If you have not paid your rent or you have not kept the promises you made in the lease agreement, then your landlord will be able to evict you. However, he cannot just turn you out on the street. The landlord must take several steps before he can force you to move, and these steps take anywhere from two weeks to several months to complete.
The eviction process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on where you live. Once the landlord has obtained an eviction order from the court, you typically have around five days to move out.
What's the Eviction Process?
The rules on eviction vary from state to state, and the process may work slowly or extremely quickly depending on where you live. Generally, though, the landlord must go through the following steps before he can force you to leave.
Notice to Quit
The first thing the landlord does is serve a "Quit" Notice, which notifies you of the lease violation and gives you a specific amount of time to fix the problem before the landlord formally files for eviction. That period is mandated by the state. California, for example, gives you three days to either pay the rent you owe or move out of the premises.
Even if you have done nothing wrong, depending on the type of rental agreement you have, the landlord may be able to serve an unconditional Notice to Quit. This notice gives you a longer period to leave the property, usually within 30 or 60 days.
If you do not fix the problem by the deadline, the landlord can file for eviction with the court. The legal complaint tells the court what you did wrong – for example, failed to pay rent on time or damaged the property in violation of the lease terms – and that you failed to comply with the Quit Notice. The landlord will serve the court papers to you.
In most jurisdictions, you have a period of time to respond to the legal complaint. Somewhere in the region of five to 15 days is common depending on how the papers were served on you. If you think the landlord got it wrong (for instance, you already mailed the rent check), you can present this evidence to the court. If the evidence is compelling, the court may stop the eviction process at this stage. Otherwise, you will get a date for the eviction hearing.
The parties will be invited to attend a court hearing and present their case to a judge. The hearing will usually take place within 20 days of the landlord filing a lawsuit but it depends on the court's schedule. The judge will decide whether the landlord has the legal right to evict you. If he does, the landlord will receive a court order to that effect.
The landlord takes the court order to the local sheriff and the sheriff sets a date for the physical eviction. You will receive notice of the eviction date, which must be a minimum of two to five days from the date of the notice in most states but can be longer depending on the sheriff's availability. On this date, the sheriff will escort you off the property. The eviction is now complete.
How Long Does an Eviction Take?
For the landlord, the best-case scenario is that the tenant leaves immediately, as soon as the Notice to Quit is served. In the worst case, the tenant will take the eviction to the wire. If you choose to fight the eviction, you're looking at an absolute minimum of the following timeframe before the landlord can turn you out:
- Notice to Quit: three days
- Filing an eviction lawsuit: one day
- Tenant's response: five days
- Date set for court hearing: 20 days
- Sheriff eviction notice: two days
In total, that's 31 days from the first notice to the court-mandated eviction. However, the key date for tenants is the date of the sheriff's eviction notice. At this point, the court has ordered your eviction and the final date for leaving has been set. You've exhausted all your options for fighting the eviction and you must move out by this date or face being forcibly removed by the sheriff.
What Can Slow an Eviction Down?
While the timeline may seem straightforward, in reality, there are plenty of things that can slow the eviction down. If the landlord does not serve the Notice to Quit or the court papers properly, or the papers contain an error such as specifying an incorrect amount of past-due rent, then the eviction will be invalid and the landlord will have to start the whole process over again.
Generally, the eviction will take longer if you can defend your behavior. For example, is the landlord evicting you in retaliation for exercising a legal right, such as asking the landlord to make essential repairs? Did you withhold rent on purpose because the property is uninhabitable, for instance, the toilet does not work or it has no heat? In many states, the tenant is permitted to withhold rent until these problems are fixed.
If you can show that you are not paying rent because the landlord is not keeping up his end of the lease agreement, then the eviction will slow down while the court investigates the situation and makes a decision. Ideally, you will have legal representation to help you present your best case in court.
Can You Stop an Eviction?
Once an eviction has started, the only way to stop it is to reach an agreement with the landlord. For example, you could agree to pay the rent you owe in installments, or reduce the future rent to help you through a tough-but-temporary financial situation. Most jurisdictions give you the opportunity to talk about the case with the landlord and attempt to reach a settlement.
Even if you do not reach a settlement or appeal the eviction order, you may need more time to move out. In that case, you will have to ask the court for a "stay of execution" as soon as you get a notice from the sheriff giving you a final deadline for leaving the rental. You need a good reason to ask for a stay, for example, you have a new tenancy starting in a week and need a few extra days to arrange the move. If the court grants the stay, the eviction will be delayed until such date as the court orders.
Paying the Rest of Your Lease
Legally, you can remain living in the property right up until the sheriff physically evicts you. However, you will be on the hook to pay rent until the day you move out. The longer you take to leave, the more rent you will owe. It's also common for the landlord to get court costs and other losses such as the cost of damage you've caused to the rental property.
There are other negative consequences to being evicted, besides losing your home. An eviction will leave a black mark on your credit report, and this could make it much harder for you to get a rental in the future. That's why some tenants choose to vacate as soon as they receive a Quit Notice. That way, the landlord does not have to file legal proceedings and there's no eviction judgment on their credit report.
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. Her work has appeared on numerous financial blogs including Wealth Soup and Synchrony. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.