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Section 515: Rural Rental Housing Evictions

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

6120EN - If you are a tenant in an apartment complex financed by the Rural Housing Service (RHS) (formerly the Farmers Home Administration or FHA), you have greater protection against evictions than some other tenants. You may also be paying less than market rent for your apartment. If your landlord evicts you from this housing, you may lose your federal housing assistance. This publication briefly describes what you can do to avoid an eviction.

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Should I read this?

IIf you are a tenant in an apartment complex financed by the Rural Housing Service (RHS) (formerly the Farmers Home Administration or FHA), you have greater protection against evictions than some other tenants.  You may also be paying less than market rent for your apartment.

If your landlord evicts you from this housing, you may lose your federal housing assistance. This publication briefly describes what you can do to avoid an eviction.

When can my landlord evict me?

When you first moved into your apartment, you should have signed a one-year lease agreement. This lease agreement does not automatically expire or end at the end of that year. It renews automatically, unless:

  • You decide to move.

  • You are no longer eligible for Rural Housing.

  • Your landlord terminates your tenancy in accordance with your lease and federal and state law. 

Your landlord may only end or refuse to renew your lease for:

  • Material noncompliance with the lease agreement.

  • Other good causes.

  • Criminal activity or alcohol abuse.

"Material noncompliance" includes:

  • One or more substantial or major lease violations.

  • Nonpayment or repeated late payment of rent or any other financial obligations due under the lease beyond any grace period.

  • Admission to or conviction for engaging in or allowing others to engage in the use, possession, manufacture, sale, or distribution of illegal drugs on the premises.

 "Other good causes" include anything you do or a household member does that:

  • Threatens other tenants' health and safety.

  • Threatens other tenants' enjoyment of the premises.

  • Substantially damages property.

  • Violates state and/or local laws.

If you have a family member who has violated the lease, you may be able to save your housing if

  • you are innocent of the activity AND

  • you were not responsible for controlling your family member's behavior

Talk to a lawyer right away. (See "What if I Need Legal Help?" at the end of this publication for contact information.)

How will I know my landlord is terminating my lease?

Your landlord must first give you a written notice. It must say:

  • The date the landlord will terminate your lease.

  • Which parts of the lease you have violated.

  • That your landlord may bring an eviction lawsuit. 

  • You have an opportunity to correct the violation.

Your landlord must serve the eviction notice on you personally. If you are not home, your landlord can leave a copy with any adult answering your door. Otherwise, your landlord can leave the notice under your door or post it. 

If you are not served personally, your landlord must also mail you a copy of the notice. The landlord must also send the RHS a copy of the notice.

What if I get an eviction notice from my landlord?

Read it carefully. Make sure it has all the information listed in the above section. If not, get legal advice right away.

If the notice has the information listed above, ask to see your tenant file. Make copies of any documents related to your eviction. These might include:

  • your lease

  • any occupancy rules

  • written complaints

  • termination notices

  • payment reports

  • inspection reports

  • notes of conversations

  • witness statements

  • police records

You should review and have copies of these if your case goes to court. (See "What Happens if I cannot Work Things Out with My Landlord," below.)

You should try to see if your landlord will talk with you about settling your dispute before filing a lawsuit. It is easier to avoid a court case altogether than to win it once it goes to court. Lawsuits are risky. You should avoid one if possible. Many cases can be settled. To avoid any risk of losing your federal housing subsidy, always try to settle your case, rather than leave the decision to a court commissioner or judge.

Example 1: If you got a termination notice based on the actions of a household member, and the household member will move out, the landlord may agree to let you stay on.

Example 2: If your termination notice is based on nonpayment of rent, and you can pay the rent plus any late and other fees, the landlord agree to let you stay.

You also have the right to file a grievance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Office of Civil Rights if you believe the landlord is discriminating against you because of age, race, color, religion, sex, familial status, disability or national origin.  You can mail your complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Ave. S.W. Washington D.C. 20250-9410.   Remember: a complaint does not stop an eviction action. 

