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Eviction Assistance Guide

What to Do Now
NOTICE OF EVICTION. There it is, in bold capital letters. You are about to lose your home, and it feels like a punch in the gut. Before you panic, remember that you have rights. Read the notice thoroughly. Understand the landlord's complaint. Plan your strategy. You may be able to avoid eviction.

Nearly all states have laws defining relationships between landlords and tenants, which protect tenants from a wrongful eviction. The regulation of rental property falls under state and local jurisdiction, so there is no set of nationwide laws that cover all renters in all states. This article provides general information as well as guidelines, but you need to read the laws passed by your state to know all of your rights.

Understand the process
Eviction is not an instant process. A landlord does not have the authority to show up at your door and demand that you move out today. Landlords need to follow due process, and it varies from state to state, but usually involves some of these steps:

60-Day, 30-Day Notice - Most states require a 30-day written notice of eviction. Some states require a 60-day notice. At this point, you need to make plans to relocate, to resolve the problem with the landlord, or to make plans to contest the notice. If you need to contest, your best odds are to secure legal services. You will be responsible for your legal fees.

Lawsuit to Evict - If you continue to live in the rental property after the 30 or 60-day notice period, your landlord may file a lawsuit to evict. You will receive a summons to appear in court.

Court Day - It is important to attend the hearing. If you skip the court date, the judge will sign the notice and award money in question to the landlord. You cannot contest decisions on property damage, unpaid rent, or fines. The judge's decision will be final. On your court day, dress appropriately.

Physical Eviction - As soon as the judge has signed the eviction, the landlord may call the sheriff (or designated authority) to remove you and your family from the property. At this point, eviction can happen in 48 hours. Landlords may not "self-evict" by changing locks, turning off utilities, etc.

Moving On - You can do this. You can find a new living arrangement. If you're having trouble securing housing, turn to a government agency or private charity for help.

Eviction Tips & Solutions
If you are unable to pay rent or if you have violated the lease, it is likely that the judge is going to rule for the landlord; be prepared.

Find a New Place to Live - Calmly plan your next move. With rent money and an honest explanation to a new landlord, you may be able to find another place to rent. Alternately, you may be able to double up with family or friends. Be conscious of your friend/family member's lease. If their lease restricts the time that a person not on the lease is permitted to stay on the property, you could put your friend in danger of eviction. You may need to research what provisions are temporarily available through state or private shelters for a homeless family or single individual.

Seek Legal Advice - Most States and Cities have agencies that provide free or low-cost legal assistance. A professional review of your case can help you make the right decisions and the right moves.

Consider a Storage Unit - If you are not able to relocate immediately to a place where you can take your possessions, it may be necessary to secure a storage unit for your belongings.

Contact Your Landlord - Check your lease to see if the landlord's complaint is legitimate. If you are late on your rent, they may be willing to accept partial payment. If you have violated a point of your lease by, for instance, having a pet or smoking when prohibited, you may be able to pay an additional cleaning fee, and stop the proceedings. Act quickly to attempt a workable resolution.

Read the Landlord and Tenant Act - Check your rights for your state.

Behave Responsibly - During the time of the 30-day notice, clean up the property and either pay or escrow rent (assuming the eviction is for something other than failure to pay). You want to make every effort to get your deposit back (when applicable) and to get a good reference.

Collect Documents - Bring all documents related to renting the property. Documentation may be receipts, your lease, canceled checks, or pictures of unresolved maintenance problems or unsafe conditions. Have copies of the documents for the court and the landlord's lawyer.

Subpoena Witnesses - Subpoena witnesses who will speak on your behalf at your hearing. Without a subpoena, the best-intentioned witnesses may fail to show up. Schedules, fear of retaliation from a landlord, or any number of other things can keep a witness from following through on a promise to bear witness.

Getting Help
You are not alone. You may feel like you are, but there are systems in place designed to provide assistance when you need it most.

Housing Authority Office - They can help eligible tenants secure subsidized housing. Click here to find your local housing authority.

Legal Aid - Legal aid is a provision of assistance for legal representation for people who otherwise could not afford it. Click here to browse our free and low-cost legal database.

Tenant's Union - Various states and communities have tenant's unions, which exist to ensure justice in housing. They work to empower tenants through education, leadership development, and advocacy. Search for your local Tenant's Union.

Housing Discrimination portal of HUD - HUD investigates allegations of discrimination. You can file a complaint here.

You know your intentions to be a responsible tenant. You hit hard times, possibly from a misstep your part, maybe from an unjust owner or management company. Use your head; use your negotiating skills; use the law, and seek help when you need it.