Evictions are unpleasant. Evictions are stressful. Ideally a rental situation would never come to such an end and there are an increasing number of organizations who are campaigning for legal changes to make them rarer, something that would almost certainly be beneficial for everyone involved. For the time being however they still happen everyday and, all too often, people who are ill-informed about the process, and how it might affect them for years to come, lose out and not only lose their home but significantly decrease the chances that they will be able to rent another.
What is the Real Legal Definition of an Eviction?
Contrary to what many believe an eviction is not just a property manager asking – or telling – their resident to move out. It is, in fact, officially a real lawsuit, filed in a real court of law by the property manager that seeks to remove the current occupants from their premises. It is a serious matter that will result in a court record that is recorded as a part of the tenant’s public record should things not go their way (more about this in a moment)
Understanding Your Rights
Responsible property owners understand that there is a legal process that must be followed in order to evict a resident from their premises for any reason. Educated residents understand that they do have rights. However, a combination of ill-informed tenants and less than scrupulous property managers results in untold numbers of ‘illegal evictions’ every year.
Therefore, it is crucial that every renter understands what their rights are and how a legal eviction is supposed to proceed.
For a property manager to file an eviction lawsuit, he or she must follow your state’s laws for a legal eviction procedure. This usually includes notifying a renter of the lease violation, sending an official notice to fix the lease violation, if the violation remains in place, the property owner can file an eviction lawsuit and attend a court hearing to get a ruling.
After filing the suit, the property manager and tenant will be given a court date. If the judge rules in the favor the property manager, they will issue what is known as a Writ of Possession and will come along with a date by which the defendant must vacate the premises entirely. Should they fail to do so then, and only then will a sheriff or other law enforcement officer present to escort the evicted party from the premises.
There are several things a property manager cannot do however, in terms of removing a tenant. Although small parts of the process vary from state to state no property manager can legally do the following:
- Change the locks without the tenant’s permission/knowledge
- Harass or threaten the tenant, either in person or via telephone, text, or email.
- Shut off utilities
- Hire a moving service to remove all tenant belongings – or attempt to do so themselves.
Doing any of these things is harassment by your property manager and is illegal. If your property manager does any of these things – especially if they have yet to send any proper formal notice – then you should seek advice from the housing authority that covers the area the property is in or an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant laws in your state. And if you ever feel like you are in danger you should not hesitate to call the police.
Negotiating with Your Property Manager
Whatever the violation – whether it is falling behind on the rent, violating a stated lease policy by having a pet when the lease strictly forbids it, or causing considerable damage – the best-case scenario for a tenant is to avoid a legal eviction altogether. If a tenant is legally evicted in court that is added to their ‘public record’ and becomes information that can be seen, in future, by any prospective future property manager, something that will naturally make it far harder to find a new place.
However, if you are going to attempt to negotiate with your property owner, do so with caution. The fact is that most legal evictions do begin with the tenant being given a certain number of days – exactly how many varies from state to state – to remedy the situation.
If a violation is not huge – as in the rent arrears are not too hefty or the violation is a relatively minor one, such as smoking in a premise that the lease indicated was a non-smoking one – many sensible property owners would prefer to give a tenant willing to work with them a chance to remedy the situation. A great many of them have been left with deliberately damaged property in the past and finding new tenants is often quite a costly process.
However, do not agree to anything that is not stated in writing and do not agree to waive all legal rights in return for a fast move out. And if the violation is a financial one – ie you are behind on the rent – do not hand over any money unless the transaction is fully documented in writing. There have been cases in which unscrupulous landlords have accepted partial payments from tenants, these payments have not been properly documented and then they have proceeded to a legal eviction which claims for the full monies owed and the tenant has been left out of pocket and out of a home.
If at all possible get legal advice when facing a possible eviction situation, even if notices have yet to be filed. Most cities and counties do have departments that can help, even when the situation involves monetary debt. Here are just a few excellent resources:
- Find information on federal, state, and local government assistance programs.
- There are numerous charity organizations that can provide emergency assistance for paying bills, rent, food, and that offer support for other basic needs.
- Community action agencies can help the low income as well as unemployed.
- Programs can provide help for senior citizens, including food, free medications, and housing.
- Short term help may be offered to families living in poverty as part of church assistance programs.
You Were Legally Evicted, Now What?
If you are legally evicted, via court judgement, as we previously mentioned, this will now become a part of your public record, and future property managers may come across this information as a part of the background checks most run as a part of the tenant screening process. This is only, however, if they do run an eviction report.
An eviction report is a comprehensive report that utilizes address history associated with the applicant’s social security number in addition to the core address submitted to search for evictions. It will usually include the names and phone numbers of both the tenant and property owner, and any attorneys involved as well as links to the court documents that cover the case.
If you are evicted knowing what is on such a report can be very helpful – as well as your credit report – especially if an eviction was perhaps not quite your fault. What do we mean by that? Sometimes an eviction is the result of the actions of someone other than you. A partner who damaged property, a roommate who refused to go outside to smoke. A property owner who had sold their property and simply needed tenants to vacate in order for the sale to go ahead.
You should know that all three major credit bureaus do allow a landlord to report rent arrears as a debt as long as they pay a fee to become a ‘member’ and that debt will be added whether there was a court judgement or not (which is why we mentioned proceeding with great caution when making financial arrangements earlier.)
By performing a ‘self-check’ before you attempt to lease new premises you will know exactly what any prospective property owner is likely to see should they consider you application to the point where they do run a background check. Armed with that knowledge you can then consider how you will proceed.
It should also be noted that mistakes can be made on both credit reports and eviction reports because they rely on information that is reported by others. In some cases, a tenant may believe that they quit the property before legal proceedings went through but, unknown to them, often because they were no longer at the address to be served, a decision is made against them anyway.
Another scenario: in the case of an apartment shared among several roommates a person may have left long before any problems began and yet because their name once appeared on the lease they are still included in the court records of an eviction. Or, occasionally names can even get mixed up and an eviction can appear on the wrong report. Being forewarned is being forearmed. An Eviction Enhanced Plus Search can help make sure you are.