notice. He can't ask you to leave the following day or even the following week. If he evicts you without cause, a landlord must usually give 30-day notice, and, in some cases, up to 60 days.
Payment of rent, or failure to pay, is one of the most common problems that result in eviction notices. If you don't pay, the eviction notice in most states is calculated to give you a short window of time to pay. Commonly called a "Pay or Quit" notice, these eviction documents specify the amount you are deficient and order you to pay within a few days (usually three or five) or else to vacate.
If you have violated some other provision of the contract, you may get a "Cure or Quit" notice. It also provides a short window of time for you to get back in compliance with the contract or to move out. For example, if you are growing marijuana in a state where it is not legal to do so, your landlord might send you an eviction notice giving you a few days to "cure" the violation (e.g., get rid of the illegal activity) or else move out.
Finally, there is the unconditional eviction notice. Even in "cause" states, a landlord can evict you without giving you a window of time to fix the issue. Usually these are limited to specified causes, like illegal activity on the premises or continued and frequent violations of the contract. The amount of time you have depends on the laws of your state.
How Many Months Can You Be Late on Rent Before an Eviction?
When you enter into a rental contract or lease, the landlord promises you certain things, and you make promises in return. The main exchange, however, is the use of the apartment for an agreed-upon amount of money per month. The agreement also specifies where and when to make that payment. If you fail to make the payment, the general rule is that the landlord can send you a "Pay or Quit" notice right away.
There may be a grace period build into the contract. If so, you have until the end of the grace period to pay rent, but count that in days, not months. It is also possible that your landlord is a really nice and compassionate person and will give you more time for the rent if a personal crisis arises in your life, like a serious illness or car wreck that puts you out of commission for awhile. But there is no legal obligation for her to do that. Absent other written agreement, your landlord can send an eviction notice the minute the rent is legally past due. On the other hand, the eviction procedure itself can take months.
Read More: How to Delay Eviction
How Long Does an Eviction Take?
Eviction is a process, not one act. The eviction begins when the landlord decides to evict you. It officially starts when she serves you with the eviction notice, but the notice period is a stage that can take as little as three days (if you are late with your rent) to a 60-day notice for a no-cause eviction.
The next stage depends on what you do. If you do not pay back rent or cure a contract breach, or if the eviction is not conditional, you can opt not to leave. If you leave, the eviction is over. If you do not, the landlord must file a court suit against you if she wants to continue with the eviction.
This is called an unlawful detainer action. It takes different amounts of time in different states. In many states, it is fast-tracked, that is, it moves along faster than other cases, with shorter time periods for filing a response and getting a hearing. If you file a defense to the case, or contest the validity of the eviction or the legality of the procedures the landlord followed, the case takes longer. If you don't, it is over at an early hearing. If you appeal a judgment for unlawful detainer, it can extend the time until eviction.
How to Stop Eviction After Foreclosure
Foreclosure is itself a type of eviction. It happens if you buy a house and cannot make the payments you contracted to make on the loan. The bank (or lender) is essentially in the place of the landlord, and you are in the place of the tenant. Because you do not live up to your financial obligations regarding the property, you lose your rights to it.
Needless to say, foreclosure laws, like landlord-tenant laws on eviction, vary widely among states. Your rights as an owner will depend on your state or local laws. In some states, like Nevada, the new owner of a foreclosed home has to go through a formal eviction process, starting with a "Three-Day Notice to Quit Following Foreclosure." If the former owner/tenant doesn't move, the new owner files a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer, and it wends its way through the court.
In other states, the eviction is seen as a part of the foreclosure process. The foreclosing bank or lender can ask the court for a “writ of possession,” a court order telling the sheriff to remove the prior owner from the property. This can happen in some places with only 24 hours notice.
How to stop a foreclosure eviction? Your best bet is to prevent the foreclosure, but there may be some loopholes in your state laws as well. Consult a lawyer experienced in landlord/tenant and foreclosure law.
If you are not the former owner but a tenant of the former owner, you will have more options. State law is likely to protect the tenants of the former owner to the same extent it protects other tenants. For example, in Nevada, the new owner must serve the tenant with a notice of change of ownership and give the tenant the right to remain in possession for 60 days. The new owner can evict the tenant if he violates the lease or Nevada law, or can simply evict with 60-day notice.
- City of Seattle: Evictions
- California Courts: Eviction
- Findlaw: Tenant Eviction: What You Should Know as a Renter
- Nolo: How Evictions Work: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers
- Nevada Civil Law Self-Help Center: Evicting A Former Owner After Foreclosure
- Nevada Civil Law Self-Help Center: Evicting a Tenant After Foreclosure
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.