I spend a lot of time reading landlord-tenant discussion boards online. When you run a business like RentConfident, it goes with the territory. These discussion boards are full of tenants complaining and being dramatic about their terrible landlords and sub-standard housing. They like to use the term "slumlord," which someone decided at some point should be the extremely offensive equivalent of the "n-word" for landlords. And in some cases the tenants are totally right for complaining.
But they also tend to claim that they're being “evicted” on dubious grounds. And a lot of them have indeed been asked to leave by their landlords. But a lot of the time they're using the word “evicted” incorrectly. And when they do, the readers with legit property management experience giggle behind their screens at the obvious ploy for sympathy.
Eviction is an emotionally loaded term, and renters like to use it every time they are forced to leave an apartment at a time other than one that they chose themselves. For landlords, eviction refers to a very specific process: a courtroom trial followed by a visit from the sheriff. It isn't an eviction until the county judicial system gets involved.
According to Dictionary.com, eviction has two definitions:
Here are some situations that are legal, but not evictions:
- You're on a month to month lease and the landlord gives you one month's notice to leave, and that notice is received on the same day that your rent is due.
- Your lease has a clause stating that a new landlord may remove you from the property with 60 days notice upon sale of the building. The building sells, and the new landlord sends you 60 days notice that you need to leave.
- Your landlord loses the building in foreclosure and the new owner sends you a letter offering you $10,600 towards your moving costs if you leave.
- Your building is condemned as a structural hazard. The court issues an injunction against occupancy, forcing you and everyone else in the building to leave.
- Your apartment is found to be illegal and your landlord is required by the city zoning board to remove you from the unit.
- When your lease comes up for renewal, your landlord decides to increase the rent of everyone in the building by 50% instead of the usual 3-5%.
- You're on a year long lease and the landlord gives you notice at least one month before the end of the lease that it will not be renewed. They do not give a reason and you have not interacted with them other than to pay the rent every month.
If any of these situations describes what you're going through, it isn't an eviction and it won't appear on your permanent record. If the last one describes your situation, it may have an impact on your ability to rent other apartments if your next landlord checks references, but it will not appear on your credit report.
Here are some situations that are illegal, but not evictions:
- You are in the middle of a year long lease. Your landlord changes the locks on your apartment without any notice, and removes all your furniture.
- You complain about your landlord on Yelp. When your lease comes up for renewal, your landlord decides to raise YOUR rent by 50%, but only raises everyone else by 3-5%.
- You complain about your landlord to the city. When your lease comes up for renewal your landlord decides not to renew your lease but fails to give a reason why.
- You come home one day to find that your landlord has dumped all your belongings into storage and changed the locks without giving you any prior notice.
The situations above are not evictions, and they won't show up on your permanent record. However, your landlord might disclose their reasons to future landlords who try to check your references, hurting your chances at getting another apartment. They're all illegal activities and you might have the right to sue for damages.
And finally, here are the very few situations that are actually evictions:
- You fail to pay the rent on time. Your landlord gives you a notice saying you have 5 days to pay or he will take you to court. You still do not pay. Your receive notice from your landlord that you have a court date in either a “forcible entry and detainer” or “joint action” case. The court date arrives and either you do not show up or the landlord wins the case, getting possession of the unit. A month later, the sheriff shows up, drills out the locks, and observes while the landlord removes all of your belongings and sets them on the street.
- You break a rule in your lease, like keeping a dog in a no-pets apartment. Your landlord gives you a notice saying you have 10 days to get rid of the dog or he will take you to court. Repeat the court proceedings as above.
- Your landlord fails to make necessary repairs. You sue your landlord for the right to break your lease. The court grants you an early termination of your lease contract and you are allowed to move out early without penalty. (Yes, this is an eviction!)
For the first two situations above, your eviction will appear on your background check every time a landlord screens you in the future. For the last one, you might still be declined for an apartment if a landlord does their own research and discovers your case – most landlords don't like litigious renters – but it won't usually appear on your background check by default.
So what do you call it when you're being thrown out, but not actually evicted?
You can say that your landlord has asked you to leave. You can say that your lease has not been renewed. You can even say that you were asked to leave unexpectedly. All of these things are very serious problems, and trust me, you'll get sympathy if they are problems you are facing.
But only say you're being evicted if you're really being evicted, otherwise you look like you're throwing around legal terms that you don't understand to make yourself look "tough."
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