The First Steps Towards Resolution
Read over your eviction notice carefully!
Look for certain trigger words to help you determine the actual purpose and circumstances of your eviction. There are three primary varieties of eviction, each with a handful of unique vocabulary that will signal your landlord's intent:
- Pay or quit evictions are generally served when renters have failed to pay their monthly rent on time
- Cure or quit evictions can be served even if your rent is paid on time; they're often an indication that you've broken lease terms
- Unconditional quit evictions don't offer tenants any solutions (like paying missing rent or curing a problematic behavior); instead, they're hard statements to indicate that a landlord wants a renter out by a certain deadline
Knowing which type of eviction notice you've been served will help you prepare to dispute it. In some cases, you may not even need to actually dispute the notice; it may be a matter of offering up partial rent or stopping problematic behavior.
Understand the three varieties of evictions
Pay or quit evictions are, generally, simple to handle once they've landed in your lap. Even those who fail to pay their rent on time can pair up with their landlord to try to find a middle ground solution. If this is one of the first times you've paid your rent late or an extenuating circumstance made paying impossible, there's a decent chance your landlord will respond to an appeal for a partial or late payment.
Because cure or quit evictions center around problematic behavior, you generally have a chance to patch things up here too. Your eviction notice should clearly state which part of your lease agreement you've violated. There should also be a date by which you should have the issue cured. Provided you cease rule-breaking behavior by this date, it's unlikely you'll need to dispute anything.
Unconditional quit evictions often end up being some of the most problematic for renters. This is because they don't present an immediate opportunity for renters to remain in their homes. Instead, they contain a deadline for move out and not much else. It's crucial that renters know that unconditional quit evictions are heavily limited by state law. There's little that warrants them aside from repeated missed payments, severe damage to property, or illegal activity.
Grab a copy of your lease
The next thing you'll need to do is pull out that old, dusty copy of your lease. This is especially important if your landlord claims that you broke tenants of your lease agreement. Read over all of the documents thoroughly to ensure that:
- Your landlord is interpreting it fairly
- You have a thorough understanding of its contents
- You can clarify vague provisions (or prepare to challenge them in court)
- You can determine, for certain, whether or not you were breaking certain rules or regulations
Knowledge is power in virtually any situation. Don't make the mistake of going into disputing an eviction blind. You should know your lease almost as well as the back of the hand if you wind up stuck defending yourself in front of your landlord or even in court.
Get a handle on basic, applicable laws
You can't go to law school just because you got served an eviction notice, but Google can teach you quite a bit about federal, state, and local laws. You should do your part to research these laws before confronting your landlord or meeting up with an attorney. You may find that it's a waste of time and funds to dispute an eviction if certain circumstances are present or if you live in a certain area.
Most state and local laws place limits on when and why tenants can be evicted. Try searching for information about your county's civil procedures for eviction to learn more about these rules. If you've got the time and the motivation, you can also head to your local courthouse for further information. You should read these laws carefully to try to give yourself the best understanding of your situation.
Meet with an attorney
If you still have questions about your local laws-- or if you've determined you'll need legal representation during this process-- you may need to meet with an attorney. It's good to have somebody on your team and ready to leap into action if your eviction dispute escalates. You'll also get first-hand advice from a legal professional about whether or not you should stand up and fight your eviction. As you search for legal representation, look for keywords like "landlord-tenant disputes."
Receive and consider a response to your landlord's complaint
If you elect not to vacate the property after being served an eviction notice, you'll eventually be served a complaint. This is the first step of the legal process-- if you receive a complaint, it means that your lawyer has filed it in court and is beginning the lawsuit process. You'll receive a summons for court alongside the complaint. Make sure you take note of the entry, answer, and hearing dates listed on this document. It's crucial that you work within these deadlines and parameters if you want a chance of coming out on top in court.
Brainstorm defenses and counterclaims
In the event that you've already moved to meet with an attorney, now would be a good time to link back up again. This research can also be completed on your own, but having a lawyer's advice can be tremendously helpful while you try to sort through muddled laws and confusing legalese. You won't be able to fight your eviction without an understanding of defenses and counterclaims.
Some common defenses in eviction cases include:
- Lack of proper notice
- Were you served all appropriate paperwork?
- Was all paperwork served in a timely manner?
- Were all dates and deadlines within appropriate limits?
- You did not violate your lease
- Your landlord is motivated by discrimination
- Federally, your landlord cannot discriminate based on religion, race, gender, disability, family status, or national origin
- Your landlord is retaliating against you
Draft and file your answer
Check your state laws to see whether you're legally required to draft an answer with the court. Even if you're not, it's good policy to do so. Drafting an answer will help solidify your path forward and show the court that you're serious about finding answers. You're allowed to deny factual claims made by your landlord within your answer document. Some courts offer forms for answers; ask yours or check online to see if they've got a template to make the process easier.
Serve notice on your landlord
Get in touch with your court clerk and find out how you can legally send your landlord a copy of your answer. Usually, a professionals server or a sheriff will serve your answer personally. You may have to pay a fee to serve your landlord-- it should be less than $100. Many areas give you the option of having anybody eighteen or older (other than yourself) serve for free. It's up to you whether paying for the premium of a more legal delivery is worth the price.
Use your head
Abide by basic rules, manners, and expectations once the day to appear in court arrives. Keep these basic guidelines in mind while you plan for the day:
- You should arrive at least fifteen minutes before your case begins
- Dress appropriately
- Look up gender-specific information about how to dress for court
- Make sure all of your evidence has been gathered and compiled in a clear, compelling way
- Ask about exhibits or documentary aids before handing them up
- Know which witnesses you want or need present
You'll know the judge's position by the end of your day (or days) in court. Once each party has presented their evidence and said their piece, the judge will make their final decision. You'll either need to pack up and move out of the property or write up an order that states you'll be staying on premises. If you win and pen your own order, the judge will sign it and you'll be responsible for passing it onto your lawyer. No need to fret over getting this document perfect-- you can usually snag a blank template in the courtroom.
How VerticalRent Can Help
For almost a decade, VerticalRent has been the go-to property management software of landlords around the country. What many renters don't realize is that they can run an eviction check on themselves with VerticalRent to see if a record shows up. Sign up today and start wtih a free rental history report. If that's enough, take it a step further and run a comprehensive criminal and eviction check on yourself.