It pays to know your tenant rights when eviction comes rapping at the door.

4 minute read

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new moratorium on evictions of tenants on August 3, 2021. The order, which expires on October 3, 2021, applies to U.S. counties experiencing “substantial and high levels” of COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. The former federal eviction moratorium expired on July 31, 2021, leaving around 3.6 million people facing eviction within two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The new moratorium offers a couple of months of breathing room to tenants worried that an eviction could be knocking at the front door soon. However, the new moratorium is more limited than the last, since it applies only to counties with substantially rising COVID-19 case numbers.

Even if the new moratorium lets you remain in your home for now, when it expires in October, you may still find yourself facing eviction.

If so, you’ll need to understand your tenant rights so you can figure out how to proceed, whether that means fighting the eviction in court, working out a different solution with your landlord or packing up your stuff and moving on.

Here are six things to know about tenants’ rights when facing a possible eviction.

Renter rights vary by city and state

The Fair Housing Act offers federal protections against housing discrimination, but tenant eviction rights are determined by state and city laws. You can look up links to each state’s local laws and resources on tenant rights at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You may also find information on tenant rights on your official state attorney general’s website, ending in “.gov.” For municipal tenant rights laws, visit your city’s official website, also ending in “.gov.”

Find out: 8 Big Renting Myths Renters and Landlords Believe

Your landlord can’t just lock you out

There are shady landlords out there who flout the law, hoping their tenants don’t know enough about tenant rights to stand up for themselves. Such a landlord might change the locks on your door or tell you that if you don’t catch up on your rent by the end of the week, they’ll move your belongings outside and rent the place to another tenant. However, these landlords are breaking the law.

Your landlord must first give you notice that if you don’t catch up the rent by a certain date – within three or 14 days, for example – he or she will get to work on the eviction process. To evict you, the landlord must first file a lawsuit in court, asking you to pay or turn over possession of the rental dwelling.

You get a chance to answer an eviction lawsuit

If your landlord files a lawsuit to evict, you’ll receive a summons showing the date and time that you must appear in court. The summons will also include the date you must submit what’s known as an “answer” to the court, explaining the reasons you believe your landlord is wrong to try to evict you.

For example, if your landlord falsely claims that you haven’t paid the rent when you caught up back rent last week, let the judge know. The same goes for if you have a good reason for refusing to pay rent, such as renting an apartment with no heat due to a broken furnace, faulty plumbing or another issue that keeps your dwelling from being habitable.

You have a right to legal counsel

If you’re facing eviction, you can make a case for yourself in court, but you’re probably wise to seek legal counsel instead. Before you shrug off that idea, citing the fact that if you’re too broke to pay the rent, you can’t afford a lawyer, keep in mind that many cities and states offer free legal counsel and other landlord/tenant resources to assist those who face eviction. Contact your local bar association or legal aid office for information on who to contact.

Find out: 7 Things to Do When Facing Eviction for Not Paying Rent

You’re entitled to your day in court

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the summons and blow off your court date. If you don’t show up in court, your landlord will automatically win the eviction case by default. When you show up, make a case for yourself, maybe offer at least some payment to catch up on back rent. Ask the judge whether you can work out a payment plan with the landlord. If you have a good reason for not being able to move, maybe the judge can grant a stay of eviction to buy more time before you have to move.

Even if you don’t win, at least you’ll know you did everything you could to try to avoid being evicted. And who knows? The judge may give you a break if you offer up other solutions, allowing you to avoid eviction.

You have the right to not be haunted forever by eviction

If you are evicted, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that an eviction is a judgment that stays on your credit report for up to seven years, damaging your credit. If you pay the judgment in full, however, that payment will also appear on the credit report, which could sway future landlords into renting to you, even with a past eviction.

Now for the good news. After seven years, the eviction automatically drops off your credit report. So, that means you get a clean start. Seven years sounds like a long time, but if you use that time to improve your credit by paying all your bills on time, after seven years, your creditworthiness can once again be in good shape.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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