How To Evict A Tenant: The Landlords Guide To Fast Legal Evictions

Landlords must understand how to evict a tenant legally and safely. We take a closer look at the eviction process and what landlords can do to reduce the likelihood of an eviction in their properties.

Evicting a tenant is an arduous and challenging process for both landlords and tenants. However, even if you do everything right, you’ll likely run into an eviction at some point during your landlord career. 

As such, it’s essential that you understand how to evict a tenant legally and safely, and the laws and legal procedures that underpin the eviction process.

In this article, we take a closer look at the step-by-step process, the legal considerations that landlords need to be aware of, and how you can minimize the risk of eviction.

Reasons landlords evict tenants

No landlord wants to have to remove a tenant. As we mentioned above, it’s a stressful and expensive process. However, sometimes there really is no other recourse. Landlords who delay eviction proceedings risk losing significant amounts of cash flow and potentially substantial property damage inflicted by problematic tenants.

Several common reasons landlords initiate evictions include:

  1. Nonpayment of Rent: Probably the most regular reason for landlords evicting a tenant is when tenants fail to pay rent. Any number of reasons could hinder a tenant's ability to fulfill lease obligations. From a change in circumstances to illness. However, whatever the reason, failure to pay rent is a breach of the lease, and should it become routine and eviction may be the only solution.
  2. Illegal Activity: If you discover your tenant is engaged in illegal activities in your property, such as drug sales, prostitution, or operating unapproved businesses warrants eviction, then you have no choice but to pursue an eviction immediately. Allowing such activities breaches the implied warranty of habitability for other tenants, creates neighborhood disturbances, and could see you, as the property owner, implicated in their dealings. In many jurisdictions, landlords can expedite eviction proceedings for criminal activity.
  3. Violation of Lease Provisions: The lease is a legal contract. If the tenant breaches the lease terms, for example, they get an unauthorized pet, sublet, get a roommate without permission, or cause repeated fines from your local HOA, then these are grounds for an eviction. Often these violations are fixable. However, recurrent breaches may necessitate an eviction.
  4. Property Damage: Tenants causing excessive damage beyond normal wear and tear, such as punched walls or broken windows, may face eviction. Security deposits often fall short in covering repair costs, especially when damage impacts property value and poses safety concerns.
  5. "Professional" Tenant: Finally, there are some tenants who never had any intention of paying rent after the initial payment. These tenants exploit knowledge of eviction processes and legal loopholes to live rent-free, often rushing to secure a new residence before prior evictions become public record.

When tenant’s actions jeopardize property integrity or disrupt financial stability, eviction becomes a last resort for landlords to safeguard their investments and uphold their responsibilities.

How to evict a tenant: Overview 

Once you’ve decided that it’s necessary to evict your tenant you must follow the legal procedural steps to initiate and carry out an eviction successfully.

Step 1. Give notice

The first step is to give your tenant a written Notice. This is a warning that is sent before you start an eviction court case. There are different Notices depending on your situation.

Step 2. Start a court case

If your tenant doesn't do what you asked in the Notice by the deadline, you can file forms in court to start an eviction case.

Step 3. Ask for trial date or default judgment

If your tenant files a court form to give their side of the story you can ask for a trial date. If they don't, you can ask the judge to decide without a trial.

Step 4. Go to trial

You will need to prepare the relevant documents and then attend the trial. A judge will then hear both sides and make a final judgment.

Step 5. After the judge decides

If you win your eviction case your tenant will need to move out (and possibly pay you). If you lose your case your tenant can stay.

How to evict a tenant: Detailed guide

Pre-eviction steps

Before you proceed with an eviction you first need to establish that doing so is both legal and necessary. 

Evictions are time-consuming and expensive and you don’t want to be initiating and dragging yourself and your tenants through the process if you don’t absolutely have to - especially if you’re not certain you’ll win the case.

Step 1: Review federal and state laws

The first thing to do is to research the specific regulations governing landlord-tenant relationships in your jurisdiction. These laws can vary significantly by state and even municipality. Review the law around areas including notice periods, eviction procedures, and tenant rights. 

Seeking guidance from legal professionals, such as real estate attorneys specializing in landlord-tenant law, is advisable. 

Step 2: Identify a valid reason for an eviction

Once you’re familiar with the eviction laws in your state and local municipality, you need to review the lease agreement and identify if the lease violations actually justify an eviction. 

Common grounds for eviction, as outlined above, include non-payment of rent, illegal activities, unauthorized occupants or pets, or repeated breaches of lease terms. 

