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What is the eviction process?

Learn about the legalities of the eviction process and how to respond to an eviction notice to avoid a lock-out

What are your rights if you’re evicted for not paying rent or for violating your lease? Many states and cities have different processes for evictions, and landlords must follow strict procedures for it to stick lawfully. The process is detailed, but the rules are there to help ensure the eviction is justified and that you have enough time to move. Find out what the eviction process looks like where you live. 

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1. You’ll receive a notice of termination for violating your rent or lease

If you violate your rental agreement, you may get an eviction notice. These notices typically give you a few days (three to five in most states) to pay the rent or move out (“quit”).

Another type of quit notice is a cure notice, such as a no-pets clause, where you have a set amount of time to “cure” the situation, by finding a new home for your pet, for example. 

Roost Tip! If you know you’ll be late with your rent, talk to your landlord to ask for more time ASAP. Explain your situation and show them what you plan to do to ensure it won’t happen again. If your landlord agrees to a payment arrangement, ask for the agreement in writing. 

2. If you still don’t pay, you’ll receive a summons and complaint for eviction

If you don’t pay your rent or “cure” your violation, your landlord will be granted a judgment (a judgment means you’re legally required to pay the rent plus interest) and will serve you a summons or complaint of eviction to proceed with the eviction.

You’ll have a certain number of days to come up with the entire rent amount. The number of days depends on the state you’re residing. Your landlord doesn’t have to accept any partial payments but has to accept the rent if presented in entirety within the given period. See the eviction timeline below for details of the next step. 

3. Attend court and argue the eviction case

  • If you don’t go to court, the judge will enter a default judgment against you and your landlord will win. 
  • You can also request a continuance to get an attorney to give yourself a bit more time. This isn’t usually necessary. 
  • If you do go to court, your landlord’s conduct regarding process, paperwork, and illegal behavior (such as not maintaining the apartment unit in habitable condition or retaliation or discrimination against you) could serve as a good defense, if any of this applies. Make sure to gather your paperwork and documentation together in advance for a chance of having the lawsuit and eviction dismissed.
  • If your landlord wins, then the judge will give them an order of possession. This means you usually get about a week to move out. 

4. Wait for eviction to be scheduled by the sheriff

Assuming your landlord wins the eviction lawsuit, they aren’t allowed to remove you themselves. Only a law enforcement officer or sheriff can perform the lock-out.

You’ll typically receive a notice from the sheriff (usually within 72 hours) to vacate, but timing depends on the backlog of evictions to carry out. At this point, it’s best to cooperate — let the sheriff know when you’ll be out and then move on. 

Eviction process infographic courtesy of Legaltemplates.net
Eviction process infographic

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Example timeline of the eviction process 

Washington state

Please note that your state or local laws may vary from this eviction process timeline. Wherever you live, you need to act quickly to avoid eviction or to move if necessary before a sheriff lock-out is issued. You can find more information about your state here.

Day 1 — Rent is due.

Day 2 — Rent is still unpaid, and your landlord serves you a 14-day notice to pay or vacate.

Days 3-15 — You have fourteen days to come up with the entire amount due on the 14-day notice. The landlord doesn’t have to accept any partial payments but has to accept the rent if presented in entirety within these 14 days. The 14-day notice shouldn’t include additional late fees.

Day 16 — If the rent is still unpaid, the landlord now has the option of serving the tenant a lawsuit for unlawful detainer (eviction summons and complaint). This initiates legal eviction action.

  • The tenant has seven days to answer the summons and complaints or lose the lawsuit by default. The date the answer is due will appear on the summons.
  • It may also be served with an order to show cause, the notice of the court date.
  • It may also contain a payment or sworn statement requirement that obligates the tenant to pay the amount stated on the notice directly into the court registry or file a sworn certification asserting they have a legal defense in the case. This must happen within seven days of the date the summons was filed with the court or the tenant will lose by default.
  • The summons may already be filed with the court. If it’s been filed, it’ll have a case number stamped in the upper right-hand corner.
  • The summons may also give the tenant the option to request that the suit be filed with the court. As soon as the lawsuit is filed, the eviction will be on the tenant’s record, no matter how the judge rules. This can seriously affect the tenant’s ability to rent in the future.

