Eviction Laws Across the States
State statutes and policies govern civil legal processes related to eviction. At a high-level, state eviction proceedings operate similarly across the states and have many common components, but they often differ in nuance, level of protection and applicability. Common elements include caps on late fees, waiting periods, justifications for eviction, protected classes, eviction notices and eviction summons. The duration of a waiting period, content requirements for eviction notices and eviction summons, right to counsel and eviction diversion and mediation programs vary by state.
Pre-Eviction Notices and Protections
Evictions occur for a variety of reasons, including nonpayment of rent, material breach of a lease agreement or a tenant’s participation in criminal activity on the premises. This report considers two broad categories of evictions: nonpayment of rent and reasons other than nonpayment.
Eviction proceedings formally begin when a landlord files for eviction. The policies that provide rights and protections for tenants prior to a formal eviction filing can determine whether a tenant becomes involved in an eviction process. Recognizing the importance of such protections, 32 states and 92 localities have enacted more than 200 new tenant protections since January 2021.
Regulation of Late Fees
Take regulation of late fees on past due rent as an example of tenant protections. Unregulated late fees can lead to a tenant being asked to pay substantially more than their past due rent to remain in their home. Regulations of this type vary by state. Nevada law caps late fees at 5% of the rent with a required three-day grace period before late fees can accrue. Tennessee has a 10% cap with a five-day grace period. Washington statute has no cap but, like Tennessee, requires a five-day grace period. Some states have no statutory caps on late fees.
Notice requirements generally require a landlord to give a tenant notice prior to taking action, such as increasing the amount of rent or filing an eviction notice. Those that require landlords to give notice prior to increasing a tenant’s rent provide the tenant(s) with time to evaluate and either absorb the increase or prepare to leave. This type of policy can also help prevent curable evictions, meaning those that can be resolved before commencing or removal. For example, a tenant who is late on rent but can gather the funds to become current prior to removal would qualify as curable since the dispute has the potential to be fully resolved without a resulting eviction. Indiana and Washington both require 30 days, while Nevada requires 60 days. Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee are among the states that do not require notice prior to an increase in rent.
Content and Timing of Notices
State statute can also regulate the contents and timing of an eviction notice. Most states require the reason for eviction to be included in an eviction notice. In some states, however, that is the only information that is required. Nevada and Washington statute go further and require how to cure or take remedial action to prevent the eviction, the consequences for failing to cure or take remedial action and a list of the tenant’s rights. Washington statute also requires that eviction notices include information on how tenants can access legal services.
Most of the six sample states have some time requirement between when notice is given and when formal eviction may be filed for nonpayment-related evictions, generally ranging from 7 to 14 days. Michigan and Nevada statute both grant tenants seven days to pay past due rent before a formal eviction for nonpayment may be filed, while Indiana statute allows 10 days. Tennessee and Washington statute allow 14 days. Georgia has no minimum and gives greater flexibility to landlords.
In addition, some states allow landlords to include in a tenant’s lease agreement a provision waiving a tenant’s right (and a landlord’s duty) to send an eviction notice prior to formal filing. Among the sample states, Michigan, Nevada and Washington prohibit this practice. Indiana statute explicitly allows the practice, whereas Tennessee allows it only for nonpayment-related evictions.
Pending Eviction Proceedings
After a tenant has been notified that an eviction may be forthcoming and the dispute has not been timely remedied, a landlord may file for eviction and jump-start formal eviction proceedings. This stage of eviction takes place primarily in the state’s civil court system.
After an eviction notice is given and a breach is not cured, a landlord may formally file for eviction. To give notice and formally file, a landlord must have lawful justification to evict a tenant. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and all five territories identify in statute at least some reasons for which a tenant can be evicted. In all six sample states, the common justifications are nonpayment of rent, material breach of the lease agreement and criminal activity on the premises. Other common justifications include damage to the property, waste, nuisance and a breach of the statutory duties of the tenant, if such exists.