Ensuring that the reason for eviction complies with legal requirements in your jurisdiction is vital to avoid potential challenges during the eviction process. 

Make sure you document lease violations when they happen and keep detailed records, including written communication, photographs, witness statements, and other evidence as these will be required to support your position during legal proceedings.

Step 3: Negotiate with your tenant

If at all possible both parties want to avoid an eviction. For landlords, it’s time-consuming and expensive. For tenants, it adds a layer of uncertainty to their future and will make it harder for them to find a home in the future. 

Initiating discussions with the tenant and seeing if you can resolve the issues without formal eviction could be beneficial for both parties. 

Offering incentives for the tenant to vacate voluntarily, such as providing financial assistance for moving expenses or returning part of their security deposit, can encourage cooperation. Emphasize the potential consequences of eviction, including its impact on their rental history and credit score.

The eviction process

Once you’ve determined that an eviction is necessary and what the process requires, specific to your location, it’s time to begin formal eviction procedures.

Step 4: Serve a formal eviction notice

The type of notice chosen should correspond to the reason for eviction and comply with statutory requirements regarding content, delivery methods, and notice periods. 

There are three different types of eviction notices:

  • A pay or quit notice
  • A cure or quit notice
  • An unconditional quit notice

We go into more detail on these below.

Ensure that the notice is legally sound and that you adhere to legal timelines and procedures around delivery to avoid issues that could invalidate the eviction process.

Step 5: File eviction with the court

The next phase in the eviction process is filing with the court system. This involves presenting evidence of lease violations and proper notice issuance. Evidence may include certified mail receipts or the tenant's signed acknowledgment of receipt. 

Again, requirements during an eviction hearing can vary depending on the state, so make sure you familiarize yourself with local landlord-tenant laws, court procedures, and required documentation. 

Again, it’s recommended that you consult with a licensed legal professional if you have any doubts.

Step 6: Prepare for your hearing

To prepare for your court hearing you need to gather all the relevant documents and evidence to support your case. 

You or your attorney will need to bring the following documents to court:

  • Original signed lease agreement;
  • Payment records, such as a rent roll and bank statements;
  • Copies of correspondence between you and the tenant;
  • Evidence you made a good-faith effort to allow the tenant to cure the violation (if applicable);
  • Evidence of the tenant’s breach of the lease, such as photographs of excessive damage or witness testimony that the tenant is disrupting other occupants’ right of quiet enjoyment; 
  • A copy of the eviction notice and proof of delivery.

You should also have written proof of your efforts to resolve the issue with the tenant before pursuing an eviction, such as records of communication, written agreements, or payment plans. 

Try and anticipate potential defenses or counterclaims from the tenant and prepare responses to address them effectively during the hearing will enhance your chances of success.

Step 7: Carry out the eviction

Generally speaking, if you do everything correctly, follow procedure, and have all the required documentation and evidence, the court will file in your favor. 

At this point, you need to carry out the eviction. The court will most likely give the tenant a period to vacate the property and, with no options left, most tenants will voluntarily vacate at this point. However, not always.

If the tenant still refuses to leave you may need to obtain a writ of possession or similar court order and coordinate with law enforcement to physically remove them from the property. 

Exercising caution and professionalism throughout this process will help minimize conflict and potential liability for wrongful eviction or tenant harassment.

After the eviction

Step 8: Recover damages/ collect owed rent

Once the tenant is evicted you might want to pursue them for any outstanding rent payments, damages to the property, or other financial losses. To do this you’ll need to file a claim in small claims court to seek compensation.

Exploring options for collecting the judgment, such as working with collections agencies or garnishing the tenant's wages, enhances the likelihood of recovering the owed amounts effectively.

Ensuring compliance with legal requirements and tenant rights is essential during every step of the eviction process.

Notices for termination with cause

Once a landlord has established that he has reasonable grounds to evict a tenant they typically utilize one of three types of termination notices

Pay or quit notice

The most common is a "pay rent or quit" notice. This notice is used when a tenant fails to pay the rent in full, as the name suggests. Under most circumstances, this notice specifies a brief window of time (usually between 3 and 5 days) for the tenant to either pay the remaining overdue rent amount or vacate the property. 

You will want to check local state guidelines on when a pay or quit notice can be delivered and how long you must give the tenant.

Cure or quit notice

A "cure or quit" notice is issued following a lease violation, for example, the tenant breaches the no-pets clause or receives numerous noise complaints. Like the pay or quit notice, the tenant is generally offered an option to rectify the issue (eg. get rid of the unauthorized pet) or vacate the premises. 

