What Is an Eviction?

Eviction Explained

Older woman reads a notice at home while looking concerned.
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An eviction is a legal process through which a landlord can remove a tenant from a property the tenant is renting. Many evictions happen for lease violations, such as not paying rent, but they can happen for other reasons as well.

Eviction doesn't directly affect your credit score, but it may appear on other consumer reports and it can make it harder for you to rent in the future. Associated debts, such as unpaid rent or court fees, can show up on your credit report and lower your credit score. But you may have some options if it appears that your landlord is going to evict you.

Definition and Examples of an Eviction

A landlord can't evict a tenant without a valid reason, and the reason must be legally recognized by the state in which the property is located. The lease paperwork will outline the reasons you can be evicted. They may include:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Repeated late payment of rent
  • Too many people living in the residence
  • Using a business property as a residence
  • Subleasing to another tenant without permission
  • Behavior that interferes with or inconveniences other tenants
  • Refusing a reasonable and legal change to your rent or to the terms of your lease
  • Damaging the property
  • Using the property for illegal purposes

Tenants are usually evicted for breaking the terms of their lease, but some reasons have nothing to do with the behavior of the tenant. You can be evicted if your landlord needs or wants to occupy the property for their personal use, or to renovate or substantially rehabilitate the property in a way that prevents you from safely occupying it.

The landlord might want to demolish the building or convert it into a condominium or other cooperative. This would require government approval, however.

The reasons for eviction will vary based on the type of property you're renting, how your landlord allows that property to be used, and the eviction laws in your state.

How an Eviction Works

Many eviction rules are the same or similar even though they can vary somewhat by state. Landlords are typically required to give written notice to tenants to resolve the issue that's causing conflict, or to leave the rental property before the legal eviction process begins. Some states require only two or three days' notice before eviction proceedings will begin, while others require notice of up to 30 days.

State law also determines how much notice a landlord must give before beginning eviction proceedings in cases where there is no formal lease. For example, the landlord must usually give one month's notice if you're renting month-to-month.

Alternatives to Eviction

You can do one of three things after you receive notice that you're going to be evicted. You can attempt to "cure" or resolve the violation or problem; you can move out before you're officially evicted; or you can contest the eviction in court if you think you have valid cause.

Resolving the Violation

Talk to your landlord about the issue and try to work out a deal to avoid the eviction process if you're unable to pay your rent. Your landlord may be willing to create a payment plan for back rent, temporarily lower your rent, accept delayed payments, or otherwise come up with a plan that works for both of you.

You can also look for local agencies or government organizations that offer rent payment assistance. These types of aid are usually temporary, but it may be enough to help you get your finances in order to avoid eviction.

You might receive a notice to "cure or quit" for some lease violations. This means you have the option of resolving the violation within a set number of days to avoid moving out or being evicted. For example, the cure would be to immediately pay all the rent you owe if you're being evicted for failure to pay rent. Your roommate would have to move out if you're subletting to a roommate without permission.

You'll also probably have to pay the cost of any fees the landlord incurred to file the notice with the court, which is typically required.

Always obtain a written record that you've done so if you fix the problem after receiving a cure or quit notice within the time stated on the notice. You may have to present this as evidence in court if you're still summoned to appear.

Landlords are permitted to give you an "unconditional notice to quit" in some states. This means you don't have the option to remain in the property, even if you're able to resolve the violation.

Other states allow an unconditional notice to quit for some violations but not for others. For example, you must pay the rent you owe and move out or be evicted if you receive an unconditional notice to quit for failure to pay rent. You don't have the option to pay the rent and stay.

You might receive an unconditional notice if you're being evicted for nuisance activity, such as harassing other tenants, or for illegal activity, such as making or selling drugs on the property.

Moving Out Before Eviction

Your other option is to simply move out and avoid the court eviction process altogether if you receive either a cure and quit notice or an unconditional notice to quit. You must still pay any rent or fees that are still due to your landlord, however. You could be taken to civil court or have your debt turned over to a collection agency otherwise if you simply leave but don't pay.

Going to Court

Your landlord will begin eviction proceedings against you in court if you don't move out or resolve the issue leading to your eviction within the amount of time stated on the notice. You may also choose to contest the eviction in court if you believe you're being evicted unfairly.

You must respond to any legal summons to appear in court, even if you've already moved out of the property or otherwise resolved the issue that caused the eviction to be filed. You should receive notice from the court if your landlord has canceled or withdrawn the eviction suit, but you should appear if you don't.

The judge will rule in favor of either you or the landlord. You'll have to move out within a timeframe set by the court, pay any rent you owe, and repay any legal fees that the court orders you to pay if the judge finds in favor of your landlord.

What Are the Penalties for Eviction? 

Eviction-related information may show up on your credit report even if the eviction itself doesn't directly appear there. The court will give the landlord a judgment against you if the judge rules in their favor. That judgment is a matter of public record, and public records can appear in some consumer reports.

Having a judgment against you will make it harder to rent in the future. It can also hurt your chances of getting approved for a credit card or loan.

Any business that checks your credit report can reasonably assume that you were evicted if you have a judgment granted to a property management company on a public consumer report.

Your credit score will be impacted by collections for any unpaid rent and court fees that you owe. This debt can show up in your credit report and lower your score.

Like most other types of negative information, data associated with an eviction can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. The eviction can be reported up until the statute of limitations runs out if the statute of limitations for unpaid judgments is more than seven years in your state.

Pay off what you owe from the judgment as soon as you can afford to do so. This won't remove it from your credit report, but it may improve your chances of getting a rental in the future, especially as time passes.

Your credit can still be affected even if you move before the eviction goes to court. The landlord can use a collection agency or take you to small claims court if you still owe rent or fees. This will appear on your credit report and will hurt your credit score.

Some landlords report to tenant screening services, like Experian's RentBureau or TransUnion's SmartMove. A check with one of these services will reveal your eviction record even though your credit report may not specifically say "eviction."

  • Eviction most often results from lease violations, such as not paying rent or doing something illegal on the premises.
  • An eviction can also occur because the landlord has other plans for the property.
  • You may be able to rectify the violation in some states and, in some cases, and remain in the property.
  • Some information from the eviction can trickle down to your credit report, particularly if you and your landlord end up in court.