How to Respond to a Notice to Vacate or Eviction Notice
NOTE: This article focuses primarily on a notice to vacate situation pertaining to apartments. Additionally, the personal experience cited in this article takes place in Texas. No information in this article should be taken as legal advice or as universally applicable. You may want to consult with a local attorney for your situation.
What to Do if You Get an Eviction Notice
Picture this: You've been living in your apartment for a while now. You've fallen into a nice work-to-home routine and are comfortable enough with calling it your home. Suddenly, for whatever reason, you aren't able to pay your rent. Or, maybe you just forgot—hey, that happens, right? It's just a few days late, you'll just suck it up and pay the late fees. Then, one day, you've arrived at home to find a notice at your door. Is it for you? What does it say?
You open it up and your heart sinks into the pit of your stomach as you read those three words: Notice to Vacate. Or, even scarier: Eviction Notice.
Is this you? Don't panic! This article will hopefully make more sense of your situation for you. Here, find:
- A sample notice to vacate—what it looks like and is it legal?
- What to do when you get a notice to vacate or an eviction notice
- Common questions and concerns that you may have about a notice to vacate
- My own blurb about my personal experience with a notice to vacate
- Important takeaways and things to remember when it comes to a notice to vacate
Steps to Take If You've Received a Notice to Vacate
Simply put, a notice to vacate is a scare tactic in most cases. If you've received one similarly worded to the one I've shared below, then don't panic. Here are some simple, general steps you should take:
- Breathe. Don't panic. It's natural for the worst case scenarios to run through your head when you get a scarily worded notice like this. But, what you don't know can hurt you the most and in the end, it's likely all for nothing. So, trust me on this: don't panic.
- Speak to your building's front desk or administrative office. They're the ones who've sent you this, so any any all questions that you're going to have running through your head should and can be addressed by them. If they're closed and it's after hours like it was in my case, see step number one. Then, in the morning, head over there right away to alleviate those fears.
- Pay your rent. This is crucial. While most of these notices are indeed just warnings, they still set the course for an eviction if you don't pay up eventually. The sooner the better.
Bottom line: You will be fine! More questions and curiosities? See below in this article for a sample notice, common questions and concerns that I'll have fleshed out for you, and reminders of the important takeaways from cases like this.
What a Notice to Vacate Looks Like (in Texas)—and is it Legal?
Notice to what? You may find that an Eviction Notice, or Notice to Vacate (or Notice to Quit, in some areas) may give confusing and contradicting information regarding your future at the dwelling and what options you have (or if you even have them). Below is a copy of the notice I received just six days after my rent was due (including my three day grace period). I've taken the liberty to bold the areas that scared me the most.
NOTE: This is meant to serve as a sample for those of you curious as to what this type of notice reads like. Also, as mentioned, I reside in Texas, so things like "TAA Contract" may not appear in the notice you received.
NOTICE TO VACATE
FOR NON-PAYMENT OF RENT, UTILITIES OR OTHER SUMS
Because you have not paid rent for which you are responsible under the lease on your dwelling unit, your rights of occupancy and possession are hereby terminated under the provisions of your lease. You are still liable for rent and other charges you may owe under the TAA Lease Contract.
Demand for possession is hereby made. You are hereby given notice to vacate the dwelling on or before midnight, the 12th of June 2011, which is at least one day from the delivery of this notice as noted below (four days if the notice was mailed). Your failure to move out then will result in appropriate legal action by us before the Justice of the Peace. Delay or postponement of such action does not waive our rights.
This notice to vacate is unconditional; however, if you wish to discuss possible reinstatement of your rights to continue living in the dwelling, please contact us.
Is a Notice to Vacate Legal?
As if the message itself isn't enough to make your head spin, things like, "Demand for possession," "Vacate the dwelling in three days," and "Unconditional" might be the tipping point and send you into a full-fledged panic mode. This seems like too extreme of a measure to be taken on someone who is just a little late with their rent payment, right? Surely, they can't be serious. Can they even do this?
The fact of the matter is that yes, they absolutely can do this. It is perfectly legal and, perhaps comfortingly, not uncommon. Before you spend hours Googling for an explanation that would offer some reassurance (like I did, which is why I wrote this article for you to find), take a moment to read on. Below are the common questions one asks after receiving this unexpected letter that I will try my best to answer, given what I learned in my experience.
