There it is: the dreaded eviction notice, taped not-so-subtly across the front door of your home. Getting an eviction notice may seem like the end of the world at first, but renters do have tenant rights that can help resolve the issue or change the landlord’s decision.

Unfortunately, not every eviction is avoidable: Landlords have rights, too, and obligations to uphold the value of the property and the safety of all other tenants.

Here’s a look at what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to the eviction process.

Lawful reasons for eviction

When you first moved in, you (hopefully) signed a lease agreement with the landlord. At a minimum, the lease should contain the payment terms and effective lease dates. Most likely, it also contains a broad list of prohibited acts that could lead to an eviction, such as:

  • Failure to pay rent on time
  • Criminal activity or drug use
  • Assaulting or threatening other residents
  • Damage to the unit or common areas
  • Failure to abide by property guidelines or restrictions
  • Subletting without written permission
  • Having a pet
  • Exceeding the number of approved tenants
  • Smoking in the unit

Your agreement may also include opportunities to correct the problems if they come up…

… Proper eviction procedures

  • Time. Sticking a note on your door saying “Get Out” does not count as legal eviction protocol. Proper notice must be given, usually 30 or 60 days before the eviction date. In some states, a three-day eviction notice may be allowed if the tenant has committed an egregious act, such as assault or domestic violence, or failed to pay rent.
  • Details. An eviction notice does not always have to state the reason for the eviction, but some cities may require this. The eviction notice must properly identify the tenant, the unit in question, the contact person responsible for the unit — usually the landlord — and that person’s address. If the eviction has to do with non-payment of rent, the notice must include a valid address where rent may be sent.
  • Process. Under the U.S. Constitution, you’re entitled to due process of the law if you lose a fundamental right, including public or private housing. Telling a tenant verbally, giving the message to a mutual friend, or assuming he knows it’s time to leave will not cut it under the law. The tenant must be served the notice in person, sent the notice in the mail, or presented with the notice on the front door of the unit.