The Process of Legally Evicting a Tenant

There are many perks to being a landlord, but there can be challenges as well. Regardless of how well you have screened your applicants, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to evict someone. Here we will discuss the potential reasons for eviction and cover how to evict a tenant, should you need to.

Reasons for Eviction

Of course, it’s best to avoid eviction whenever possible, but the necessity of removing a tenant can arise under several circumstances. Here are some of the main reasons for eviction:

  • Habitual late payments or non-payment of rent
  • Lease violations
  • Destruction of property
  • The tenant has created health or safety hazards
  • Using the property for illegal purposes 
  • The tenant becomes a nuisance to other neighbors

The most common reasons for eviction have to do with non-payment of rent. Not surprisingly, the non-payment of rent has intensified with the high unemployment rates brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has also complicated matters with the enactment of various national and state moratoriums on eviction proceedings. Therefore, it’s best to verify that you are not violating moratorium dates or guidelines when starting an eviction proceeding against a tenant.

Understanding Eviction Laws

No matter how frustrated you may be with your tenant or the situation, remember that it’s never legal to take matters into your own hands. You are not legally allowed to engage in activities that might intimidate or cause harm to the tenant or their property. For example:

  • Changing the locks 
  • Shutting off utilities 
  • Physically trying to remove the tenant
  • Seizing a tenant’s personal property 

If you have a tenant that you need to evict from a rental unit, you must follow local and state laws to be successful.

This process starts with a review of your lease and a thorough understanding of local and state eviction laws. In 1972 the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted and enacted the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (URTLA). At least 26 states have modeled their state rental and eviction laws based on this legislation. 

Your lease should have language in it outlining which situations may result in eviction. If you are unsure whether the lease language reflects state and local laws, you can research it online or consult with a local real estate lawyer.

How to Evict a Tenant: 5 Steps of the Eviction Process

  1. Communicate with Your Tenant

The eviction process can be cumbersome and costly. However, if you are open with your tenant and can negotiate with them to avoid moving forward with eviction, then both of you may come out ahead. 

Contact your tenant to let them know you intend to start eviction proceedings and why. Be clear and direct. Explain to them what the issues are. Inform them that an eviction will negatively impact their credit score and hinder their chances of obtaining housing with another landlord. Ideally, it would be best to either remedy the situation or vacate the premises within a mutually agreeable timeframe. If the tenant refuses to cooperate with you, your next step is to give them a formal eviction notice. 

Eviction Notice Guidelines

Formal eviction notice templates are available online by state, and most are free. You can also create an eviction notice but to do so, make sure that it contains the following information:

  • Clearly explain the reason for the eviction.
  • Include the remedy to avoid eviction (paying past due rent, etc.)
  • If the tenant is behind on rent – include the total amount owed, including any late fees
  • Clearly state the deadline to resolve the issue or vacate the premises.
  1. Providing Notice

It’s essential to provide adequate notice for eviction. The requirements for length of time for the notice differs by the situation and also by state. Make sure that you follow local rental law protocol regarding how much time is required. For instance, in the state of California, 30-days notice is sufficient for a tenant who has occupied a rental property for less than one year, but if the tenant has been there longer, you are required to provide 60-days notice. Here are some tips for how to serve an eviction notice:

  • The most efficient way to serve notice is to deliver it in person.
  • You must also serve the notice by certified mail with a return receipt requested. 
  • Finally, you are required to post the notice on the tenant’s door.

3-Day Cure or Quit Notice 

Most states also allow 3-Day notice for certain lease violations. These are referred to as Cure or Quit notices.

A 3-Day Quit Notice is an eviction form that provides the tenant with the option to pay any past due rent within three days or leave the premises. A 3-Day Cure notice is presented to the tenant if they have done something that violates the lease. An example would be if the lease specifies that the tenant is allowed to have one cat, but they are housing a menagerie of pets.

Both these forms are available online, and they serve as official legal notice that you intend to start eviction proceedings. If the tenant does not respond to a 3-Day notice, then you can move forward with filing the eviction in court.

  1. Filing the Eviction with the Courts

If the tenant is still uncooperative after you have served them the eviction notice, the next step is to file with the courthouse. Each county courthouse will have an eviction pack of forms which you can request from the county clerk. Be sure to bring the certified mail receipt for the eviction notice, so the clerk has verification that you have provided notice to the tenant.

You will have to pay fees when you file eviction forms then the clerk will schedule a hearing date. The court will notify the tenant of the hearing date by issuing a summons to appear in court.

The filing of eviction proceedings is usually done at the district courthouse in the county where the rental property is located. However, if the tenant owes you a large amount of back rent, you may need to file the eviction in a superior court. Each state has its own court system and its determination for dollar amount cut-offs for filing in a district court versus a superior court. 

  1. Gather Documentation for the Court Hearing

The court will require many types of documentation when reviewing your eviction case. Be sure to bring a copy of your lease and a photo ID. Also, provide printed records of all communication between you and the tenant, including texts and emails. Finally, bring bounced checks if necessary to prove that the rent is in arrears. You can also bring photographic evidence of lease violations. You must provide the dated copy of the eviction notice with the dated return receipt when you appear in court as well.

Alternatively, you can hire a real estate lawyer to help with the eviction and appear in court on your behalf. Be prepared to spend the whole day at the courthouse, as you probably won’t be notified ahead of time where your case is on the court’s docket.

  1. Tenant Eviction Outcome

If your court case goes well and the judge rules in your favor, the tenant will be given a small window of time to vacate the premises. This timeframe could range from 48 days to a full week. It varies by jurisdiction and will also be specific to how the judge rules.

How to evict a tenant that won’t leave? You can engage the local Sheriff’s office or a police officer to escort them from the property and put their belongings on the curb.

What about Unpaid Rent?

After the tenant has left the property, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court to collect back rent and any delinquency fees. However, some courts permit you to combine the eviction lawsuit with your small claims case. If you are lucky enough to be able to do so – this will save you the hassle of filing a separate small claims lawsuit. If you are granted a court order with the eviction proceeding, it’s possible to have the tenant’s wages garnished to collect the money that is owed to you.

The Take-Away

This is just a brief overview of how to evict a tenant; as a landlord, it’s your responsibility to familiarize yourself with local landlord-tenant laws and legal eviction proceedings. Even if your screening process is stellar, you may still find yourself with a tenant that needs to go. Before starting the eviction process – talk to your tenant first. Try to work out a remedy for any unpaid rent or lease violations. Good communication is vital.

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