How to handle eviction notices

If you find an official-looking document from your landlord in your mailbox or posted on your door telling you to vacate your home by a certain date, you have received an eviction notice. A landlord has a legal right to demand that you vacate the premises if you fail to live up to responsibilities spelled out in your lease. Generally, if you are late with your rent payments, repeatedly throw loud parties until the wee hours of the morning despite complaints, or refuse to move when your lease is up, your landlord has grounds to evict you.

Each state has its own eviction procedure, but an eviction notice is usually the first step in the battle between you and your landlord. When you receive the notice, don’t ignore it and don’t put off dealing with it until later. Read the notice carefully to learn why your landlord no longer wants you as a tenant. Then contact a lawyer immediately to see if your landlord has followed the proper legal procedure and whether he or she has grounds to evict you.

If the notice doesn’t meet the legal requirements-for instance, stating how much behind you are in rent- it has no effect. You usually have only a short time period, perhaps 3 days, to respond before the landlord can take you to court.

How to respond
Reply in writing. A prompt and well prepared response to an eviction notice will save you needless time, money, and annoyance. Date the reply and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. This gives you proof, if you should later need it, that you responded promptly.

In most states you can stop an eviction for nonpayment of rent by paying what is due anytime before the court makes its decision. If your landlord claims that your lease has expired, send him or her a copy of the lease, extension, renewal, or other agreement that proves otherwise.