Eviction is a court-administered proceeding for removing a tenant from a rental unit because the tenant has violated the rental agreement or did not comply with a notice ending the tenancy. Although the details of the eviction process, also called an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit, may vary from state to state, many of the same general procedures and legal codes exist everywhere.
If the tenant fails to voluntarily move out after proper notice has been given by the landlord, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with the county. The tenant has up to five days to respond to or “answer” the unlawful detainer complaint. If the tenant fails to file the proper forms with the county clerk, the court will typically award a default judgment in the landlord’s favor and the tenant will be served a writ of possession by the sheriff.
Although the landlord has many rights in an eviction case, the law also provides some protection to tenants. The landlord must file the proper forms with the county clerk and he or she is forbidden to forcibly remove or “lock out” the tenant; any attempt to do so may result in a default judgment in favor of the tenant or, at worst, criminal charges brought against the landlord.
If the tenant files an answer to the unlawful detainer complaint, a court hearing may take place to review evidence and hear witnesses presented by each side. The most common defenses presented by tenants during court cases are
- The landlord’s notice requests more rent than is actually due.
- The rental unit violates the implied “warranty of habitability,” meaning that the tenement is below health and safety standards required by the state.
- The landlord has filed the eviction action in retaliation for the tenant exercising a tenant right or because the tenant complained to the building inspector about the condition of the rental unit.
In the event that the court issues an eviction order against the tenant, it is possible, though unlikely, that the tenant may be allowed “relief from forfeiture.” The court will allow the tenant to remain in the apartment if it is convinced that the eviction would cause the tenant severe hardship and that the tenant can pay all of the rent that is due. At the very least, the tenant has the option to appeal a court decision that he or she sees as being made in error.
Knowing your rights as a tenant or as a proper owner is valuable knowledge. However, being financially stable is even better for it will prevent an eviction suit from even occurring. One of the most common reasons that people are evicted from their homes is for either not paying or being late with monthly rent payments. Unfortunately many people who have been evicted for this reason can trace their lack of financial liquidity to a combination of poor spending habits and insufficient earning capability.
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