You have been paying the rent
The most common reason for eviction is nonpayment of rent, says Asher Weinberg, a partner at the Law Offices of Maria Mena & Asher Weinberg. He practices in Silver Spring, MD, doing both criminal and landlord-tenant law.
If you have been paying your rent, it will be important to show proof. NEVER pay your rent in cash. “Checks or money orders are always preferred,” Weinberg stresses. Records of payment protect you in situations like these, so you should always insist on a receipt. In fact, says Weinberg, some states require landlords to provide one.
You’re a responsible tenant – most of the time
In almost every instance, you follow the rules and don’t cause any trouble. But sometimes, you might be a little late with your rent. Hey, it happens! But is it enough to evict you?
“Most landlords would rather keep a tenant who has no other issues than an occasionally late rent payment,” says Weinberg. “If an eviction, or ‘Unlawful detainer’ is filed, it may be helpful to show up to court and negotiate with your landlord’s attorney. Rent owed will not be reduced, but you may end up with a reasonable payment plan to help you stay in the apartment and catch up with your payments.”
“If you cannot pay your rent in full on time, it is usually helpful to talk to your landlord,” he advises. “Most landlords will delay eviction proceedings if they know you are trying to work things out.”
The landlord did it
If you’ve been withholding rent because of an apartment issue that the landlord has failed to fix, you may still have a case, but Weinberg says this is NOT a good tactic. EVER.
“If you are having problems in your apartment, or you think the landlord is breaching the lease, put all complaints into writing,” Weinberg says. “Many states require the complaint to be in writing before the landlord has to start making repairs. Your state’s laws may contain provisions for how soon a landlord must start repairs.” Complaints could be as varied as a leaky roof or a neighbor with a barking dog.
Instead of withholding rent payments, check with your state’s laws concerning payment of rent into escrow if your landlord fails to address your grievances.
Know the law
Weinberg notes that laws vary from state to state. “Some favor tenants while others favor landlords. In Texas, for example, a landlord can lock out the tenant with no prior notice for nonpayment of rent, and no court proceeding. In Washington State, the landlord can go to jail if they tried to lock out a tenant for non-payment of rent without a court order.”
Most states have specific laws about how an eviction notice can be delivered. If the landlord doesn’t deliver the news in a legal manner, this can prevent your eviction from moving forward for at least another month. Informing your attorney of how you got the news is important.
And if you can’t afford legal aid? Don’t fret yet, says Weinberg.
“Your local county Bar Association can put you in touch with attorneys who will advise and/or represent a low-income tenant for free if you qualify.”