Eviction Law

Updated October 10, 2023
7 min read
Eviction Processes & Laws: Themis, stamp, papers, luggage, house

Eviction proceedings can be complex and emotional events for both landlords and tenants. Parties named in rental agreements often need help understanding how eviction processes work under the law. In this legal guide, we will explore the legalities of evictions, including eviction meaning, steps in the eviction process, eviction prevention, and the advantages and disadvantages of engaging in eviction lawsuits for landlords and tenants. 

Whether you're a property owner needing to evict a renter or a tenant facing eviction, this guide has the information you need to understand the eviction process completely. So, let's get right to it.

What Is Eviction?

The eviction process is a legal procedure that removes a tenant from a rental property. Once landlords have legal grounds to remove a renter from their property, they often retain an eviction lawyer to ensure that they are complying with the strict procedural steps necessary for repossessing the unit.

An eviction can be either "uncontested" (summary) or "contested” (judicial). An uncontested eviction requires no court appearance among parties and needs less paperwork to complete. Contested evictions obligate the landlord and tenant to plead their cases in court, where a judge makes a final decision on the matter.

The eviction process usually starts when renters:

  • Don't pay rent on time
  • Cause damage to the rental property
  • Create a nuisance or continuous disturbance to other tenants (i.e., playing loud music)
  • Violate the terms of their lease agreement

How Eviction Works

Eviction (a.k.a. ouster or ejectment) is a legal process that can take weeks or months to resolve. It begins when a landlord properly serves a legal notice to a tenant explaining why the owner is seeking an ejectment. If the problem is repairable, the warning will give the tenant a statutory number of days to remedy the situation. The matter ends when the renter cures.

However, in cases where the tenant ignores the notice or does not remedy the situation, the landlord will retain an eviction attorney to file a Summons and Complaint with the courts, which officially begins legal proceedings.

Renters can either vacate the property or fight the action in eviction court after receiving the landlord’s Summons and Complaint. Tenants who choose to dispute the eviction process must follow their state’s procedural rules for responding to the lawsuit.

Tenants may voluntarily vacate the rental property at any time during the eviction process. The law considers this act "abandonment" and allows the landlord to seek a summary judgment to repossess the property immediately. Abandonment does not relieve tenants from paying damages to the landlord that may include past due rent and property repairs.

Steps of Eviction Process

Now that we have a general understanding of eviction meaning, let’s examine the eviction process in greater detail.

1. Legal Notice

Ejectment action starts with the landlord providing the tenant with a written notice that memorializes non-payment of rent or notifies the tenant to vacate per the terms of the lease agreement.

Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit

Advises tenants to pay rent or remedy the situation in three days or face the eviction process.

30-Day Notice Terminating Tenancy

Advises tenants to vacate the property in 30 days (because the lease is up or because of a violation of lease terms).

2. Summons and Complaint

Tenants can remedy non-payment of rent issues by paying what they owe within three days. However, when renters ignore their 3-day notices or fail to move out after receiving a 30-day notice, their landlord’s eviction lawyer will file an Summons and Complaint (Unlawful Detainer action) in eviction court and eventually obtain a judgment (Writ of Execution) that orders the tenant to vacate. 

3. Summary (Default) Judgment

When tenants ignore a summons or fail to respond to an eviction process complaint, landlords will win their case by default. The court will later issue them a summary judgment with a judicial order that allows them to retake possession of the property.

4. Eviction Hearing

Renters can fight the eviction process by hiring an eviction attorney who can respond to the landlord’s Complaint. Here, the tenant will file an Answer, a Demurrer, or a Motion to Strike or Quash the lawsuit.

Answer

Tenant files defenses. The court then schedules an eviction hearing where both parties will argue their positions before a judge.

Demurrer or Motion to Quash

Tenant claims lawsuit is invalid due to error. The court then schedules a pretrial hearing to resolve procedural lapses made during the eviction process.

The eviction court has the final say about whether the tenant can stay in the rental unit. Renters who successfully win an eviction lawsuit may remain on the property until their lease ends, given that they pay their back rent within five days. However, if the tenant loses the case, a judge will issue an eviction order (Writ) to remove the tenant from the property.

