Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advice on Evictions

By John Gandrud, Managing Attorney, NWLS Central Intake Unit

Evictions are an unfortunate reality for low-income people who struggle to make ends meet. If you face an eviction, or the threat of eviction, here is some practical advice to keep in mind as you work through your housing problems.

Non-payment of Rent

Perhaps the most common cause of eviction is non-payment of rent. While there can be many reasons this occurs, the fact you did not pay your landlord what you owe is legal grounds for them to seek an eviction from the court.

If you know you cannot pay your rent on time, but you face a temporary situation that leaves you short on cash, talk to your landlord. Some landlords may accept late payments if they know the reason for the delay, and when you will be able to get back on schedule for the rent.

Housing counseling agencies such as the ones listed on this page may be able to offer cash assistance for rent when an emergency occurs. Call them to see if you qualify for help.

If you know you can't pay the rent for reasons such as job loss or loss of benefits, and you don't know when your situation will improve, you are going to need to find alternative housing. Tell the landlord about the difficulty you face, and call housing counseling agencies to see what options may exist for you.

As a general rule of thumb, you have between 45 to 60 days from when you receive an eviction notice, to when you must vacate a property when ordered by the court. That's how much time you have to find other housing, so don't delay in making arrangements.

Habitability

Sometimes people refuse to pay their rent because there is a serious problem with the dwelling such as a leaky roof or plumbing that doesn't work. Rather than withhold rent, be sure to talk to the landlord about the problem and keep a record of your contact with him or her.

Many communities have code enforcement agencies that will enforce building codes for rental units. Call code enforcement for serious problems that your landlord does not fix promptly.

If your landlord ignores your complaints, and code enforcement cannot help, you will need to find other housing. At this point it may make sense to withhold rent in order to save money to move into other housing.

Non-payment of rent is still legal grounds for eviction, but the court may reduce the amount of unpaid rent you owe for the time you spent living in unsafe conditions that your landlord refused to repair. That is why you need to report serious problems to your landlord, and keep a record of your contact.

Call Legal Aid

If you get an eviction notice from your landlord, or a threat of eviction, call Northwestern Legal Services to see if you qualify for legal advice from one of our staff attorneys. Do not wait until the day before the hearing at the district magistrate office to seek help, call us while you still have time to explore options for your housing needs.

You can reach NWLS in Erie by calling 452-6957, or outside Erie toll-free at (800) 665-6957. You can also get more information about housing law at our website at www.nwls.org.