Edwin P. Farrow, Attorney at Law
Before you’re evicted, know your rights.
The eviction process is one where a landlord or property owner removes a tenant from possession of a property in which the tenant resides. This is generally done through a court action or other legal means the landlord may have pursuant to the terms of a lease between the landlord and tenant whether oral or written. The eviction can also take place either through physical removal of the tenant from the premises, or it can be an interference with the tenant’s right to occupy the premises. This interference with the tenant’s right to occupy the premises can be done by disrupting amenities, disrupting certain utilities, or other forms of interfering with the tenant’s right to fully enjoy the property pursuant to the terms of a lease agreement and the law. The latter form of removing a tenant from a property by interfering with the tenant’s right to occupy the premises is known as a "constructive eviction," which is generally illegal. The better and primary choice for removing a tenant from a property in Connecticut is by what is known as a "summary process" action, which is a lawsuit brought to legally evict or remove a tenant from a property without violating the tenant’s rights and possibly breaking the law.
Evictions generally take the form of removing a tenant from a property due to the tenant’s breach of one or more of the terms of the lease agreement between the landlord and the tenant. The most common form of tenant breach is nonpayment of rent whether through the failure to pay rent in a timely manner or failure to pay for an extended period of time (e.g., for a series of months). Other reasons for evicting tenants are, but are not limited to, lapse of time (i.e., the tenant is occupying the premises beyond the agreed upon time established in the lease), the tenant had a right to be in the property—whether at the permission of the landlord or a tenant already legally in possession under a lease agreement—and the landlord now wants the tenant to vacate the premises, destruction of property, and for causing a nuisance or disturbance to neighboring tenants and/or the property.
If the lease has expired under its own terms, a month-to-month tenancy is generally created during the period of time the tenant remains in possession of the premises, meaning that the terms of the lease will remain the same and the terms of the lease agreement extend for one month period each until the landlord or the tenant terminates the lease by giving notice, usually in writing, one to another. During a month-to-month tenancy, the tenant is at risk for having his or her tenancy terminated immediately, especially if the landlord has a prospective tenant who is willing to sign a lease agreement and pay the lease under terms that are more favorable to the landlord after providing the tenant with the proper written notice.
THE EVICTION PROCESS:
1. THE NOTICE: Although it may differ in each state and county, the eviction process generally begins with the landlord or property owner giving the tenant an eviction notice, which in the State of Connecticut is called a "Notice to Quit" Possession and is usually delivered to the tenant by a Connecticut state marshal. This is not actually the eviction itself; it is basically a notice that, if certain behavior continues (e.g., possession of the property, nonpayment of rent, continued nuisance, etc.), an eviction will soon follow. Once served with the notice, tenants have rights and can take certain actions to avoid the actual eviction. The eviction notice has to meet strict requirements set forth by state laws to be considered valid and recognized by the proper courts. The basic purpose of the eviction notice is to let the tenant know that the legal process of eviction is going to begin if the grievance or issue listed by the landlord in the notice is not remedied in the time period given in the notice. If a particular grievance is not listed in the notice, the tenant will generally have a longer period of time to respond to it. If there is a specific grievance, the tenant may have only a matter of days to remedy the problem as is the case generally with nuisances.
If issues in the eviction notice are resolved promptly and the requirements that are set forth in the lease are adhered to, the tenant can push back the eviction date for months and possibly avoid the eviction entirely. The notice serves as a means for the landlord to communicate to the tenant specific actions the tenant need to be take or the need to correct certain behavior pursuant to the specific terms set forth in the lease. The notice gives the tenant an opportunity to respond appropriately either by taking corrective action or failing to act, causing the landlord to proceed with the eviction process to remove the tenant from the property.
2. NOTICE REQUIREMENTS:
Generally, when an eviction notice is given to the tenant, it has to include all the information related to the reason for the notice. This means the landlord has to clearly state the reason for the notice and the reason that the tenant will be evicted if the tenant fails to comply with the terms of the notice within the time given. The notice must also provide the tenant or tenants with all the required information to properly comply with and remedy any issue(s) identified in the notice to avoid the continuation of the eviction process. If the notice does not sufficiently state the requirements necessary to comply with the terms of the notice, the notice may not have any legally binding effect on the tenant(s), and the notice may have to be served upon the tenant again incorporating the proper terms, which essentially causes the landlord to restart the property. The actual legal eviction process will only begin if the tenant has been given proper notice and the tenant fails to comply with the directives of the notice within the time given.
3. INFORMATION IN THE EVICTION NOTICE MUST BE ACCURATE:
As a tenant, it is important to read any notice from a landlord in its entirety. Although the information in a notice may be lengthy, the eviction notice is going to provide a series of steps that are required for a certain situation to be remedied. Depending on the issues and reason for the eviction notice, different requirements may be articulated in each notice. If delivery of the notice or the notice itself is found to be defective or invalid, the landlord may have to begin the eviction process over again. The said defect may give the tenant to be evicted more time in the property in the event the tenant is not able to comply with the terms of the notice within the time given in the notice. Note further that, in many instances, all of the adult tenants in a property will have to be given the same notice as the known tenants to avoid potentially evicting some but not all of the occupants from the property. If the landlord does not know the names of certain tenants, the landlord may substitute fictitious names for the unknown tenants until the unknown tenants’ names are properly identified, e.g., John Doe and Jane Doe.
The exact issues or grievances that the landlord cites have to be clearly articulated in the notice, and the notice should clearly state the requirements for remedying or curing the issues—even if the remedy or request is for the tenant to vacate the property. Generally, grievances and issues arise from tenants breaking terms of the lease, not paying rent timely, or failing to pay rent altogether, disturbing the peace and their neighbors, making claims or complaints that are frivolous, or engaging in illegal activities as per the terms of the lease and the law to name a few. The more precise the notice the better it is for the landlord.
