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Know your property rights after an eviction

There's nothing like an eviction to put a landlord and a commercial tenant at odds and civility out the window. The reality is that anyone running a business can face financial problems that can end up in an eviction. It's just one of the hazards of life for landlords.

Unfortunately, not all landlords are that philosophic about the issue. Some take it very personally when a commercial tenant falls behind on the rent -- as if the tenant wants to withhold payment. That causes them to cross the line and do things that violate their tenant's rights.

If you're a commercial tenant and you're facing an eviction, you need to know your rights before you can assert them. Even though you can't pay the rent, you aren't entirely without legal protections:

1. You can't be forced off the property until the eviction is final. Only once you've been ordered to quit the premises by the court can the eviction proceed.

2. Your landlord does not have the right to bar your access to the building -- even if you have closed up shop to the public -- until the eviction is final. That prevents a landlord from changing the locks to keep you from removing your property from the building.

3. If you do leave behind your property, the landlord has the right to remove it from the building. That's the only way that he or she can get the property ready for the next tenant.

That does not mean, however, that the landlord has the right to destroy your property. You have to be given sufficient time to claim what's yours. The acceptable time frame varies from location to location, so you may need professional advice if it is going to take you more than a few days.

4. Your landlord doesn't have the automatic right to sell or keep your property. That's important to know if you're leaving behind valuable equipment, display cases or inventory. If the landlord gets a lien against your property to repay the rent, that can change -- so retrieve what's yours as quickly as possible.

If your rights as a tenant are violated, you can take legal action -- and the law will be on your side despite the eviction.

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