All states also cite in statute reasons for which a landlord may never evict a tenant. These are also known as “protected classes” and include vulnerable groups protected under federal law. For example, every state prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, national origin and status as a victim of domestic violence. Many states go further and protect additional classes. For example, Washington also protects tenants from being evicted on the basis of sexual orientation, creed, citizenship or immigration status, honorably discharged veteran or military status, the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability and the use of a trained guide dog or service animal.
In addition to sufficient justification to evict, landlords typically must pay an eviction filing fee. Such requirements are sometimes spelled out in statute, and in other cases, implemented through court rule. Michigan, Nevada and Washington statutes specify eviction filing fees ranging from $45 to $56. Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee are among the states that do not have statutes governing eviction filing fees.
After a landlord formally files for eviction—in every state, D.C. and all five territories—courts require the tenant be sent an eviction summons requiring the tenant to appear in court for the first legal proceeding. In some states, including Georgia, Indiana, Nevada and Washington, a tenant’s failure to respond to an eviction summons can or will result in a default judgment in favor of the landlord. This means the landlord is granted the authority to evict the tenant even if the law is on the tenant’s side.
All six sample states require an eviction summons to include instructions for how a tenant can respond to the summons. Some states go much further and require that information such as a tenant’s rights in the proceeding (e.g., Indiana and Michigan), the consequences for failing to comply with the summons (e.g., Indiana, Michigan, Nevada and Washington) and legal aid information (e.g., Washington and Michigan) be included.
Right to Counsel
Washington statute also grants low-income tenants a right to counsel in eviction proceedings to ensure that tenants facing eviction have access to all the information and counsel needed to legally defend themselves. This can be particularly impactful in eviction scenarios where a landlord has robust legal counsel and the tenant must represent themselves.
Appealing an Eviction
While everyone has the right to appeal a judgment against them in any legal proceeding, including evictions, some states require a tenant who has had an eviction judgment entered against them to pay a bond to appeal the judgment and/or prevent the execution of the eviction while the appeal is pending. Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Washington require tenants to pay a bond to appeal an eviction judgment in favor of their landlord. Georgia and Nevada require a bond to delay an eviction during the appeal.
After an eviction order is issued and the appeals process has been exhausted, the order must be executed by the responsible entity, often a sheriff’s office. Most states require a waiting period between issue and execution to give tenants time to prepare and leave the premises. Among the sample states, Georgia requires a minimum waiting period of seven days, Washington requires five days, Indiana requires two days and Nevada requires one day. Michigan and Tennessee statute allow an eviction order to be executed immediately with no required waiting period.
Opportunities to Cure
Some states allow the payment of back rent to cancel an order for eviction prior to execution. Among the sample states, Michigan allows partial past due rent to cancel an order, while Nevada requires all past due rent to be paid. Washington requires all past due rent to be paid unless a written agreement between the landlord and tenant authorizes a partial payment to do so.
Diversion and Mediation
States also can implement programs that divert evictions out of the court process and resolve the dispute without evicting the tenant from their home. Diversion programs help tenants by keeping their housing situation stable. They also help landlords by ensuring they receive the rent they are owed and by avoiding the cost of tenant turnover. Washington and Nevada both have statutory eviction mediation programs. Nevada’s mediation program is voluntary. Washington has both a voluntary third-party mediation option and an Eviction Resolution Pilot Program that is mandatory for nonpayment of rent cases.
Post-Eviction Issues and Opportunities
Regulating eviction records are the primary opportunity legislatures have to mitigate the residual harm to individuals and families after their eviction proceeding has ended.
Evictions can remain on tenants’ record for years, even if the eviction was unlawful, dismissed or the judgment was ultimately in the tenant’s favor. Eviction records can make it difficult for a tenant who has experienced eviction to find a new rental home. To help prevent housing instability following an eviction, Indiana, Nevada and Washington have laws requiring the sealing of eviction records in certain situations. Michigan, Georgia and Tennessee are among the states that do not have statutes governing access to eviction records.
