Can Extreme Hardship Stop an Eviction?

There’s the law; and then there is fairness; often the two work in parallel, but not always. One area where, arguably, they do not is in the situation where a tenant is experiencing extreme hardship and, to make matters worse, is now also facing eviction. As a general matter, a landlord does NOT need to take the extreme hardship of a tenant into account in filing for eviction; and the courts will also not consider it in determining whether or not (or when) to grant eviction. If a tenant does not or will not pay rent, or has otherwise breached the lease in some material (i.e. significant) way, the landlord may evict him or her regardless of his or her circumstances. The law is very clear on this matter. In terms of fairness, a good argument can be made that it would not be fair to require the landlord to subsidize someone else’s living arrangements, which is what it would amount to if a tenant were permitted to remain rent free.

That’s the general rule. Certain states or municipalities might have laws that do limit the landlord’s ability to evict under certain circumstances. If faced with eviction, a tenant should consult with an attorney to see what rights or recourse he or she may have; if the tenant can’t afford an attorney, he or she should try the state legal aid office or possibly a law school—some have clinics that provide housing law help.

Other things to try:

First, eviction is very “technical” in the sense that if the rules and procedures are not followed properly, it will not be ordered. The landlord can always try again later, but if he or she did something wrong when they sought eviction (such as not providing enough notice; not providing the right kind of notice; or not serving the notice on the tenant properly), the tenant may at least be able to delay matters and force the landlord to re-file.

Second, there are a number of charities and organizations that help tenants in financial distress. Often the held is just with a month or two of rent, but that can at least buy the tenant more time. A tenant who can’t make his or her rent should talk to these organizations, and legal aid attorneys will often be able to refer tenants to one or more of them.

Third, there are some government housing subsidies or support available for low-income renters. A tenant having financial difficulty should contact the city or state department of housing to see if he or she qualifies for any such subsidies or assistance.