What Is Eviction?

The term eviction refers to the civil process by which a landlord may legally remove a tenant from their rental property. Eviction may occur when the tenant stops paying rent, when the terms of the rental agreement are breached, or in other situations permitted by law.

Evictions in the United States are governed by individual states and certain municipalities. Landlords are required to inform tenants they are being evicted with a notice that specifies the reason for the eviction and the number of days before eviction proceedings begin.

Key Takeaways

  • An eviction is the court-ordered removal of a tenant from the property in which they reside.
  • A landlord may decide to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, damages, illegal activity, violating the terms of a lease, or if the landlord wishes to take possession of the property.
  • The eviction process normally begins with a notice from the landlord, which asks the tenant to remedy certain conditions.
  • If the tenant doesn’t provide a remedy, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings through the court.
  • Judges hear testimony, review evidence, and decide whether to evict or deny a landlord’s request.

How Eviction Works

Rental properties and all parties involved in lease agreements are subject to landlord-tenant laws. Landlords can’t evict tenants without good cause. Reasons include nonpayment of rent, damages, illegal activity, violating the terms of a lease, or if the landlord wishes to take possession of the property. Unpaid rent is the most common reason for eviction, according to research by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Some states allow property owners to evict tenants-at-will even when they have done nothing wrong. These renters may be protected in states that allow no-fault evictions, especially if courts deem the action to be discriminatory or retaliatory. 

Eviction laws vary by state and municipality, but the process is fairly uniform. A landlord provides an eviction notice to their tenant, giving them a number of days to pay rent or fix any damages. If that period ends without resolution, the landlord may file an eviction lawsuit against the renter. A complainant may seek financial restitution for unpaid rent and utility costs, damage to the property, late fees, and court costs in addition to the eviction.

Cases are generally heard in district courts, small claims courts, or housing courts.   Both landlords and tenants are required to attend and may seek legal representation. Courts require evidence of wrongdoing, including photos, emails, text messages, other documents, and witness testimony that may support each party’s case.

A judge hears testimony and reviews any evidence before making a decision to evict or to deny a landlord’s case. The judge may also decide whether to award monetary damages in the case and how much. If the renter fails to appear in court, they typically receive an eviction judgment automatically, so long as the landlord or a legal representative is present. 

Special Considerations

Congress temporarily prohibited evictions through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security (CARES) Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evictions were banned for 120 days for people on federal housing assistance or in homes with federally backed mortgages, including those financed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

The original ban, which ended July 24, 2020, prohibited landlords from filing new eviction cases due to unpaid rent. The moratorium applied to roughly 28% of the nation’s 43.8 million renter households, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute. Some renters were also protected by state or local bans, although many have not received any temporary safeguards.

Former President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Aug. 8, 2020, suggesting his administration would provide new protections for renters. The order directed federal agencies to consider anti-eviction steps, which angered housing advocates. “It creates the impression that something was done, when in fact nothing was done,” John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, told CNBC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banned eviction for many renters, on public health grounds, until at least June 30, 2021. The original order was issued on September 1, 2020, and was meant to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, but has been expanded twice. To qualify, a renter must make less than $99,000 per year ($198,000 for couples) and sign a declaration that they exhausted all efforts to pay rent and are likely to become homeless due to eviction. On Jan. 20, 2021, on his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order extending the national moratorium on evictions until at least March 31, 2021.

Evictions that end in court settlements show up in credit reports, and some landlords report their tenants to companies that provide reports and screenings of potential tenants.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Eviction

For landlords

Evictions allow landlords to remove unruly tenants as well as those who don’t pay their rent on time or at all. Although it can be costly, landlords can benefit by going through eviction proceedings in order to protect the interests of their property. By evicting an undesirable tenant, a landlord can open up their property to better, more responsible tenants.

For tenants

The effects of an eviction can be long lasting for tenants. For instance, when a person submits a rental application for a new home, the application will likely ask if they have ever been evicted before.

Still, having a previous eviction may not completely disqualify a person from a lease. Some landlords may simply want to know more about the terms of the eviction. For example, if a landlord decided to sell an apartment as a condominium and legally evicted the tenants to do so, that would be unlikely to negatively affect a landlord’s view of a potential tenant.

For society

Some experts also suggest that high eviction rates have detrimental effects on society at large. By destabilizing families, they argue, high-eviction neighborhoods become more susceptible to crime.

High eviction rates also come at a steep financial cost to cities, which often lose property taxes and outstanding utility bills and may have to pay more for shelters and social services.