Common Questions and Concerns Regarding a Notice to Vacate
The following is a list of questions, concerns, and confusing issues that I wanted addressed in my personal experience with receiving a notice to vacate. Allow me to save you some time.
The "grace period" only ended a few days ago! I'm not that late!
You're considered "late" as soon as you surpass the due date of your rent payment—this includes the grace period. So, if you consider "late" as something that begins after your penalty-free window of forgiveness ends, think again. You're not a few days late as of the grace period. You're that many days plus however many days of grace you are given. So, if your rent is due on the 1st of every month and you have a three-day grace period, you're still considered five days late if you pay on the 6th.
Isn't an eviction notice a little over-the-top?
An eviction notice most certainly would be a little harsh if a tenant is just a week late. Fortunately for you, this isn't an actual eviction notice. Instead, it is a threat alerting you that proceedings towards eviction have begun or are in motion. However, you have not been evicted, yet. In fact, it is very likely that nothing has even reached a courthouse yet.
Notice to Vacate vs Notice to Quit vs Notice to Pay or Quit vs a 3-Day Notice. What's the difference?
This was easily one of the most confusing things I encountered in my online searches. I would find different definitions for all these classifications. However, they are actually all the same exact thing that have been renamed by whoever issued you the notice. A notice to pay sure does sound a lot more pleasant than notice to vacate, though, doesn't it?
Should I find a new place to live?
Well, that depends. Are you planning on paying the entire amount owed, including all fees incurred up to the day you make the payment? If so, when? The bottom line: You shouldn't begin to really worry until the day and time you've been instructed to vacate has passed. In almost all instances, this seems to be three days from the date of the notice (not the date you received it, if that date is different). This is still a very serious situation, however, and it shouldn't be treated lightly.
My notice says it is "unconditional," yet offers an alternative. Huh?
Usually, a notice that is unconditional is bad news. It means that, even if you pay what you owe, you are not being given a second chance and must comply with the demand given. Confusingly, a notice to vacate always seems to directly follow this with what appears to be contradiction in offering a chance to work things out. How can something claim to be absolute when it offers a possible chance? Well, actually, it's not—you do have options, still. What I discovered in my experience is that the word "unconditional" is, frankly speaking, abused in these notices.
I want to talk to the staff, but they're closed!
Not an uncommon situation, at all and worth placing here for that reason. My notice wasn't discovered until after the front office of my apartment complex had closed for the day. Had they been open, I would have discovered that all my fear and panic had been for nothing. See the next question.
Do I need to get a lawyer?
Not quite yet, if at all. If you just received a notice to vacate and the front office of your apartment complex is still open, stop reading and go talk to them right now. They should be the first people you consult.
My Personal Experience With a Notice to Vacate
By now I hope you are at least somewhat more at ease than you were before reading up to this point. I would now like to share my personal experience with receiving a Notice To Vacate, including the final outcome. Was I actually evicted? Read on.
I was at work—it was a particularly busy day full of stress and angry customers. I felt a headache coming. I wasn't sure what I would cook for dinner that night. Then, as you probably guessed, the phone rang. It was my husband, and he sounded noticeably shaken by something. He explained to me that we had received an "eviction notice" (which later turned out to be untrue, of course), it was unconditional, and we had less than three days to move.
My reaction? I hung up, fuming. My husband and I split the bills down the middle and just realized that my husband, who is notoriously bad at budgeting, had spent all of his "bills money" and in turn wouldn't have it until exactly one week after rent was due. I spent the remainder of work in a state of disbelief, confusion, and guilt (I knew we were going to be a week late, so why hadn't I told the front office in advance?).
Upon returning home that night, things did not improve. I was hoping to read the notice and find something my husband had overlooked. I didn't. My head began swimming with questions—what does this mean? Was I going to have to resign my lease? Pay higher rent? And that was if and only if they chose to reinstate. It was nearly midnight and I had no way of contacting the front office. So, I took to the internet to ease my fears. I found the information that I have shared with you here, but none of that really reassured me that everything was going to be okay.
My husband tried his best to make me feel as though we were exaggerating the situation (this was his attempt to apologize for being late on the payment, I suppose) by citing some information I read online. "They can't issue a notice to vacate without a warning first!" While that was absolutely true, I then pointed out to him that the letter we received a day or two after the grace period ended was the warning. It informed us of our past due balance, including late fees, in the form of a "friendly reminder."
