Eviction: What are Your Rights?

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If comedian/actor Dane Cook can get evicted from his home for not cleaning up after his pet Chihuahua, all us MainStreeters can more than likely expect to get the boot for violating the terms of our property leases, particularly if we’re late with rent.   It’s especially true in this economy where money is tight and landlords literally can’t afford to make exceptions for late payments.

Here’s how an eviction process generally works, as well as your rights and the ramifications. (Understand that each jurisdiction may have more specific rules, so check with your local tenants’ union with specific questions.)

DON’T PACK YOUR BAGS RIGHT AWAY
After missing a payment or violating your contract, your landlord will likely send you a “notice to pay” or a “notice to quit” and offer you just three to five extra days to come up with the money, plus any late fees specified in the rental agreement. Otherwise then you’re expected to move out. Keep in mind that a notice to quit is not a court document and, legally speaking, you don’t need to pack up and go right then and there. After three to five days your landlord will probably issue a summons and complaint letter, which then legally starts the eviction process.  You’re expected to either defend yourself in court or do nothing and lose by default.  Soon after that a marshal will then show up at your door and order you to leave.


PREPARE FOR CREDIT DAMAGE

“Once you have an eviction it affects your rental history,” says attorney Janet Portman, author of Every Tenant’s Legal Guide and managing editor of Nolo.com, a free, online legal resource. Future landlords will likely ask if you’ve ever been evicted. It may or may not be picked up by a credit reporting agency, but if it is, there’s no washout period, unlike a bankruptcy which gets erased from one’s credit report after about seven years, says Portman.

JUST CAUSE RIGHTS.
In states with rent-controlled districts like California, New York and Maryland, “just cause eviction protection” prevents landlords from terminating the lease without proving a legally recognized reason.  “You can stay there forever as long as you pay the rent and don’t violate other clauses in the lease,” says Portman, “unless the landlord is going to demolish the place or move in himself.”    


YOUR LANDLORD FORECLOSES? OUT OF LUCK

If you pay rent every month, but your landlord neglects to pay the mortgage, you’re unfortunately at risk of being thrown out in a foreclosure.  It’s a rude surprise for responsible tenants but a foreclosure basically gets rid of any previous agreement between the owner and tenant. The bank has the right to do what it wishes.  In Las Vegas Valley, where many homeowners are foreclosing on their rental properties, some banks are forcing tenants to vacate with as little as three days notice.  A silver lining? Some banks have reportedly paid occupants thousands of dollars in so-called “key for cash” transactions when tenants agree not to fight the eviction.

Catch more of Farnoosh’s advice on Real Simple. Real Life. on TLC, Friday nights at 8 p.m.

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