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Coronavirus: Tenant Considerations

march 31, 2020 | coronavirus
two people packing boxes

Understanding Your Tenant Rights 

The uncertainty caused by the coronavirus has introduced new burdens that many didn’t worry about under normal circumstances. Simply being able to pay the rent is a new primary concern for millions, and the recent economic downturn has forced those thrust out of work to consider the possibility of eviction if they aren’t able to put together rent money for the next month. An eviction is a frightening prospect at any time, and especially so when most of the country is being asked to stay at home. Fortunately, tenants have some rights in the process that can at least prevent unfair eviction, along with new emergency measures in place that may allow them to stay, even if they can’t meet their obligation on the first of the month.

Frequently Asked Tenant Questions Amid Coronavirus Crisis:

  1. REASONS FOR EVICTION
  2. UNABLE TO MAKE RENT PAYMENTS
  3. EVICTION NOTICE
  4. EVICTION PROCESS

Reasons for Eviction

For what reasons can my landlord evict me?

Your lease and the applicable laws are a guide to the expectations of your landlord, and protection against unfair eviction. Your landlord can evict you, with the proper process, for failure to pay the rent or for violations of the terms of your lease. Your lease also dictates who can live in your apartment, and what you can do while living there. 

Landlords are within their rights to evict a tenant that has an unauthorized pet; has engaged in unpermitted subletting, or illegal activities within the unit. As lengthy as your lease may be, it’s worth reading it before signing to make sure you understand what you can and cannot do as a tenant. If it’s been a while, re-read your lease to ensure that you are not currently violating any of those terms. You should have an attorney review your documents and advise as to the laws that impact the rights of tenants.  
 

Unable to Make Rent Payments

I’ve lost my job and can’t pay my rent. What rights do I have?

Landlord-Tenant laws vary by state but generally, even if you’re out of work and without an income, your landlord can’t preemptively evict you from your place of residence without going through the due process of eviction. That means he or she will normally be required to give you notice of the termination of your lease and go through the proper eviction process before you are required to vacate the property. It is important to know if your city or state is providing relief to prevent eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The landlord also can’t cut off utilities or change the locks due to a failure to pay rent; while the eviction process plays out, tenants are still entitled to access their unit. 

There may be relief coming for those unable to earn enough to pay rent in the current crisis; Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced a freeze on mortgage payments for sublet units on the condition that landlords do not evict their tenants, and cities and states have begun to enact measures that would pause evictions for the time being, while the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How long can I stay in my apartment or home without paying rent?

Your lease may dictate how many days past the rent due date before you breach the terms of that agreement. From there, a landlord can seek to terminate the tenancy but must give proper notice prior to filing a lawsuit to evict you.  However, with local and state governments across the country enacting policies to halt evictions during the coronavirus outbreak, it’s worth checking to see if there are any that have been put into place where you live. Again, remember that the landlord cannot evict you instantly for non-payment and cannot change the locks. 

If I pay partial rent, can I force my landlord to let me stay?

Technically a landlord is entitled to ask for the full amount of rent due at the time it is owed, so an offer of a partial payment does not guarantee a tenant the right to remain in the property, nor is a landlord obligated to accept only a portion of what they’re owed. However, there’s nothing preventing a landlord from accepting partial payment if they deem that the circumstances warrant an exception. 

Given the layoff and lockdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, your landlord may be amenable to accepting partial payments or even deferring payments altogether. The key to navigating the issue is having an honest, forthright conversation, hopefully, aided by the fact that you’ve been a good tenant to date. Whatever your agreement, you should be sure to get it in writing to protect both parties against any future disagreement as to the agreed-upon terms. Again, inform yourself of any temporary relief measures offered by the federal, state or local governments.
 

Eviction Notice

How much notice does my landlord need to give me before eviction?

The eviction process takes time, so tenants will have both fair notice that eviction is pending as well as an opportunity to address the underlying complaints that led their landlord to seek eviction. Depending upon what is in your lease and your state laws and procedures, your landlord will typically give you between 30 and 60 days to vacate the premises once they’ve terminated the tenancy. Within that period, the tenant can choose to move out as directed; fix the issue by making repairs or paying the rent owed, or allow the process to play out through the courts. Regardless of the nature of the offense, your landlord is required to give you that notice time period before trying to remove you from your rental.   
 

Eviction Process

Can a court stop my eviction?

As part of the eviction process, tenants can have their day in court should they choose. If a landlord has properly given the termination of tenancy notice and the days to vacate have elapsed, then the process moves into an eviction lawsuit. If the tenant offers no defense, the landlord is given a summary judgment, meaning that you can be evicted. However, you as the tenant may offer a defense in court and make an argument as to why the eviction is invalid. If notification of eviction wasn’t given to the tenant in accordance with state laws or the landlord failed to make required repairs in a timely manner, the tenant might win their case against the eviction. 

These can be tricky cases to make, particularly without documentation of the offenses. Tip with all matters, including your apartment rental is to keep good records. Get receipts and make sure you have evidence of payment. Keep a copy of any notice or court documents you receive. Make sure not to ignore deadlines or think you have no options. If you’re looking to plead your case in court, you have the right to consult a lawyer well-versed in landlord-tenant law to determine if you have a case and represent your interests. You may be able to resolve the matter on favorable terms. 

The prospect of losing your place to live is always scary, and never more so than in a crisis. It can be hard to understand what your rights are and what options you have, particularly without the right legal advice. Like many other laws, landlord-tenant issues can vary state by state. LegalShield Members can talk with an attorney about any tenant issues without having to worry about a huge fee. Plans start at just $29.95 a month.

LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract at www.legalshield.com for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal or medical advice. Please contact a medical professional for medical advice or assistance and an attorney for legal advice or assistance.

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