What does Evicted mean?
If you have ever been evicted, meaning that a landlord took over possession of where you had been living, you may be surprised to learn that a lot more than that actually gets included in the eviction definition. Read on to learn the full meaning of eviction and what it means for you when facing one, either presently or after the fact.
So, what does Evicted mean? Let’s start with the Legal Dictionary’s definition:
The most basic way to describe eviction is “Dispossession of a tenant by a landlord. An expulsion by the assertion of a paramount title or by process of law. A physical expulsion is not always necessary; any disturbance in or deprivation or loss of possession by the tenant is sufficient to constitute eviction.”
What this means in lay terms is that “eviction” happens when the owner (or a person with another long-term right, such as a master lease) either:
(a) physically removes a tenant and their belongings,
(b) changes the locks, or
(c) uses other means to deny the tenant full use of the property they’d been occupying.
The Legal Dictionary offers an alternative definition that helps explain more about the circumstances that fit the definition of eviction:
“Depriving a person of the possession of his lands or dwelling.” Technically, the dispossession must be by a judgment of law; otherwise, it is considered an “ouster.” However, in modern usage “eviction” is commonly applied to dispossession in any manner. And not every eviction is a legal one.
This is where the terminology can get a little confusing. As you can see from the examples below, not every “eviction” is the result of a legal judgment where a court has granted the landlord the right to retake possession for lawful reasons, such as non-payment of rent.
Some kinds of evictions may be considered unlawful actions by the landlord, and the tenant may then turn the tables. Under some circumstances they may have the right to bring an Unlawful Eviction action against the landlord, rather than the other way around, as might happen under any of the scenarios described below.
Eviction may be total or partial.
- Total eviction takes place when the possessor is wholly deprived of his rights in the premises.
- Partial eviction takes place when the possessor is deprived of only a portion of them; as, if a third person comes in and ejects him from the possession of half his land, or establishes a right to some easement (right of way) over it, by a title which they claim to have held first.
A partial eviction may be actual or constructive.
- Actual eviction is where the tenant and their possessions are physically removed or barred from the property.
- Constructive eviction is “wrongful interference” that seriously impairs the enjoyment of the premises. For example, in one Massachusetts case the erection by the landlord of a permanent structure, which rendered two rooms in the rented house unfit for use, was held to be a constructive eviction.
However, remember that where an eviction happens AFTER a landlord has gone through a legal eviction process, and obtained a court judgment against the tenant, it is always a lawful eviction — and this kind of legal judgment will show up in a Public Records search during many kinds of background checks.
It often happens that the landlord has a verifiable, valid reason to oust the tenant, such as breaking key terms of the lease, late or non-payment of rent, etc., and this may lead them to pursue a court order for the eviction.
Landlords are required follow a certain process before they can legally enforce a tenant’s physical removal from the premises.
What is included in the eviction process?
State laws set out very detailed requirements to end a tenancy. Different types of termination notices are required for different types of situations, and each state has its own procedures as to how termination notices and eviction papers must be written and delivered (“served”).
A landlord can’t begin an eviction lawsuit without first legally terminating the tenancy. This means giving the tenant written notice, as specified in the state’s termination statute. If the tenant doesn’t move (or reform — for example, by paying the rent or finding a new home for the dog), the landlord may file a lawsuit to evict. (Technically, this is called an unlawful detainer, or UD, lawsuit.)
Step One: The Eviction Letter, or Eviction Notice
Although terminology varies somewhat from state to state, there are three basic types of eviction notices for cited reasons due to tenant misbehavior:
- Pay Rent or Quit Notices are typically used when the tenant has not paid the rent. They give the tenant a few days (three to five in most states) to pay the rent or move out (“quit”).
- Cure or Quit Notices are typically given after a tenant violates a term or condition of the lease or rental agreement, such as a no-pets clause or the requirement to refrain from making excessive noise. Usually, the tenant has a set amount of time in which to correct, or “cure,” the violation. A tenant who fails to do so must move or face the possibility of an eviction lawsuit.
- Unconditional Quit Notices are the harshest of all. They order the tenant to vacate the premises with no chance to pay the rent or correct a lease or rental agreement violation. In most states, unconditional quit notices are allowed only when the tenant has:
- repeatedly violated a significant lease or rental agreement clause
- been late with the rent on more than one occasion
- seriously damaged the premises, or
- engaged in serious illegal activity, such as drug dealing on the premises.
However, in some states, landlords may use Unconditional Quit Notices for transgressions that would require Pay or Quit Notices or Cure or Quit Notices in other, more tenant-friendly states. In these strict states, landlords may extend second chances if they wish, but no law requires them to do so.
Step Two: Taking the Tenant to Court
Even after receiving notice, some tenants won’t leave or fix the lease or rental agreement violation. If the landlord still wants the tenant to leave, they must begin an Unlawful Detainer lawsuit by properly serving the tenant with a court summons and complaint for eviction.
If the landlord wins the case they receive a written court order for the eviction, and usually within 30-60 days the judgment is entered on your public record. This record is then view-able by future landlords, most often as part of the official credit report they run on prospective tenants. It can also diminish your credit score by several hundred points.
Month-to-Month Tenancies: Notice for Termination Without Cause
Landlords may usually use a 30-Day or 60-Day Notice to Vacate to end a month-to-month tenancy when the tenant has not done anything wrong. Many rent control cities, however, do not allow this; they require the landlord to prove a legally recognized reason for eviction (“just cause”) of tenants. Tenants facing such evictions should check with their City’s office that handles housing policy about how and whether rent control works in your city.
How to Stop Eviction
If the tenant decides to mount a defense, it may add weeks — even months — to the process. A tenant can point to mistakes in the notice or the eviction complaint, or improper service (delivery) of either, in an attempt to delay or dismiss the case. If the tenant has complained to the landlord that the rental unit is uninhabitable (overrun with insects, broken plumbing, black mold issues, or essential things like that which affect health or basic usability) and it looks like retaliation, this shifting of blame can sometimes sway a court in the tenant’s favor.
Some Eviction Prevention Tips
As noted above, if there are issues of habitability with the premises, the tenant should be sure to keep a written record of their communications about those with the landlord. If there have been other sources of friction, keep notes about those and how they were handled.
Check with your city about rent control or other ordinances designed to protect tenants from landlord violations.
Keep on friendly terms wherever possible, and try to look at the issue from the landlord’s point of view before deciding where and how much blame to assign. For more tips on preventing an eviction, click here.