Understanding a Tenant’s Rights During Eviction

by Bill on February 17, 2012

In the days since the housing crash of 2009, it seems stories of tenants being evicted have shown up all over the place. I’ve seen stories in the news, on forums and around my own town. Heck we’ve got one going on right now in the building I live in. So, if you are faced with a possible eviction – what are your rights? Knowing the rights a tenant has during eviction and before eviction may save you lots of stress.

Here’s the first rule of your rights as a tenant regarding eviction. You cannot be evicted without reason or the use of law. Any eviction process must follow the rule of law. You cannot be threatened to move, coersed to move, or be tossed out without due cause and process. Keep that in your head, and you will be fine.

Landlords, banks, and anyone on the end representing ownership of the building must provide advance notice for eviction in any situations. This was proven when tons of landlords were foreclosed upon by the banks. The banks were forced by law to properly evict tenants after the foreclosed property became theirs. Even if the building changes hands suddenly, as in a foreclosure or death in the family, the eviction process does not change.

Here’s the general rule for a time frame if you do get a notice. If you have a written lease, one that is signed by both you and the landlord (or former landlord), that lease grants you an automatic 30-day notice to vacate from the original notice to move. If there is no written agreement, the lease is considered a verbal lease; the time frame shortens considerably to ten days.

How do you know which one you have? If you simply hand the landlord money each week, or every other week, you most likely have a verbal lease. Hotels, rooming houses, shared apartments and yes even sublets within a leased unit are verbal and the time limit is ten days. If you share an apartment with someone, and they are on the lease but you are not – you are a verbal lease while they hold the written lease. Therefore, if the landlord wanted, she could kick you out while leaving the leasee in place.

Now, if you get worried about causing a problem or the landlord getting a burr up their ass, don’t. Landlords cannot by law evict without cause. You can’t be evicted for being arrested, or your living arrangements, or the number of pets you own, or because the Department of Social Services is verifying information. Yes, the landlord has the right to know about potential changes within their building – but that’s about it. Now if the living arrangements or the pets cause undo damage to the building or you can’t pay rent for six months, then yes, you got trouble.

Before I get into what an unlawful eviction is, let me tell you how the landlord is supposed to inform you as part of your tenant’s eviction rights. Any notice must be presented in writing – both to you and the local court. There must be a claim filed at the local court to regain posession of the property or any money owed. I’ve seen a few landlords simply tell people they have “x” number of days to get out. Tell the landlord that you need to see it in writing. Once you get it in writing, go to the local court and make sure there is a claim there; if there is the court will send it to you. Once written notice is given THEN you have the clock ticking but not before. So, in a verbal lease you would have ten days from the date the claim was filed in court and the paper presented to you. A written lease is 30 days from the written notice. There is always a paper trail with the law – always. Any other means of eviction is considered an illegal eviction and contestable in court.

I rented from a man once. I came home from work one day to find the locks changed to my front door. No notice, no warning. It took me half an hour of argueing with him to let me get back in to get my stuff out. That is an example of an illegal eviction. Any eviction carried out without notice is illegal. Landlords or caretakers cannot remove doors, change the locks, remove property or shut off utilities without prior written notice.

So, what happens if you are handed a written notice? You are allowed to ask for a hearing. At the hearing you can defend yourself against the eviction. At the hearing bring any resources, paper, proof, witnesses and whatever to prove the eviction is faulty. Now, the landlord will be there too; but if the landlord fails to show up, you automatically win. If you fail to show up, you are dead in the water.

What happens if there is no written notice? That depends on if your stuff is still inside the residence. If it is, go to the police immediately. They may be coming with you to get your stuff out, or help work out an intermediate resolution to let you stay. If your stuff is already out, or the property removed, you may have a claim for damages against the landlord. That requires a claim in court and possibly a lawyer.

Regardless of what happens, knowing and understanding your rights as a tenant during an eviction eliminates much of the emotional crap and trauma. Using your tenant’s eviction rights may actually help you stay where you are, or stop you from losing most of your stuff.

Here’s a couple of references you might use to help understand the process better. And please, send this along to anyone who might be in the same situation. Knowledge is always more powerful than ignorance.

Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut [http://www.larcc.org/pamphlets/housing/tr_eviction.htm]
Legal Aid of Western Missouri [http://www.lawmo.org/law_llt.htm]

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