Coming home to find an eviction notice on your door is one of the scariest things for a tenant to experience. What if you cannot find a new place to live? What if you believe that the landlord is being unfair, or that he is discriminating against you? The prospect of homelessness can stir up our most primal fears and insecurities.
If this happens to you, rest assured that the laws in most states prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant without justifiable cause. Even if the eviction action is justified due to your own violation of one or more terms of your lease, you may still have alternatives for fighting the eviction or at least delaying the action.
Below are some steps that you can take to protect your rights as a tenant.
- Read your lease. Your lease outlines the terms of your relationship with your landlord – what is expected of you and what you can expect of the landlord. Reading the lease may help you identify what, if anything, you did to violate the lease and provoke the eviction action. It will also help you to identify whether or not your landlord has violated the lease by his own actions or inaction. For example, if your lease indicates that the landlord is responsible for handling any repairs in your apartment, and he failed to make such a repair after repeated requests, you may be justified in withholding your rent by putting it into an escrow account pending repair. Depending on the laws in your state, the landlord might not be justified in evicting you under these circumstances.
- Know your rights. Laws regarding eviction vary by state. A simple Internet search on the word “eviction” and the name of your state will likely turn up dozens of sites that may prove helpful. Compare the information that you find on various sites, as you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet. The information that you find may help you determine whether or not the eviction action is lawful and whether or not you have grounds for fighting it.
- Hire an attorney. While the Internet can provide some basic information on your state’s laws regarding eviction, sometimes that information is incorrect or outdated. If you believe that you have grounds to dispute the eviction, consult an attorney in your area who specializes in landlord-tenant law. Your attorney can evaluate your case and advise you as to your rights under your state’s laws. While some people represent themselves in court to challenge an eviction, those people rarely win the case. It is best to have a trained attorney who is experienced in the ins and outs of eviction to fight on your behalf. Check your lease to determine if it contains a provision regarding which party is responsible for legal fees in landlord-tenant disputes.
- Document your case. Gather all your paperwork that relates to the issue(s) that led to the eviction action. This should include a copy of your lease, your canceled rent checks, and any letters, notices, and other correspondence between you, your landlord, and any third parties involved in the issue. Your attorney can advise you of any other documentation that may be useful in your particular case.
While eviction is always difficult, this is not a time to give up without a fight, especially if you believe that you did not violate the terms of your lease. A great many eviction cases are challenged in court every year. With your attorney as your partner in the case, you can ensure that your rights as a tenant are protected.