Residential eviction refers to the process of removing a person from a rented property where he or she has been living. The person who has been living in the rental property is called the tenant. During an eviction, the tenant’s possessions and all personal effects are removed from the premises.
The landlord, who owns the property, orders the Residential Eviction and starts the legal process in order to quickly and permanently remove the tenant from the rented property.
The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) is a federal regulation that outlines the legal rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, as well as legal procedures for residential evictions. States are encouraged, but not required, to adopt URLTA regulations.
Many have adopted the URLTA, but often with amendments and dual enforcement with local laws and codes. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington are all states that have incorporated substantial aspects of the URLTA into their landlord tenant law.
Common grounds for eviction in most states include:
- Non-payment of rent – Failure to pay rent is always grounds for an eviction
- Violation of the lease – If the lease prohibits the tenant from certain acts, but the tenant does so anyway, then the tenant can be evicted. For instance, if the lease states “no pets allowed,” but the tenant brings in a cat, the tenant is in violation of the lease and can be evicted.
- Expiration of the lease – a tenant is evicted if the lease expires and the landlord refuses to renew the lease.
- Violation of law – if a tenant violates a local, state, or federal law, this may be grounds for evicting the tenant. In many states though, violation of law must be a clause of the lease itself, so the tenant would in fact be violating the lease.
- Misuse of property – if a tenant harms or damages the property, the tenant can be evicted. This may minor as well as major damage, such as intentionally clogging up the toilet or allowing a guest to spray graffiti in the common areas.
- Owner move-in: if the landlord decides to make the rental property his primary residence, he or she can require the current tenant to leave the rented property. Some states also allow landlords to evict tenants to move in the landlord’s family members.
In most states, there are a number of steps in a residential eviction process. This gives both the landlord and tenant time to work out their problems without resorting to eviction, since the eviction process is costly and stressful for both parties.
Generally, the landlord is required to give notice to the tenant. The legal termination notice is called a Notice to Quit.
Most often, the tenant can avoid eviction by paying the landlord the back rent owed. If the landlord and tenant cannot devise a suitable plan for allowing the tenant to legally remain in the property, the landlord must get a judgment from the court. Usually these judgments will provide both the monetary relief the landlord is seeking and the order to have the tenant removed.
Since civil court cases can be lengthy and time-consuming, most local municipal courts have a summary judgement process a landlord can use to expedite Residential Eviction. This means an eviction process can be initiated and completed in a matter of weeks rather than months. If a tenant refuses to leave the premises after the landlord receives a judgment against him or her, law enforcement agencies such as the police may be used to complete the eviction.
Tenants can defend against an eviction by asserting:
- Discrimination – In most states, you can defend against eviction if you have been discriminated against. This discrimination could be due to, but is not limited by, race, ethnicity, disability, or gender. If you are a disabled tenant, you may be able to ask for the eviction to be set aside as a reasonable accommodation of your disability.
- Equitable Defense – If a landlord has acted improperly or illegally during an eviction process, an equitable defense might be successful. Landlords may not use harassment as an eviction tool. They may not turn off electricity, water or heat to try to make a tenant leave the rented property. They also may not change the locks.
- Warranty of Habitability – Some states also allow tenants to argue that the living conditions of the resident were not habitable and therefore the eviction should be stopped. If the landlord fails to uphold his or her end of the bargain by failing to provide a habitable living space, then the tenant is relieved from having to fulfil the tenant’s portion of the contract, including payment of rent. For instance, if the ceiling is falling in, mice are everywhere, and appliances are broken, then some states will allow the tenant to stay for free until the landlord fixes the problems.
If you believe you were wrongfully evicted and were not able to defend against the actual eviction, you might be able to recover damages in a wrongful eviction lawsuit.
It is important to consult a real estate lawyer if you think you might be evicted and you have questions about how to protect yourself. If you are evicted and have to appear in court, a lawyer can advise on your specific circumstances and represent you during eviction proceedings.