Even though full evictions often occur, there are many myths about how to evict tenants from rental units. Landlords may assume they’ve got the right to act how they wish—after all, they own the apartment. Some tenants also think they’re legal whizzkids on housing laws. Then they find out that landlords can start an eviction process at any time of the year.
A common eviction myth that landlords believe is that they can carry out a self-help eviction. Removing a tenant this way could involve changing the locks or dumping their belongings on the curb. A popular myth that many tenants believe is that they can withhold rent to force landlords to make repairs. All these actions are types of illegal activity in most states.
Let’s face it—an eviction lawsuit is not pleasant for either party. For landlords, taking eviction action is expensive and time-consuming. Dealing with delinquent tenants, serving formal eviction notices, and filing court papers can be a nightmare.
From the tenant’s perspective, the threat of a court hearing, an eviction lawsuit, and becoming homeless is a worrying prospect.
This article exposes the most common myths about eviction. You’ll find out what landlords can and can’t do. But you’ll also find out what tenants need to do to prevent eviction orders.
The Law on Tenant Evictions
One reason why eviction myths abound is that rules change from state to state. Even local governments say that “Landlord-Tenant law is very complex and detailed.”
According to Cornell Law School, federal law, state law, civil law, local law, court rules, and lease conditions govern eviction laws. So, it’s no wonder that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about landlord and tenant rights.
The 11 Top Myths About Tenant Evictions
Getting something wrong in the eviction process—whether you’re the landlord or tenant—can cost you big in the long run. Read on to get the low-down on common myths about how to evict tenants.
Myth 1: Landlords can evict tenants for any reason at all
Landlords must have a valid and legal basis to evict a tenant. According to the law, the three valid reasons to force a tenant out are:
- Non-payment of full rental amount
- Breaking the lease agreement
- The lease has expired and isn't renewed
If you’re a landlord, you can’t serve a formal eviction notice because of something personal. For example, you've fallen out with your tenant. You can’t base your reason on anything discriminatory that is covered by the Fair Housing Act.
Here’s an example of discriminatory eviction that is illegal. A young couple who rent a two-room apartment has a baby. The landlord doesn’t want a newborn to disrupt the other tenants. However, under the Fair Housing Act, landlords can't evict them because of discrimination against families.
You can’t evict a tenant who’s paying rent and sticking to the lease.
Related reading: How landlords can avoid costly eviction mistakes.
Myth 2: Anything in the lease is legally binding
Another myth some landlords believe is that they can enforce anything the tenant has agreed to. Although a lease is a legal contract, there can’t be clauses that go against federal, state, or common law.
For example, landlords have to provide habitable accommodations. So, this means that you can’t make tenants solely responsible for repairs and maintenance. Landlords are responsible for things like fixing broken plumbing or repairing a leaking roof. However, tenants could be required to mow the lawn, wash windows, and care for the rental unit.
Myth 3: Landlords can lock out bad tenants
It’s not true that a landlord can change the locks to force a tenant out—even if the tenant has run up a mountain of rental debt. You have to serve a “Pay Rent or Quit” notice to get rid of a tenant who is in arrears. If they fail to come up with the rent and won’t move, you need the courts to evict them.
But you can’t conduct a self-help eviction to try and solve problems with your tenant.
An effective way to legally get a tenant out who won’t pay rent is to give them an incentive. Rather than starting a costly eviction lawsuit, offer the tenant a “cash for keys” deal. Offering cash to move out is often an effective way to get rid of a troublesome tenant.
Myth 4: A landlord can enter the property at any time
Landlords can’t just show up at a rental and demand access to the rental property—unless there is an emergency. The “Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment” protects a tenant’s rights to peace and quiet. “Quiet Enjoyment” means that you can’t disturb your tenants and must respect their privacy.
“Quiet Enjoyment” also means that landlords give tenants the exclusive use of the unit while they are living there. You can’t harass them for any reason, and you need to ensure the place is inhabitable.
Landlords must know the rules on giving tenants fair notice before visiting the rental property. Many jurisdictions require that you provide tenants with written notification at least 24-hours beforehand. Other states only specify that you give tenants “adequate notice.”
Myth 5: Landlords can’t start an eviction process in winter
Many tenants are shocked to find out that a landlord can start an eviction lawsuit in the middle of winter. A rental unit owner can serve eviction orders due to lease violations or failure to pay rent, not on weather conditions. So, landlords can start an eviction case at any time of the year.
Not all courts will force a move out when it’s 10°F, and there’s a blizzard. But there’s nothing in the law to stop a scheduled eviction just because the weather is lousy.
Myth 6: Landlords have to wait until the school year is over to evict tenants with children
Another common myth is that you can’t evict bad tenants if they’ve got kids, and the school year hasn’t finished. Similar to the “bad weather eviction myth,” eviction lawsuits can happen at any time of year.
A related myth is that landlords can’t evict pregnant women. Generally, anyone—pregnant or not—who breaches a rental agreement risks receiving a “Notice to Quit” and possible full eviction.
Myth 7: Landlords can postpone repairs during an eviction process
As a landlord, you are still bound by all terms of the lease, despite the fact you need to evict a bad tenant. This means that you still have to carry out essential repairs and keep the rental unit properly maintained. The tenant’s rent arrears or poor behavior don’t affect your obligations as a landlord.
Also, you can’t take retaliatory measures if your tenant refuses to pay rent. Even though you might want them out as soon as possible, you can’t shut off utilities or cause the unit to become unlivable.
Myth 8: Landlords and tenants need a written lease
A verbal lease is just as valid as a written one that the tenant signed. Of course, you should always have a written agreement with any tenant. But even if you have a verbal arrangement with a tenant on a month-to-month lease, you can still evict them.
However, you will have to follow local state laws that govern verbal rental agreements. For example, you may have to give a “Notice to Quit” 30 or 60 days before the termination. If the tenant remains in the unit after that time, you can start eviction proceedings.
Myth 9: The eviction process takes three months
Another common myth is that evicting a tenant takes 90 days from when the landlord files eviction papers at the court. Unfortunately, renters often believe this myth, thinking they have more time to sort out their next accommodation. So, it can come as a nasty shock when a few weeks later, the sheriff turns up with a notice to vacate the premises immediately.
Myth 10: A landlord must give at least 30 days’ notice before starting an eviction process
This common myth generally gets tenants into trouble when they don’t know the rental laws. For example, some tenants think they must receive at least 30 days' notice before an eviction. They then start threatening legal action or retaliating against the landlord when they don't think they get proper notice.
However, landlords generally don’t have to give 30 days’ notice before they start an eviction. In most states, you can provide a “Notice to Quit” 72 hours before serving an eviction order.
Myth 11: Tenants can withhold rent to force landlords to make repairs
Some tenants mistakenly think that they don’t need to pay rent if the landlord hasn’t carried out urgent repairs. Withholding rent could land a tenant in trouble if they don’t go through the proper channels. What does the law generally say about “rent withholding?”
From one point of view, landlords can start the eviction process if tenants don’t pay rent.
However, landlords who let the unit fall into disrepair are guilty of lease violations. Therefore, tenants have a right to hold back some or all of the rent until the rental unit gets repaired. But tenants must make sure and do things by the book. First, they need a solid basis for doing withholding rent. Then they need to give the landlord a formal letter stating their intention. If the landlord still doesn’t carry out repairs, the tenant can file papers with the court and deposit the rent in escrow.
Myths About Tenant Evictions
Taking action based on common eviction myths can land you in trouble with your tenants or the courts. Before starting an eviction process, have documented proof of lease violations and always follow proper legal eviction procedures before evicting a rogue tenant.