Now that the Supreme Court has ended a federal eviction moratorium, know the basics and the available resources.
Our partners at Madison Minutes produced this story, and we are republishing it here with their permission. Madison Minutes is an email.
This article is intended to help people who are afraid they may be evicted from their homes for nonpayment of rent. If you are not experiencing housing insecurity, but wish to help those who are, read our companion article here.
For most of the pandemic, evictions across the country for nonpayment of rent have been paused. A recent Supreme Court ruling ended the pause, meaning the eviction proceedings can begin again.
Already, organizations working in rental assistance locally are seeing an uptick in calls for help.
“What we saw on our end was a pretty significant surge in both tenants and landlords reaching out and applying for assistance,” Robin Sereno, executive director of Tenant Resource Center, said.
The most common reason renters get evicted is for nonpayment of rent.
If you are behind on rent, you may be afraid that you will be evicted from your home. The eviction process in Dane County has several steps, and it can be confusing to navigate. The most important thing to know is you do not have to leave your home when you receive the first notification from your landlord.
Most evictions follow a standard process, but your situation may be unique, so it’s important to reach out to the organizations listed at the bottom of this article for help.
In general, this is how eviction works in Dane County:
Step 1: You will receive an official notice from your landlord.
This is a document that details how the landlord believes you have violated the terms of your lease. This is the first step in the eviction process.
This notice may threaten eviction, but you do not have to immediately leave your home. There are several steps between receiving the initial notice and when you could be forced to leave.
Mitch, a clinical law professor at the University of Wisconsin, has seen hundreds of these notices through his work at the Neighborhood Law Clinic. He says these notices may contain complicated or confusing language.
“A lot of times people get these and they think that they are evicted. They think that this is the last step when it’s really truly the first step,” he said.
The notice may say “notice to cure,” “quit or pay,” or “quit or vacate.” The notice will say whether the landlord intends to work with you and how long you have to fix the violation.
Sometimes, landlords aren’t interested in working with tenants to fix the situation. In many cases, though, they prefer working with current tenants rather than evicting existing ones and finding new residents.
If you are behind on rent at this point, you can often still pay the rent you owe to prevent eviction. Your landlord may also be willing to work with you as you apply for and receive rental assistance.
If a renter and landlord don’t come to an agreement, the landlord may file paperwork to begin the legal proceedings for eviction.
Step 2: The landlord files a lawsuit and you are asked to come to court.
If the situation is not resolved after the initial notice is given, your landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. If they do, an initial hearing will be scheduled. It’s crucial to attend this hearing.
“When people don’t show up for a hearing, it’s an automatic eviction,” Sereno said.
In Dane County, there are normally two court hearings before a judge decides what will happen. You will be able to present your argument against why you should not be evicted.
Step 3: You receive an official eviction notice and must leave your home.
If a landlord wins the court case, they can contact law enforcement to begin the physical process of removing you from your home.
Law enforcement will help evict you on behalf of the landlord. Law enforcement is required to give you at least 24 hours’ notice to vacate the property. This is the actual “eviction notice” and will likely be posted to your door.
At this point, the eviction is final. You should make immediate plans to leave your home. Possessions that are left in the home may become the property of the landlord. There are no further steps that you can take to remain in your home. If you resist, law enforcement may forcibly remove you.
Who can help me with rent or dealing with eviction?
You do not have to wait until you are threatened with eviction to reach out for help. There is more money available than normal for struggling renters right now, due to pandemic relief programs. In Dane County, millions of dollars are still available for this form of assistance.
While several organizations work in rental relief, the Tenant Resource Center is the best place to begin looking for help. Its phone number is (608) 257-0006 and its website is www.tenantresourcecenter.org.
The housing specialists at the Tenant Resource Center can provide direct help or direct you to the right place to apply for rental assistance and legal help.
Tips for navigating the process
Communicate with your landlord (and document it!). It might be an uncomfortable conversation, but Sereno of the Tenant Resource Center said renters should proactively communicate with landlords throughout the process — and document that communication. It could be helpful in court proceedings. “What we want people to do is document ‘Hey, I reached out. I have a rental assistance request in,” she said. “In doing that, the courts look really favorably upon people.”
Even if you move out, you will still owe all back rent. Moving out when you are behind on rent doesn’t affect what you already owe. Even if you move, you will still owe all back rent. In other words, leaving the property doesn’t mean your debt is forgiven.
Evictions can make it harder to get housing again in the future. Since being evicted involves a court case, going to court for an eviction creates a public record that might make it harder to rent in the future. The details of the court case will remain publicly accessible for years even if it is ultimately dismissed by a judge, so it’s important to try and prevent a landlord from filing an eviction lawsuit if possible.
Consider mediation as an option. If communication has broken down between you and your landlord, consider asking them to participate in mediation. Mediation is when a neutral third party helps you work out the disagreement. Landlords have to pay to take you to court, but mediation is free in Dane County.
A non-renewal is not an eviction. Leases have start and end dates. Your landlord does not have to renew a lease. If you stay past the end of the lease period, you do not have nearly as many protections and may be liable for double the daily rent.
Eviction explained in greater depth, with statutes cited, from the Tenant Resource Center.
A list of Dane County Eviction Prevention Programs
Legal Action of Wisconsin and the Neighborhood Law Clinic provide legal assistance to tenants.
For homeowners: “Evers creating homeowners assistance program” (Associated Press)
The Tenant Resource Center has created flyers outlining renter rights and ways to get help. Download the English version here and the Spanish version here.