As much as landlords may wish differently, one cannot simply kick an unruly tenant out of his or her apartment. A tenant’s apartment is her home, after all, and states have specific procedures in place in order to protect a tenant’s right to stay in their home. This section has basic information about the eviction process, which typically involves the filing of an “unlawful retainer” action in court. Although the process will mostly likely vary from state to state, this section provides useful information that is common to eviction processes across the country, intended for both landlords and tenants. Learn about how to start the eviction process or, if you are a tenant, learn about your rights as a renter.

Eviction for Cause

The majority of evictions are for a particular reason, or cause, such as failure to pay the rent or repeated violations of rental agreement. Regardless of the cause (unless it’s criminal activity and law enforcement is involved), landlords must go through the eviction process that gives the tenant an opportunity to answer to the landlord’s claims. There are three basic types of eviction notices that a landlord may send a tenant:

  1. Pay Rent or Quit – This notice may be sent out if you have missed your rent payment beyond a certain number of days (typically included in the lease agreement), giving the tenant a few days to either pay the rent or “quit” the lease.
  2. Cure or Quit – This is very similar to the “pay rent or quit” notice, but requires the tenant to either “cure” the given problem (perhaps an unauthorized pet or other lease violations) or quit the lease.
  3. Unconditional Quit – If you receive this notice, it means the landlord is not giving you the opportunity to correct the offending behavior or pay back rent; you must leave (or “quit” the lease), although state laws sometimes limit the conditions under which this type of notice may be sent.

Eviction Without Cause

Landlords often can evict tenants who pay rent on time and otherwise honor the lease agreement, but must give the tenant typically 30 or 60 days in which to leave. But if you have a fixed-term lease (such as a one-year lease), the landlord must honor those terms before giving notice. As a practical matter, this means the landlord may serve an eviction notice (without cause) either at the end of the lease period or if it is a month-to-month lease.

Evicting a tenant without cause is not allowed, however, in rental units protected by rent control; this means the landlord must prove a legal reason for serving the eviction. Some states, including New Jersey and New Hampshire, do not allow landlords to evict without cause.

Defenses to an Eviction Notice

If you have been served with an eviction notice, you may have to start packing your things and looking for a new place to live. But first, you may want to look into your available defenses. These include the following:

  • Improper Notice – The landlord must follow legal protocol when carrying out an eviction, which includes sufficient notice and proper filing of the court papers.
  • Acceptance of Partial Rent – If your landlord accepts partial or late rent, he or she generally may not claim a lease violation (and thus initiate the eviction process) on the basis of the partial or late rent payment.
  • Poor Maintenance of Rental Property – In order to claim this defense, the tenant generally must have already given the landlord notice of the problem (such as a non-functioning toilet) and reasonable time to fix it.
  • Retaliation – Landlords may not retaliate against tenants who, for example, report code violations to the authorities.
  • Constructive Eviction – When a rental property become uninhabitable and the landlord is unresponsive to requests to remedy this, the tenant has effectively been “evicted” by being denied a habitable unit.
  • Fair Housing Act – Your landlord may not evict you on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or familial status (such as having children).