Under Indiana statute, a court is required to suppress an eviction record if a tenant requests that the record be sealed and the case was either dismissed or the judgment was in the tenant's favor. Under Nevada statute, if the landlord fails to file a timely affidavit of complaint, a court is required to automatically seal summary eviction records upon either a court order dismissing the action, 10 judicial days after the court issues an order denying the action or 31 days after a tenant files an affidavit. While under Washington statute, a court may order "limited dissemination" of an eviction record if it finds that the case was sufficiently without basis, the tenancy was reinstated or other good cause exists. When an order for limited dissemination is entered, a tenant screening service is prohibited from disclosing the eviction or using the eviction as a factor in determining any score or recommendation included in a tenant screening report.
Civil legal processes related to eviction are primarily governed by state statute. As such, state legislatures have the opportunity and authority to rethink these processes for the benefit of the tenants navigating them. State legislators have an array of policy options available to improve these proceedings for individuals and families before, during and after they become formally involved in civil eviction processes.
From NCSL’s review of statutes in six diverse states, the core challenge to increasing tenant or family friendliness within eviction processes is the complexity of the laws that govern them. Unnecessarily complex laws and processes often prevent tenants from effectively defending themselves. The percentage of tenants who do not respond to an eviction complaint or appear in court hovers near 50% in most cities, and is as high as 79% in some. Further, the financial barriers experienced by low- to moderate-income tenants can prevent them from obtaining the legal counsel necessary to gain a sufficient understanding and mount an adequate defense. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, only 3% of tenants facing eviction are able to obtain legal representation, while 81% of landlords do.
For any of the policy options highlighted in this report to have their intended effect, they must be practical and achievable for tenants. For example, regulations addressing late fees must provide actual financial relief for tenants, and grace periods must be sufficiently long to make a material difference in tenants’ ability to catch up on rent payments.
Additionally, eviction policies need not be a zero-sum game—meaning not all policy options benefiting tenants are necessarily detrimental to landlords. Ideally, landlords would receive the rent they are owed and avoid tenant turnover costs, while tenants remain in their homes, avoid moving costs steer and clear of an eviction on their record.
Key Findings: Before Court Involvement
- Decreasing evictions can benefit tenants and landlords alike. Optimal policies help tenants remain in their homes and avoid court costs, while also ensuring landlords receive the rent they are owed and can avoid litigation and tenant-turnover costs.
- Implementing new or strengthening existing tenant rights and protections can help financially strapped tenants avoid additional monetary costs and reduce the risk of prolonged nonpayment that results in eviction.
- States have options to help landlords and tenants avoid formal eviction proceedings. Examples include requiring meaningful but fair minimum waiting periods before late fees can accrue, between when the rent becomes due and when an eviction notice is given and between when an eviction notice is given and when a landlord can formally file for eviction.
Key Findings: During Court Involvement
- Complex policies and processes make it difficult for tenants involved in an eviction to successfully defend themselves without legal counsel.
- Procedural complexity, by design or accident, almost always favors landlords over tenants. A low-income tenant without the resources to hire a lawyer is at a severe disadvantage against a landlord with an attorney.
- State legislatures have the authority to enact policies that provide low- to moderate-income tenants facing eviction with the civil legal counsel necessary to help them navigate complex legal proceedings and adequately defend themselves.
- Eviction diversion, mediation and resolution programs divert cases out of the court system and resolve nonpayment disputes through mutual agreement and without evicting the tenant from their home.
- States have options to help tenants cure nonpayment and prevent eviction after they have become involved in the court process. Examples include grace periods, opportunities to cure post-eviction filing and eviction mediation or diversion programs. These policies can benefit both landlords and tenants by ensuring landlords receive past due rent, allowing tenants to remain in their homes and reducing legal costs for both parties.
Key Findings: After Court Involvement
- Tenants who have experienced eviction often face significant hurdles finding a new home because eviction judgments can stay on their records for years.
- Policies that expunge or limit access to eviction records can reduce the long-term effects of eviction and promote housing stability among vulnerable populations.