You Got an Eviction Notice. Now What?

It's a terrible feeling: You come home from a long day of work, wondering what to make for dinner, when you see a large piece of paper taped to your door. Your heart sinks as you read it, realizing it's an eviction notice telling you that you have to leave your home.

If this has happened to you, you're certainly not alone. According to real estate site Redfin, over 2.7 million people faced eviction in 2015. High rents, low wages, and constantly changing market conditions make keeping up with rent payments difficult. (See also: The Simple Way to Decide How Much Rent You Can Really Afford)

If you've received an eviction notice, here's what you should do next.

The eviction process

If you fall behind on your rental payments, or pay only a portion of the amount due, your landlord can evict you. However, the process is more complicated than just telling you that you have to leave. Eviction laws vary by state, so it's a good idea to check out your state housing department's guidelines.

Generally, to evict you legally, your landlord has to follow an eviction procedure.

1. You will receive notice

Your landlord must issue you notice before proceeding with the eviction. This could be a 30-day notice to either vacate or comply, a pay-by date you must meet, or a deadline to rectify whatever violations are grounds for the eviction. In some cases, you may have only a couple of days to come up with funds or fix the problem. If you can't come up with the money or address the issue, the landlord can proceed to the next step.

2. Your landlord will pursue a court order

If you do not pay the balance on your account, or comply with the terms of the eviction notice, your landlord can get a court order against you. Once you receive the order, you can choose to fight the eviction in court. If the court finds you were not complying due to legitimate problems with the apartment, such as a lack of heat or running water, it may sway the ruling in your favor. If the judge does not rule in your favor, the court may offer you an alternative payment plan to help keep you in your home.

3. Moving out

If you lose the fight in court, you could have just a few days to move out. In many cases, the local police will be there to escort you. If you stay in the unit beyond that date, the landlord can ask the police to have you forcefully removed.

Know your rights

If you're going through the eviction process, you still have rights. For example, a landlord cannot lock you out of a property, remove your belongings, or shut off your utility services until the court order is in place and your formal eviction date has passed.

During the eviction proceedings, your landlord is still responsible for maintaining the property. For example, if your apartment heater is broken, your landlord must repair or replace it according to the terms of your lease.

If you feel like your landlord has violated these guidelines, or otherwise is evicting you unfairly, you can find free legal advice and representation from Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans.

How to fix an eviction

If you're facing an eviction, you may be able to avoid being forced out with the following options.

1. Work out a payment plan

In many cases, landlords would like to avoid eviction as much as possible. It can be a long and expensive process, and they have to find a replacement tenant afterward. It makes more financial sense for them to keep a current tenant in place if at all possible. If you're behind on your payments, talk to your landlord about a potential payment plan to get back on track. Making weekly payments can help you get back on your feet and stay in your home.

2. Come up with cash (fast)

Although it may sound impossible, you can often end an eviction by paying what you owe in full. Go through your belongings and sell anything you don't absolutely need, such as furniture, clothes, toys, electronics, or even extra kitchen supplies. You can also pick up a side hustle to earn extra money quickly to pay your outstanding bill. (See also: 14 Best Side Jobs For Fast Cash)

3. Seek charitable aid

There are some nonprofit organizations that offer financial assistance to low- and middle-income families facing a crisis. You may be able to receive a grant or low-interest loan to pay your rent so you can stay in your home. To find programs near you, check out Rent Assistance.

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You Got an Eviction Notice. Now What?

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