What to Do if You Get Evicted

With government protections being lifted, many people could face eviction notices in the months to come.

U.S. News & World Report

What to Do if You Get Evicted

Personal household belongings abandoned on urban sidewalk. Horizontal.

If you know eviction is likely, moving before the formal process begins can be beneficial.(Getty Images)

As COVID-19 spread across the country, states shut down, businesses closed their doors and millions of Americans filed for unemployment. For out-of-work families, state and federal moratoriums on evictions meant they didn't have to worry about landing in the street in the midst of a pandemic.

However, those eviction moratoriums are beginning to lift, which means tenants who haven't been paying their rent could be facing an eviction notice soon. The pause on evictions from federally financed properties, implemented by the CARES Act, is set to expire on July 24, and many states are already rolling back protections.

"I don't think any landlord I've ever known wants to kick people out," says Steve Siebold, co-author of the book "How Money Works: Stop Being a Sucker." Still, landlords have their own bills to pay and need to move out non-paying tenants.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of an eviction notice, here's what to expect.

How Long Does an Eviction Take?

Eviction procedures vary from state to state and may even differ by county within a state. Pre-pandemic, an eviction in Phoenix could be completed in as little as three weeks while those in California may have taken as long as six months, according to Nick Mertens, vice president of property management at Atlas Real Estate, a property management firm that oversees approximately 3,400 units in Colorado and Arizona.

While the timeline can vary, all states generally follow the same basic steps. Tenants must first be provided an eviction notice. Then, a hearing is scheduled so a court order can be issued to require the tenant to vacate the premises. If the tenant does not leave voluntarily, a landlord typically must wait until a sheriff can accompany them to the property and enforce the eviction notice.

With court cases paused for months during state shutdowns, the eviction process could take significantly longer than normal once cases resume.

"The courts are going to be so backlogged because there are a tremendous amount (of cases) so you may not get evicted for five or six months," says Howard Dvorkin, personal finance expert, CPA and chairman of Debt.com. Tenants may also find courts to be more sympathetic given the COVID-19 pandemic. "Judges, frankly, are not going to be that anxious to throw people on the street," according to Dvorkin.

Finding Housing After an Eviction

If you know you're going to be evicted, it can be beneficial to move before the formal process begins.

"It makes it really hard to rent again if you have an eviction on your record," Mertens says. If you're behind on payments and know you can't catch up, a better option may be to strike a deal with the landlord or property management firm. They may be willing to drop the eviction proceedings if you agree to move out voluntarily and leave the unit in good condition.

However, if a formal eviction does take place, the best way to find housing later is to be honest about your previous situation. Most landlords will discover the eviction when conducting their background checks so it's best to share that information before they find it themselves.

"Some landlords don't want to hear your problems," Dvorkin says. As a landlord himself, though, he says honesty can make a difference when considering a rental application. "I have found when people are upfront with me about past issues, I feel much better," he says.

Even if a landlord is willing to overlook a past eviction, expect to pay more for a down payment or security deposit than what would otherwise be required.

How to Get an Eviction Off Your Record

Depending on whether your landlord reports to the credit bureaus or a financial judgment is entered against you by the court, evidence of your eviction could end up in your credit report. This information should drop off automatically after seven years.

A formal eviction also creates a court record, and this cannot be easily erased or hidden. The only way to remove the eviction from your record would be to have it expunged. Typically, the landlord would need to agree to that, which would mean settling any past due amount. Depending on your state's rules, you may also be able to motion the court for an expungement if certain circumstances exist, such as if the property was in foreclosure or you moved out prior to the eviction being finalized.

There are lawyers who can help with these cases, but they may be expensive. "Who has money for a lawyer if you can't pay your rent?" Siebold asks. He recommends trying to work with your landlord directly to reach a resolution, preferably before you are evicted and not after.

"I think goodwill goes a long way when it comes to eviction," Siebold says. Offering collateral or partial payments are two ways to show a landlord that you're committed to meeting your obligations. Keep a record of your communication and get any agreement in writing.

It's better to avoid eviction in the first place than to try to remove it from your record later, Mertens says. What's more, it's in the landlord's best interest to avoid an eviction, which can be a long and costly process. "It's not good for the resident, and it's not good for the property management company," he explains. "No one wants (an eviction) to happen."

By talking to your landlord now and making payment plan arrangements before state and federal protections are lifted, you might not have to worry about what to do if you get evicted.

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