Unconditional quit notice

An "unconditional quit" notice is the most severe. This notice doesn’t give the tenant any options, they must leave the premises. An unconditional quit notice is generally only allowed under specific circumstances. For example, the tenant has repeatedly and significantly breached the lease terms, has been repeatedly late with rent payments, has caused serious property damage, or are engaged in illegal activities like drug dealing on the premises. 

Failure to comply with any of the above notices will likely lead to the initiation of an eviction lawsuit by the landlord.

Notices for Termination Without Cause

Landlords cannot typically terminate a fixed-term lease early unless there is sufficient cause. In this case they begin by using one of the notices listed above.

However, for month-to-month lease or shorter-term tenancies landlords can terminate the lease without cause as long as they give the tenant a sufficient notice period. These notice periods are stipulated by state law but are usually between 30-60 days to allow the tenant sufficient time to find a new home.

It’s important to note that local rent control ordinances may prohibit a landlord from terminating even a month-to-month lease without cause. Make sure to check local and state laws, especially if there is rent control in your area.

Important: Eviction laws vary by state

We’ve mentioned several times already, but it’s important to stress that eviction laws vary widely from state to state, and sometimes even between individual cities. 

Make sure you read up on your local laws before you begin any procedures as making a mistake at any stage of the eviction process can invalidate your entire case meaning you will need to start the entire process again. 

Resource websites like Landlord Studio’s landlord-tenant laws and offer a wealth of articles and state-specific guides on the topic.

Additionally, finding a qualified attorney who specializes in residential evictions can be an invaluable resource.

Dealing with abandoned property after an eviction

If a tenant leaves some of their possessions behind after an eviction can you as the property owner get rid of it? The answer is generally, no.

While in some states, landlords do indeed have the authority to dispose of abandoned property, such action is only acceptable when it is unmistakably clear that the tenant has permanently vacated with the intent to surrender possession to the landlord. And even then, landlords are often obligated to give the tenant written notice and to store the property safely for a set period of time.

Tips for lowering the eviction rate

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, no one wants to go through an eviction. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for both parties. 

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of an eviction.

The first step is to ensure you have a proper tenant screening process in place to ensure you select a low-risk tenant.

Effective tenant screening will give you a host of valuable information on your tenant, including:

  • Credit history assessment
  • Background checks
  • Rental history verification
  • Social security number (SSN) and identity authentication
  • Multi-state criminal and sex offender screenings

These reports are usually swiftly generated, allowing landlords to review them shortly after the tenant submits an online rental application, and are, in most cases, free for the landlord (costing the tenant a nominal fee). 

The easiest way to run a tenant screening report is with free property management software such as Landlord Studio. Learn more →

Should, even after taking great care in selecting your tenant find that your tenant has still broken the lease terms, don’t jump straight to an eviction unless absolutely necessary. Begin by talking with them. If they were late with the rent find out why, if they got a pet without telling you try writing a pet policy and charging them a pet fee to cover potential damages. More often than not you’ll be able to find a solution that works for everyone. 

If not, providing incentives for your tenant to leave, such as cash for keys, is often faster and more cost-effective than going through an eviction.

Defenses to an eviction a tenant might raise

Should the tenant opt to contest an eviction lawsuit, it could prolong the process by weeks, or even months. 

There are several ways that the tenant may contest an eviction. For example, they may pinpoint errors in the eviction notice or complaint, or challenge the validity of the service (delivery) of the notice documents, aiming to postpone or dismiss the case.

Additionally, there are several scenarios that can diminish the likelihood of a favorable eviction ruling for a landlord. For example, the tenant might be within their rights to withhold rent if landlord has neglected to maintain the rental property in a safe and habitable condition, and if the eviction suit is perceived as retaliatory against the tenant this 

Final words: How to evict a tenant

Evicting a tenant is a thankless, but sometimes inevitable task. To navigate the process successfully it is important to familiarize yourself with local laws and to rigidly follow the legal procedures as outlined by your jurisdiction. 

A big part of this is keeping detailed and organized records and documentation. One way to do this is with tools like Landlord Studio. With Landlord Studio you can store all of your important documents, such as leases and property inspections. 

Additionally, Landlord Studio’s online rent collection feature not only dramatically reduces the chances of late rent with automated late fees and rent reminders, but it automatically tracks all of your income for you in our award-winning rental property income and expense tracker. You can then instantly generate an accurate and up-to-date Rent Roll report when you need it.

By understanding and following best practices and legal requirements, landlords can reduce evictions and when necessary navigate the process safely and efficiently while safeguarding the rights and well-being of all parties involved.

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