If you fall behind on rent, there’s a good chance you’ll get a notice from your landlord telling you to pay up within a certain number of days or move out. Whatever you do, don’t ignore that warning.
Written notice is the first step a landlord must take in the eviction process, and if you blow it off, you could end up on the street. Eviction, a legal process in which a landlord forces you to move from a rental property, can haunt you for years, damage your credit and sabotage securing potential apartments when it appears on tenant screening reports.
The good news is your landlord can’t legally just kick you out and change the locks. Each state has different landlord-tenant laws and eviction processes. You can look up your state’s laws on the Tenant Rights page of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.
Below is everything you need to know about tenant rights and how being evicted will affect you:
THE EVICTION PROCESS
Written notice. A landlord must first terminate your tenancy with one of three types of notice:
- Pay rent or quit: Pay rent owed or vacate the property.
- Cure or quit: Fix the breach of lease – such as not paying rent or having unauthorized roommates — or move.
- Unconditional quit: You won’t get a chance to pay up or fix the breach with this notice, which generally isn’t allowed in most states unless you’ve got a history of lease violations and late payments or committed a crime on the property.
When facing eviction, try to reach a settlement with the landlord or attorney working with the landlord or credit agency, says Thomas Nitzsche, credit educator at Clearpoint Credit Counseling Solutions, a nonprofit education-focused consumer and credit-counseling agency.
If you can’t work out a settlement, you’ll soon be headed to court.
Unlawful detainer lawsuit. If you don’t pay rent or fix the breach of lease, a landlord can file what is often referred to as an unlawful detainer lawsuit to force you to move.
You’ll then be served a summons and complaint and assigned a court date to appear before a judge who determines the outcome. Go to court and make your case. If you don’t show up for court, the landlord wins a default judgment against you, and you’ll have to move.
You may have a defense if your landlord made a mistake or left out a part of the eviction lawsuit process such as proper notice. Other possible defenses include:
- The property is poorly maintained and not habitable.
- Your landlord is evicting you in retaliation for your insistence on repairs or involvement in a tenants’ association.
- You can provide proof the landlord is wrong or lying.
HOW EVICTION AFFECTS YOU
If the judge rules against you, you’ll have to move and the eviction judgment will show up as a public record in the court system, although some states allow you to appeal or expunge the eviction from public view.
“The biggest concern to a person who’s been evicted is securing housing again and finding a landlord who is going to be okay with that,” says Nitzsche.
As for your credit report, a debt that leads to an eviction might appear on a credit file with a major credit bureau listed under collections or as a money judgment but the word “eviction” itself will not, says Mike Catanese, vice president for Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus.
Unfortunately, you’ll be stuck with that blot on your credit for awhile.
“If the debt is reported to a credit bureau, it would be treated like any other negative credit information and retained for seven years,” says Catanese.