Design by Ashley Meadows

The prospect of losing the roof over your head is scary, which is why receiving an eviction notice can be devastating. However, as a tenant, you have rights, and there are certain steps your landlord is legally obligated to take before an eviction notice can be executed. Let’s examine the best ways to deal with getting an eviction notice and what you can do to minimize the impact.

1. Examine the Notice to Vacate

This notice is typically sent to you via mail as well as posted on the door of your residence. It can also be hand-delivered.

Contained within the notice should be a description from your landlord as to why you are being evicted. If the reason has to do with late rent payments or damages to the property, see if you can work out a deal with your landlord to resolve these issues. Your landlord may be willing to meet you halfway if you put forward a reasonable and actionable plan for remedying the situation, like an agreement to pay late fees or fix damaged property. Also, be sure to check your rental agreement for policies on late rent payments (some agreements include a late payment “grace period,” which may still apply to you).

Most eviction notices work on a three-day time limit: you have until midnight on the third day after the delivery of the notice to pay or vacate the property. When these three days are up, the landlord cannot force you to leave your property without going through the other steps outlined below. The actual eviction process can take anywhere from two to three weeks and is stressful for the landlord as well, so remember that it’s in their best interest to remedy the situation with you.

2. Educate Yourself on Your State’s Laws

Most states have some form of the Landlord and Tenant Act, which clearly stipulates the proper procedure for eviction in your state. Examine these steps closely and make sure your landlord is in full compliance. Normally, any deviation from these laws can result in the eviction being thrown out in court. The best place to search for these specific laws is on the housing and/or residential section of your state or county’s website. This list also provides links to different states’ eviction procedures.

3. Maintain Detailed Records

It’s important to have detailed records regarding any interaction you’ve had with your landlord, including emails, text messages, etc. It’s best if you’ve maintained these records since you moved in, but if you haven’t, just ensure you have a good running account of your interactions once the eviction notice has been served.

4. Get Legal Advice

Even if you can’t afford a personal attorney, you should still try to speak with a lawyer about your eviction. Legal Aid offers free legal services in almost every major city in the U.S. and can be a great resource in eviction cases. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the facts of your case before sitting down with your lawyer, as it will help you maximize your time with them. Also, bring any documentation with you so they may review it, including the eviction notice, your lease and any other pertinent information.

5. Go to the Eviction Hearing

Your landlord must schedule an eviction hearing with the court in order to legally execute the eviction. While it may be tempting to skip the hearing and simply clear out your stuff and abandon your property, it’s not a wise course of action. In your absence, the judge will side with the landlord. Also, the landlord may then try to charge you for additional fees or repairs that you will not be present to contest. If you attend the hearing, you at least have a chance to fight the eviction or any extra charges.

Going to court can be intimidating, but you can ease some of the stress if you fully review all the facts of your case before the hearing, arrive early and dress appropriately.

6. Being Evicted

The judge may side with your landlord, in which case the eviction will become legally binding. It’s best to prepare for this circumstance, just in case. If you can, arrange somewhere to stay and investigate where you can store your belongings. The amount of time you will have to vacate the premises varies by state, but in some cases it can be as little as 48 hours from the time of the ruling. Don’t be caught unprepared, with no system for removing all of your things.

Most importantly, if you are served an eviction notice, don’t panic. By knowing your rights and the law, you can protect yourself and your reputation by handling the eviction with dignity.