*You do not have the right to file a complaint with the local U.S. Department of Agriculture Office for lease violations that would result in termination of tenancy and eviction.  Talk to a lawyer to see if filing a complaint makes sense in your case.

You should also check whether there is a local Dispute Resolution Center that can help you mediate your dispute with your landlord.

What if I cannot work things out with my landlord?

Your landlord must file a lawsuit and get a court order before evicting you. Without a court order, the landlord does not have the right to:

  • lock you out

  • shut off your utilities

  • forcibly remove you from your apartment

  • take or keep your personal property

If your landlord illegally evicts you from the premises or takes your things, immediately contact your local law enforcement agency and a lawyer.

Often, landlords will delay filing an eviction lawsuit because of the cost. They may also reject your rent in the hope you will move on your own. Do not move without first discussing your rights with a lawyer. If you move, you will lose your federal housing assistance! You should also keep paying your rent, unless you move. If the landlord rejects your rent, set the funds aside to pay your rent at a later date. Do not spend your rent money, except to move.

You will learn that the landlord has started a lawsuit when you are served with a Summons and Complaint for Unlawful Detainer. When that happens, you must act immediately to avoid an eviction. What you must do and the forms you need to avoid an eviction and to defend the lawsuit are in our Eviction and Your Defense publication.

At the very least, you must serve a copy of the Notice of Appearance or Answer on the lawyer representing your landlord by the deadline stated in the Summons. You might also have to:

  • pay your rent to the Court Clerk

  • file other papers

  • appear in court

If you do not respond in writing or follow the other instructions in the Summons and any accompanying orders, you may lose by "default" without a hearing.

In many cases, your landlord may settle the lawsuit if you will sign a written settlement agreement. This agreement should explain what you must do to continue your tenancy. It will usually authorize your landlord to evict you if you violate the settlement agreement. As a condition of settlement, your landlord may also ask you to pay some court costs and attorney's fees. If you can do this to keep your federal housing subsidy, it may be worth it. Do not enter into a settlement agreement you do not understand or cannot obey. A settlement agreement is a binding contract. The court will usually uphold it despite any hardship to you.

Contact your local Dispute Resolution Center, if there is one, to find out if it can help mediate your dispute with your landlord.

If your landlord will not settle, your options are limited. You must defend the lawsuit or move and give up your federal housing assistance. If possible, talk to a lawyer before moving.

What if I lose the lawsuit?

The court will

  • Issue a Writ of Restitution ordering you to move.

  • Enter a judgment against you for unpaid rent, court costs and attorney's fees.

*Your landlord will have at least ten years to try to collect the judgment.

The Sheriff's office will deliver the Writ of Restitution to you personally or post it on your door within one to two days after the court enters the judgment. The Writ will tell you when you must move and the date the sheriff will return. If you are still on the premises when the sheriff returns, the sheriff will supervise the removal of you and your belongings. You may be threatened with an arrest or arrested if you interfere.

What if I need legal help?

CLEAR is Washington's toll-free, centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free legal assistance with civil legal problems. 

  • Outside King County: Call 1-888-201-1014 weekdays from 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. 

  • King County: Call 211 for information and referral to an appropriate legal services provider Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm. You may also call (206) 461-3200, or the toll-free number, 1-877-211-WASH (9274). You can also get information on legal service providers in King County through 211's website at www.resourcehouse.com/win211/.

  • Persons 60 and Over: Persons 60 or over may call CLEAR*Sr at 1-888-387-7111, regardless of income.

Deaf and hard of hearing callers can call 1-800-833-6384 or 711 to be connected to a free relay operator. They will then connect you with 211 or CLEAR.

211 and CLEAR will conference in interpreters when needed at no cost to callers.

 


  

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This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of June 2015.

© 2015 Northwest Justice Project —1-888-201-1014

(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial use only.)

Last Review and Update: Jun 29, 2015