Day 23 — The tenant’s answer is due. The tenant may opt to file a notice of appearance.

  • The answer must contain the defenses the tenant has against the eviction, as well as a list of any the tenant’s money that the landlord is holding.
  • The answer must be delivered to the landlord’s attorney and to the court if the suit has already been filed. The attorney’s contact information will be listed on the summons. The answer can be filed in person, by mail, or by fax but it must be received by the deadline.
  • If the tenant doesn’t answer, a default judgment will be issued against them.
  • After the tenant files an answer, the show cause hearing date will be scheduled if it has not been set already. If it hasn’t already been scheduled, it’ll generally occur around day 31. It can occur as soon as the day following the day the answer is due.

Day 24 — The show cause hearing occurs and judgment is issued. The default judgment is issued if no answer has been filed.

  • If the tenant responded to the lawsuit, both parties go to court. The judge will hear both sides of the case and then make a ruling. The vast majority of evictions go in the landlord’s favor.
  • If the landlord wins, the court will issue a writ of restitution and judgment in the amount of rent money and late fees the tenant owes up to — e.g., $75, plus court costs and, in some cases, attorney’s fees.
  • If the tenant wins, the case is dismissed. However, the eviction filing will still appear on the tenant’s record unless they get an order of limited dissemination.
  • If the tenant’s ability to pay the entire amount due to the landlord in the court registry, their tenancy must be reinstated.
  • The judge may send the case to trial.
  • The tenant may be able to secure legal representation for the show cause hearing through state legal assistant resources.
  • The landlord’s attorney may offer the tenant a stipulation or settlement agreement instead of going to court.
Roost Tip! Make sure you have an attorney review any settlement agreement or stipulation before you sign. They may have difficult or hidden consequences. Do not sign it if you can’t comply with the agreement.

Day 27 — The sheriff serves the tenant the writ of restitution, usually by posting it on the tenant’s door. The sheriff’s name and phone number will be stamped on the top of the writ. The tenant must contact the sheriff and let them know when they plan to be out of the unit.

Day 30 — The first day the sheriff can enforce the writ, 72 hours after it’s been served. Day 30 is also the deadline for the tenant to serve a request to have their property stored by the landlord.

Day 31 or 32 — The writ is usually enforced a day or two after the first day it can be enforced. The sheriff comes to the property and oversees the landlord removing the tenant and their belongings if they are not already out.

Eviction process: Frequently asked questions

1. Is there a grace period for getting rent paid on time? 

For this, you’ll need to read your rental agreement as most state laws don’t define the grace period. Most landlords allow for three to five days before they charge a late fee or start the eviction process.  

2. If the last day of termination falls on a holiday or weekend, does this count? 

The termination day count includes business days and weekends but excludes holidays recognized by the court, e.g., Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

3. How long does an eviction take from notice to finish? 

Generally, around a month for most states from the time the rent is due to the time the sheriff comes out to enforce the eviction. See the above chart for an example of the process.   

4. Can I negotiate with the landlord to stop the eviction?

Yes, renters can negotiate directly with their landlord to stop the eviction at any point, although you’ll want to do this earlier than later, if possible. Make sure to get whatever you and your landlord agree to in writing.

5. Can I withhold rent because the landlord owes me money?

This depends on the state/city you live in. Check out Roost renter’s rights for guidance and links to the ordinance for your area.  

6. What do I do if my landlord locks me out of my apartment? 

If illegally locked out, you have the right to regain access to the unit but must pay for the cost of any damages done to regain access. If you’re illegally removed from a property, then you can call the police.

7. Should I hire a rent/tenant attorney to help me? 

A tenants’ rights attorney could be helpful if you think your landlord isn’t upholding their part of the lease or if they’re doing something else illegal (like discrimination).

Check out our Roost’s Renter Rights section and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s tenant rights page for a list of state-specific resources. Or, consider calling Legal Aid Society.

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Last Updated: May 29th, 2022