No matter what type of tenancy you have, the landlord cannot evict you without warning you first. He will do this by giving you a written notice asking you to leave the property by a certain date. If you've done something wrong, the notice will give you a few days to fix the problem (i.e., pay the rent or remove unauthorized pets) before the eviction process starts. But if the landlord is using a 30-day notice, it often means that you haven't done anything wrong and the landlord simply wants you to move out.
When you get a 30-day eviction notice, you must leave before the 30 days is out; otherwise, you become a trespasser. The landlord can go to court and get an order authorizing the sheriff to forcibly remove you from the property.
Eviction Notice Meaning: Eviction for Cause
A landlord does not always need a reason to evict you – it depends on the lease. Generally, if you have a fixed-term lease that lasts for a period of, say, 12 months, the landlord cannot evict you until the 12 months are up. He can only force you to leave earlier if you do something wrong. This is known as an eviction "for cause."
Suppose, for example, that you forget to pay the rent. The landlord can then serve a pay or quit notice. This gives you a few days (three to seven in most states) to pay what you owe or move out. If you've violated a no-pets clause or damaged the property, the landlord can serve a cure or quit notice. This gives you a few days to fix (cure) the lease violation or move out. If you fix the problem, the lease carries on as normal. The landlord no longer has a reason to evict you, and the eviction stops dead in its tracks.
A three-day unconditional quit notice is the harshest type of notice you might receive. This orders you to move out of the property immediately with no second chances. In most states, the landlord can only serve an unconditional notice if you're a serial offender – you've failed to pay the rent more than once, for example, or you've repeatedly violated the lease.
Eviction Notice Meaning: No-Fault Eviction
Even if you have paid the rent on time and are not a problem tenant, the landlord can still ask you to leave. Many rental agreements are known as month-to-month tenancies, which means they do not have a fixed end date. Rather, they continue from month to month until either the landlord, or the tenant, does something to bring the tenancy to an end. A fixed-term lease might turn into a month-to-month tenancy if you continue to live at the property (and pay rent) after the initial term expires.
With this type of tenancy, the landlord can serve a 30-day eviction notice at any time and for any reason – or for no reason at all. The notice itself is called a "no-fault" notice to quit because the tenant does not have to have done something wrong. The notice formally declares the landlord's intention to have you vacate the property within 30 days.
In most states, 30 days is the correct period when the tenant has been renting the premises for less than a year. If you've been renting the property for more than a year, the landlord should give you 60 days' notice to quit. Most states agree this is ample time to make alternative arrangements and leave.
What Happens When the 30 Day Eviction Notice Is Up?
If you don't move out by the end of the 30-day notice period, legally, you become a trespasser. Assuming the landlord served the 30-day notice correctly, and 30 days is indeed the correct notice period, then the tenancy officially terminates when the 30 days end. You no longer have the legal right to remain in the premises.
However, it's important to understand that a 30-day notice is the first step in a process designed to remove you from the rental property. Nothing much will change on the ground. The landlord is not permitted to remove you himself. He cannot enter the premises and remove your stuff, he cannot switch off the utilities and he cannot (legally) change the locks.
If the landlord does any of these things, his behavior could amount to harassment. The eviction itself potentially will be illegal, and you may be entitled to damages for wrongful eviction.
Filing an Eviction Lawsuit
What the landlord can do is apply to the court for an eviction order. This means, he files a complaint at the local court. You'll know if the landlord has filed a lawsuit because you'll get served with a summons and a date and time for a hearing before a judge.
You must show up at this hearing. If you don't, then the judge almost certainly will rule against you and give the landlord an eviction order.
Can I Defend the Lawsuit?
If you want to stay in the premises then it's possible to fight the eviction. However, compared to a fault-based eviction, your defenses may be limited. If the landlord is throwing you out because you haven't paid the rent for example, then you might be able to show that you're deliberately withholding the rent because the landlord hasn't repaired the apartment and the living conditions are unsanitary.
With a no-fault eviction, these defenses don't apply. The only thing you can really do is show that the landlord's notice was defective. For example, you might have lived in the property for two years and thus be entitled to a 60-day rather than a 30-day notice to quit. Or, the landlord might have mailed the court summons to the wrong address.
If there was an error in process, then a judge almost certainly will throw the landlord's lawsuit out of court. However, this will not permanently stop the eviction. All it does is send the landlord back to the beginning of the process. He can serve another 30-day eviction notice – correctly this time – and you'll have to move out when the new notice expires.
Removal by a Sheriff
Assuming the landlord has followed the proper process, then it's likely he will win the eviction lawsuit. For you, as tenant, this is the end of the line. The court will specify a move-out date, usually around 10 days after the court order. If you haven't moved out by then, you can be forcibly removed from the property.
Even with a court order in hand, the landlord still cannot remove you himself; he cannot enter the property and throw your stuff on the sidewalk. But he can ask the sheriff to enforce the court order. The sheriff is a court official who has the legal power to lock you out.
State laws vary but generally, you'll get a sheriff's notice telling you the date that the sheriff is coming to your place to turn you out. In most cases, this will involve removing your belongings, leaving them outside and changing the locks. Depending on state law, you'll have a few days to collect your stuff. If you don't collect your possessions by the deadline, the landlord can sell them and, in some cases, keep the proceeds of sale.
- California Courts: Landlords: Give Notice to the Tenant
- NOLO: Don't Lock Out or Freeze Out a Tenant – It's Illegal
- San Francisco Sheriff's Department: Frequently Asked Questions
- Justia. "Eviction." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Nolo. "How to Delay an Eviction." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Experian. "How Does an Eviction Affect Your Credit Report?" Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act. "§ 1681c. Requirements Relating to Information Contained in Consumer Reports." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
Jayne Thompson earned an LLB in Law and Business Administration from the University of Birmingham and an LLM in International Law from the University of East London. She practiced in various “big law” firms before launching a career as a commercial writer specializing in finance and tech. Her work has appeared on numerous financial blogs including Wealth Soup and Synchrony. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.