5. Eviction Order

Also known as a Writ of Execution, this document orders the tenant to leave the property. Tenants must move out by the date on the Writ or face forcible removal from the property by law enforcement.

6. Notice of Eviction

A valid Writ directs the Sheriff’s Office to enforce and satisfy a court-ordered eviction. Law enforcement will duly serve the tenant a notice of eviction, which gives the renter a statutory period to voluntarily vacate the premise (usually six to eight days). 

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7. Ouster Enforcement and Forcible Entry

With a valid Writ in hand, the Sheriff’s Office will forcibly enter the rental property and remove the tenant and any personal property inside when tenants refuse to vacate by the date on the eviction order.

8. Personal Property Storage

In most states, the law obligates landlords to store a tenant's abandoned personal property. Tenants may reclaim their assets during the statutory storage period after reimbursing the landlord for reasonable storage fees. Landlords can sell or dispose of the tenant’s abandoned property after the statutory period ends (usually thirty days).

9. Past Due Rent Collections

Landlords often hire credit-reporting collection agencies to recover their tenants’ past-due rent after an eviction. Another option to recover rent losses would be to file a breach of contract lawsuit against the evicted renter. 

Timeframes in the Eviction Process

The total time to evict a tenant from a rental property will depend on state rules and the specific circumstances of each case.

Evictions normally take a few weeks to several months to resolve. Most states have specific statutes defining time limitations and deadlines in the eviction process.

The information below examines eviction meanings and offers a GENERAL timeline of the eviction process:

  1. Three-Day Notice to Pay or Quit - Tenants must pay their past due rent within three (3) days or vacate the premises. 

  2. 30-Day Notice Terminating Tenancy - Tenants must vacate the unit, renew their lease, or remedy the lease violation within thirty (30) days.

  3. Summons and Complaint - After a good service process of the Complaint and Summons, tenants must file a(n) Answer, Demurrer, or Motion to Quash within five (5) days. 

  4. Summary (Default) Judgment - Landlords usually receive a Summary Judgment and Writ from the courts to retake possession of the rental property within one to five (1-5) days.

  5. Pretrial Hearings - The courts will schedule hearings to resolve procedural issues within five to eight (5-8) days after receiving a motion from the tenant.

  6. Eviction Hearing. The courts will schedule an eviction trial within eight to thirteen (8-13) days after the landlord properly serves the Summons and Complaint to the tenant.

  7. Eviction Order. Landlords often receive a Writ of Execution to remove the tenant from the rental unit within one to five days (1-5) after winning their case at the eviction hearing.

  8. Ouster and Order Enforcement. Tenants will have six to eight (6-8) days to vacate the premises after the Sheriff duly serves them with an eviction order.  

  9. Personal Property Storage. Landlords must store a tenant’s abandoned personal property for 30 to 45 days before disposing of it. 

Property owners and tenants must fully understand the legal requirements and procedural timelines noted above and in their jurisdiction to avoid complications or delays in the eviction process.

Notice To Vacate

Remember that an eviction process begins with service of a 3-day or 30-day notice to vacate. These legal documents inform tenants of the landlord's intent to remove them from the property and compel renters to take affirmative action.

Consequently, landlords who fail to serve their tenants with a legal notice to vacate may end up fighting constructive eviction allegations in eviction court. Constructive evictions occur when property owners significantly interfere with the tenant's use and enjoyment of the rental unit. Changing the locks or shutting off utilities are typical constructive eviction acts.    

Property owners may also serve a notice to vacate before selling or renovating their rental properties. In any case, the legal notice always gives tenants time to remedy non-payment of rent or lease violations. It also offers renters sufficient time to leave the premises voluntarily.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Eviction

Many benefits and drawbacks exist for parties involved in the eviction process. Let’s examine them from the viewpoints of the landlord, tenant, and community.

For Landlords

The advantages of eviction for landlords include removing non-paying or problematic tenants from the rental unit. Property owners further protect their incomes and find higher-paying tenants after evicting renters. 

However, the eviction process is time-consuming and costly. Landlordsrisk damaging their reputation and relationships with other tenants and the surrounding community after an eviction. Additionally, housing statutes are complex and vary by state, often requiring costly legal assistance to evict tenants properly.

