In most cases, eviction is a swift, ruthless sword. If your landlord wants you out—and has good reason—you’re out. Often, you have only a few weeks (or even a few days) to collect your stuff and get the hell out of Dodge before the sheriff arrives—but that isn’t always the case.
In some cases, it can take months or even years for a landlord to kick you out. So if you’re at risk for eviction but prefer to stay put, take stock of the situation to see if you might have a legitimate reason for delay, or if your eviction might drag on for reasons unrelated to you. Here are some of the most common examples.
1. The landlord botched the paperwork
According to Jonathan G. Stein, a California attorney who represents tenants, the longest eviction he witnessed took 14 months. That’s an extreme case, but not all that unusual if your landlord filed the official papers without legal help and bungled the job.
“Some [evictions] take longer because the landlord tries to save money and do it themself and simply screws up the paperwork,” Stein says.
In fact, it’s a tricky process. Many state landlord and tenant laws require landlords to handle evictions in a very specific way. Typically they must notify the tenant in writing, file proper paperwork in a local court, and wait out the legally required notice period. If the landlord mishandles any step, the judge may delay the case or even throw it out.
2. You have a legitimate reason to withhold rent
Sure, some people just can’t (or don’t want to) pay their monthly rent. (Hey, join the club!) But if you have a real beef about why you’re unwilling to fork over the cash, that could be different. If your landlord isn’t making repairs or if the place isn’t safe or habitable, you may have the right to withhold rent. So be sure to check your lease and explore your options with a lawyer. If you do pursue legal action, the judge will need time to review your case and that may postpone or even invalidate your eviction. The downside, of course, is that it will cost you. Still, it could be worth it if you think you’ve got a good case that your landlord is trying to oust you without just cause.
3. You’re, um, just not around
Unsurprisingly, most tenants aren’t happy to be evicted and some have found clever ways to delay an eviction case. Commonly, “a tenant can make it difficult to be served with the eviction,” Stein says. If state law says the landlord must deliver the notice in person, tenants can find ways to dodge the paperwork for days or weeks.
However, we don’t recommend that you do this—it’s best to face the music and move on with your life.
4. The courts are backed up—way up
While state laws provide a time frame for evictions that should be followed in an ideal world, the fact of the matter is this isn’t an ideal world. If the court is behind, a judge isn’t available, or the officials need time to gather a jury, tenants could wait for weeks longer than the recommended time frame laid out in the landlord and tenant handbooks.
“In California, you’re supposed to get a trial within 20 days of the answer being filed,” Stein says. “But our courts are so backed up that it simply isn’t possible, especially if a tenant requests a jury trial.”
Bottom line? If an eviction looms, know your rights and be aware that there’s a chance that it might not take place on schedule. But don’t count on it: Many evictions breeze through without any hang-ups.
“I advise people that in California they can be evicted within 25 days of the lawsuit being filed if the landlord does everything properly,” Stein says. “That’s less than a month to find a new place. They should never count on any delays, even if they hire an attorney.”
So if you do find yourself being evicted, don’t just kick back. Also keep in mind that a landlord may sue you for back rent, and that an eviction will show up on a tenant screening report, and may even tarnish your credit report if you’re turned over to a collection agency. So it’s best to nip evictions in the bud and seek help, and consider any extra weeks or months you get to stick around as gravy.