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Your rights as a tenant in an eviction case

September 24, 2010

The first client I ever had was a tenant who was being evicted…That was while I was in law school.  I was a member of Suffolk Law’s landlord/tenant clinic and, as a student attorney, the state allowed me to represent poor people who couldn’t afford representation.

Low and behold, when I opened my practice the first client who called me was a tenant who was being evicted.  He called me in a panic because he was served with a 14-Day Notice to Quit and was concerned that he and his family would be homeless when those 14 days were up.  Thankfully, that is not the case. 

Since Landlord/Tenant law was my first real foray into lawyering, I thought it would be appropriate for it to be the subject of my first post.  Aside from non-payment of rent, a landlord can evict you for many other reasons so hopefully those of you who rent may find this useful. 

A common misconception when someone receives a notice to quit (either a 14-day or a 30-day depending on the reasons) is that if you don’t move out by the time stated in the notice, you can be thrown out of your apartment and evicted immediately.  That is untrue.  Once the time in the notice to quit is up, it merely terminates your tenancy (the agreement/contract between you and the landlord).  This allows the landlord to only begin the eviction process.  Fortunately for the tenant, the law has built in a reasonable amount of time for tenants to find a new place to live in the face of an imminent eviction – even if you have missed months of rental payments.  You also have other rights to potentially reduce the rent you owe.  Keep in mind that the only person than can evict you is a sheriff – you’re landlord has no right of possession in your apartment until then.  It’s a serious offense if he locks you out or forcibly removes you or your belongings himself.

On average, the eviction process usually takes around 5-6 weeks, but sometimes it can be even longer than that.  Here’s a quick worst case scenario timeline:

1. You’re served with a 14-day Notice to quit for nonpayment of rent
2. Sometime after the 14 days, the landlord can serve you with a summons and complaint for eviction.
3. Once you receive the summons and complaint, a hearing is scheduled around 10 days after.
4. If a judgment is made in favor of the landlord at the hearing, an execution will be issued 10 days after that.
5. You’ll get a final 48-hour notice before the Sherrif comes to evict you.

So you see, even in the worst case scenario you still have more time than 14 days. Just about 5 weeks if the landlord brings the eviction immediately and everything goes as scheduled (often not the case).  You can often extend that timeline and ask the landlord or the court for additional time if you need it. 

Obviously, I suggest talking to an attorney if you receive a notice to quit to make sure the landlord (or landlord’s attorney) follows the correct procedure and all of your rights are preserved as a tenant.

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