For Tenants

Advantages of the eviction process for tenants are considerably limited. Renters who struggle with rent payments may be able to renegotiate payment terms with their landlord or may find a more affordable place to live. 

Contrarily, the disadvantages of tenant evictions are significant and include loss of shelter, damage to credit score, and difficulty finding new housing due to a tarnished rental history.

For the Community

Societal advantages of eviction include the removal of disruptive tenants who create nuisances, which can improve the safety and livability of a community. 

However, the eviction process also contributes to homelessness and displacement, which can adversely affect individuals and society.

Overall, landlords should evict tenants as a last resort and do so with careful consideration of all parties involved.

How Long Does an Eviction Take?

As mentioned above, eviction timelines vary and depend on the laws of the state and city where the rental property rests. The time it takes for a landlord to oust a tenant may also depend on the answers to the questions below:

  • How full is the court’s eviction hearing calendar? 

  • Did the tenant file an Answer or Demur?

  • Can an eviction lawyer in the jurisdiction take on the case quickly?

  • Does the tenant hold squatter’s rights (adverse possession)?

  • Was past rent due paid on time?

  • Did the tenant remedy the lease violation?

  • Does the tenant have a right to renew per the terms of the lease agreement?

  • When is the Sheriff available to enforce the eviction order? 

  • Did the landlord properly serve the Complaint and Summons and requisite legal notices to the renter?

In general, the eviction process usually winds down within thirty days. Still, it can take several months to resolve, depending on the circumstances and the court's schedule.

How To Prevent Evictions?

Eviction prevention requires flexibility, meaning landlords should focus on negotiation and effective communication with their tenants to prevent paying the costs associated with the eviction process. 

Property owners should also retain an eviction attorney to help them draft clear, transparent lease agreements with reasonable terms. Landlords can further remind tenants about rent payments before they become due and offer payment plans to tenants who fall on difficult times.

Final Thoughts

Here, we learned that evictions are serious matters and have significant consequences for landlords and tenants. Understanding eviction meanings and how the process works under the law is crucial to ensure that each party’s rights are protected and that landlords execute evictions fairly.

Tenants should also learn the lease laws in their state and clearly understand what to expect after being served with an eviction notice. Landlords must follow state law and civil procedure regarding evictions to avoid facing costly legal problems later. Ultimately, landlords and tenants should communicate effectively during the eviction process and engage in eviction prevention solutions that support everyone involved.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can evictions be appealed?

Yes. Renters in most states can appeal an eviction order by filing a notice of appeal within the permitted statutory period. An appeal allows renters to challenge the eviction court’s ruling. However, the appellant court will only consider errors in law made by the lower court, meaning that it will not consider new evidence or testimony not presented during the eviction hearing.

Are there times when a person can't be evicted?

Landlords cannot evict a tenant in retaliation for exercising their legal rights, such as reporting code violations to the authorities. The law also prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on race, gender, or religion. Property owners may also face problems evicting squatters with adverse possession rights under the law.

If a tenant is evicted, do they lose their security deposit?

Yes. Evicted tenants will lose their security deposits in most cases. The law allows landlords to use security deposits to recover property damage or unpaid rent.

Can you stop an eviction once it's filed?

Sometimes. Once a landlord registers a Complaint with the courts, the tenant may be able to halt the eviction process in a preliminary hearing. Here, the renter must hold proof showing: (i) he or she paid rent within the statutory period; (ii) the lease violation was remedied; or (iii) the landlord failed to follow civil procedure during the eviction process. 

How can you successfully defend yourself from eviction?

To successfully defend an eviction, tenants must first understand eviction meanings and know their legal rights and responsibilities. With these tools in hand, they can present a strong defense in eviction court. It’s also essential that tenants respond to their eviction notices promptly and seek legal help when necessary.

What happens after an eviction notice is served?

After the landlord’s eviction attorney serves an eviction notice, the tenant typically has a statutory period to either pay the rent owed or vacate the property. If the renter ignores the notice or refuses to leave the unit, the landlord will file a lawsuit to recover unpaid rent and force the tenant to leave.

How long does an eviction stay on your record?

An eviction may stay on a tenant's record for up to seven years, making it difficult for them to find new housing. Landlords and property managers often check a tenant's eviction history before approving a new lease.