Two sleepless hours later, I made sure my husband went straight to the bank to withdraw the rent money we needed (his check had deposited by that morning). I spent the next hour waiting for him, stewing in anxiety and anticipation as the clock agonizingly ticked slowly. I then decided I needed my fears addressed right then and there—so, I took the notice and went to the front office. What happened next filled me with relief . . . and anger.
"Oh, we send those out to everybody so they'll remember that they need to pay their dues. You aren't being evicted, honey."
I felt as though the world had been lifted off of my shoulders and I was no longer consumed by this piece of paper. At the same time, though, I felt angry, as though I had just been the victim of a cruel joke. Not only had I spent the last twelve hours thinking my home wouldn't be my home anymore, but I also hadn't slept and had to work that day. Needless to say, it wasn't a fun day at work. At least I still had my home, though!
Notice to Vacate Takeaways: Important Things to Remember
As you just read, my experience ended positively. Despite what your intuition tells you, despite what scary things you read online imply, I feel confident in telling anyone who has received a notice to vacate (or one of it's alternatively-titled replicas) that your situation is likely to end the way mine did. It is now obvious that this notice is used as a scare tactic that clearly works.
However, there are still some things to consider if you have received a notice like mine. Keep in mind these very important takeaways:
Rent comes first!
We all have bills to pay, be it our cell phone, electricity, TV, and/or the Internet. But what good are any of those things if you don't have a place to live? I have never been in such a tight bind that I had to choose between paying rent or paying my light bill (and I hope you haven't either), but if push came to shove I would rather have an apartment with no electricity than a receipt for paying for electricity that is used in a place where I have been removed.
Always make a point to put aside your rent money before all else, and remember that payments made within the grace period are still considered late (unless, of course, the office was closed on the due date). Repeated late payments, whether you paid fees are not, might be considered by management when it's time to renew your lease.
Pay before your three days is up.
The date you have been given to vacate on the notice needs to be taken seriously. Remember, though, that even if it's a three day notice, you need to look at the date to vacate instead. This is because sometimes you may not receive this notice until the day before!
This article stresses that your situation can be vindicated just as long as you pay up. Once your vacate date passes, the situation is taken to your local Justice of the Peace with the intent of getting an eviction notice. Typically, you will have around 30 days to actually leave your dwelling. If you refuse, even after finally paying the rent, the police could get involved and you'll find yourself being escorted out.
There's no shame in begging.
Begging makes you feel powerless and takes a toll on your ego, but when it comes to your home, there is no shame. As mentioned earlier, you should always talk to the front office about the situation, especially if you won't be able to pay within those three days. Depending on your history with the apartment complex, your mannerisms, and the mercy of the person in charge, you may be able to have an eviction notice held off for a little longer. There's no guarantee here, but if you're going to be late anyway, you have nothing to lose by asking.
Assuming you have paid your dues and have been informed that you won't be evicted, you should always get a receipt of your payment. The receipt should include the date, time, and amount in which you paid. Additionally, ask for a signed confirmation that all intent to have you evicted has ended. Most apartment complexes have a form they'll give you upon request that say just that. Make sure that's signed, too. Chances are you wont need any of this, but in the unlikely event that you are given an eviction notice after paying the rent, these will be invaluable for legal purposes.
Conclusion: Learn From Your Mistakes
Chances are, you won't find yourself in a court room or being escorted out of your home. A notice to vacate is simply a statement of intent. So, pay the balance in full, get proof of payment as well as proof that your lease is no longer in danger, apologize until your face turns blue, and don't let it happen again. It might feel like you're the only person this is happening to at your complex, but your complex probably sends out dozens of these things every year.
If nothing else has eased your mind in this article, consider the following:
When an apartment complex evicts someone, they have to spend a lot of cash to not only cover their court costs, but also renovate the dwelling you would have vacated. Not to mention, there's the overall hassle of having to find a new occupant. When an apartment complex sends a notice to vacate, the resident usually pays the dues and that's that. They've made money instead of lost it, and none of the aforementioned hassle is necessary.
Moral of the story? Breathe, don't panic, and pay your rent.