Before signing a rental agreement or lease, it is important to fully understand the eviction process and tenants’ rights regarding eviction. Eviction laws vary in each state, but generally speaking, landlords must follow a very precise legal procedure to terminate tenants' rental or lease agreements and remove them from the property.
A landlord looking to evict his tenant cannot simply change the locks or turn off the tenant’s utilities. He must first end the tenancy by providing a formal notice of eviction. There are three main types of notices the landlord can give. First is a non-payment notice, which can be given if the rent is past due. It states that the tenant must pay the rent or vacate the property within a specified amount of days (usually 3 to 5).
Second is a notice to fix or “cure” a violation. This notice is given if the tenant violates the terms of the lease, such as breaking a “no-pets” rule or making an excessive amount of noise. This notice also specifies how many days the tenant has to correct the violation or move out.
The third type of eviction notice is an unconditional notice, which does not allow the tenant to correct a violation. Most states permit unconditional notices if the tenant repeatedly violates the contract (late rent or broken clauses), severely damages the property or engages in illegal behavior on the premises.
Unless a lease is fixed-term, a landlord can ask his tenant to move out at any time without giving a reason. However, in this situation, he must provide a substantial amount of time for the renter to move out. This can be as short as 20 days and as long as 90 days. The time period may be adjusted if the tenant is elderly or disabled, has lived in the location for a long period of time, or is receiving federal housing assistance. A landlord cannot terminate a contract without cause on the basis of discrimination or retaliation. In areas with rent-control laws, this type of termination may be forbidden. Also, some areas require landlords to pay relocation costs on behalf of elderly or disabled tenants, or if the property is being converted to a condominium.
If the tenant does not correct the violation or pay rent within the time frame specified by the eviction notice, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with a local court. The summons and complaint papers must be properly served according to the law, or the eviction will not be granted by the court. After receiving the court papers, the tenant can provide the court a written response raising defenses, such as improper notice of rent increase, health code violation or eviction based on discrimination or retaliation. If the court finds the defense(s) to be valid, the case will be set for a hearing, at which time the tenant must provide proof of the landlord’s fault.
Escort by Sheriff
If the court rules in favor of the landlord and grants the eviction, the landlord cannot force the tenant out immediately. He must first deliver the court ruling to the local sheriff’s or marshal’s office and pay a fee. The sheriff will then post an eviction notice on the tenant’s door, stating that the tenant must vacate the premises by a certain date or be formally escorted off the property.