4. TYPES OF EVICTION NOTICES:
There are several types of eviction notices that tenants may receive. Some of the common notices include the following:
- Notice to pay rent or quit: With this type of notice, if a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may allow the tenant 3 to 5 days to pay the rental arrearages and late penalties. If the sums due are paid current, the tenant will not be evicted, and the eviction process will end.
- Notice to correct violations or quit: With this type of notice, the tenant is required to repair or correct specific problems or stop doing something that breaches the lease terms. Generally, in this type of situation, the landlord is required to give the tenant time to remedy the breach or problem. If the tenant complies with the terms of the notice, the tenant will usually avoid being evicted.
- Notice to quit: In certain states, and specifically in Connecticut, the "notice to quit" gives the landlord the right to require a tenant to vacate a property without any prior notices depending on the circumstances. This usually happens in instances where a tenant has failed to pay rent, the lease agreement has expired under its own terms, the landlord or a tenant legally in possession has given a tenant a right to occupy a property and the landlord later decides to terminate the right of the tenant to remain in the property, or the tenant never really had a legal right to occupy the property but has established a right to remain on the property as a matter of law due to the amount of time the tenant has already remained in possession of the property.
- There are other forms of notice in addition to the ones identified above, but regardless of what type of notice is given or served upon a tenant, the landlord has to fully inform the tenant of the landlord’s requirements along with clear instructions to remedy any problems or comply with the terms of a lease for the notice to be valid.
5. THE COMPLAINT (and Summons):
Assuming that the landlord has properly served a tenant with a notice to quit to vacate the property, cease or desist acting in a particular manner, or to correct, repair or remedy a situation, if the tenant has not properly complied with the terms of the notice to quit, the landlord can immediately continue the eviction process by hiring a state marshal to serve or deliver a summons and complaint to the tenant, which effectively begins a lawsuit known in Connecticut as a "summary process eviction."
The "summons and complaint" in an eviction are documents that are served or delivered to all of the adult tenants of a property by a state marshal on behalf of a landlord. The complaint generally mirrors the "notice to quit" in that the complaint enumerates the reasons why the landlord is evicting the tenant. However, the complaint gives the specific reasons why the tenant is being evicted by identifying in detail the origination of the landlord and tenant relationship and what the tenant did or failed to do that legally entitles the landlord to terminate the tenancy and request the tenant to vacate the property. For example, assuming that the landlord and tenant relationship began as the result of a written lease signed by the landlord and tenant, the complaint will indicate that the tenancy began as the result of a written agreement between the landlord and tenant on or about a particular day. The complaint would also indicate the terms of the lease, particularly with regards to the duration of the lease, whether the lease is for one week, one month or one year, and the amount of the periodic rental payment.
In addition to the terms of the lease, the complaint should also identify what the tenant did or failed to do to cause the landlord to start the eviction process. The issues or reasons for the eviction may be several. One reason a landlord may state in the complaint is the tenants failure to pay an agreed upon rental amount by the date the rent was due. Note that most state laws, including Connecticut, allow for a grace-period for rent to be paid before the eviction process can begin, particularly in the case of residential leases. Another reason a landlord may cite in his complaint for evicting the tenant is that the term or period of time agreed upon for the tenancy under the terms of the lease have expired and that the landlord does not want to renew the terms of the lease. There are several other reasons that the landlord may cite in his complaint, but all of the reasons cited in the complaint must have also been cited in the notice delivered to (or served upon) the tenant; otherwise, any issue that is alleged in the complaint that had not previously been stated in the notice will not be acknowledged by the court and cannot be the basis for any judgment of eviction by the court.
6. TENANT'S RIGHTS:
Tenants have certain rights when a landlord is trying to evict them. For starters, the tenant has to know the time factors involved. In most instances (other than notice to quit), the landlord has to give tenants a certain amount of time to remedy a problem or situation and/or comply with the terms of the notice, even if the notice is requesting that a tenant vacate the property due to nonpayment of rent. Generally this is 5 to 10 days. If the notice to the tenant fails to give a specific time to comply or vacate, the landlord may not be able to use the notice to formally evict the tenant in the summary process eviction case ultimately brought in court.
Tenants also have a right to know the reason for an eviction. This means, if the landlord does not clearly specify, provide examples, or cite instances of the problems the landlord alleges, the tenant has a right to raise this issue as a defense to the eviction process
In many if not most jurisdictions and depending on the circumstances, tenants may have the right or ability to request that the court give the tenant an extension of time to stay in the property under specific conditions. A time extension provides the tenant more time to remedy possible problems noted in the eviction notice and may possibly allow the tenants to reinstate their tenancy.
7. WHY HIRE AN ATTORNEY / LAWYER:
Whether you are a landlord or tenant, generally you may represent yourself in court, but hiring an eviction attorney may be a good way to increase your likelihood of success and get a favorable result in the eviction process or in court. The reason that hiring an eviction attorney can be extremely important is because of his or her familiarity with the eviction process and the housing laws. An eviction attorney may also help the landlord or tenant identify viable solutions for resolving the eviction that neither the landlord nor the tenant would have conceived due to a lack of experience with the process, especially since most individuals are not familiar with property or landlord- tenant law. Lawyers will not only know the law, but in many instances will know how to negotiate, or speak on the landlord or tenant's behalf, in order to work with the landlord or tenant.
Most landlords or tenants are not fully aware of their legal rights with regards to residential or commercial leases. A lawyer can inform you of your rights and help you navigate through the eviction process with confidence.