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eviction notice

How to Evict a Tenant

[Updated: Dec 11, 2020] Jan 15, 2020 by Maurie Backman
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Chances are, you vetted your tenants carefully before agreeing to rent to them. But if you still find yourself stuck with a tenant who won't pay the rent or abide by his or her lease agreement, then you may be wondering how to evict that tenant. Here, we'll walk you through the process so you know what rights you have as a landlord.

Why you may need to evict a tenant

There are a few different reasons why you may be researching how to evict a tenant. You may be looking at eviction if your tenant:

  • Fails to pay rent
  • Expressly violates your lease agreement, such as by having a pet when that document forbids it
  • Engages in illegal activities inside your rental unit
  • Disturbs your other tenants

It's important to go through the eviction process carefully to ensure that you're successful in your attempts to get your tenant to vacate your property. One thing you should know is that landlord and tenant laws vary from state to state, and so the specifics of the eviction process could hinge on where you live. But here's how it basically works.

Step one: Submit your formal eviction notice to your tenant

To start the process of evicting a tenant, you'll need to provide that tenant will a written notice to vacate. That notice should be hand-delivered to your tenant or posted on his or her front door.

As the name implies, this notice informs your tenant that he or she is to vacate the property within a specific amount of time and explains why. Generally, your lease agreement will indicate how much time your tenant gets to vacate once he or she is served with such a notice.

That said, depending on where you live, you may not be able to instantly demand that your tenant vacate. In some states, landlords are required to give tenants a chance to fix the problem at hand before the eviction process moves forward. For example, if the issue is late rent, you may be required to give your tenant time to pay his or her overdue rent or move out. And if the tenant has violated your lease, you may need to give him or her time to correct the problem (such as by finding a new home for a pet that can't live in your rental unit and repairing any damage that pet caused).

If your state doesn't require you to give your tenant a chance to correct the problem at hand, then you can simply provide a timeframe in which he or she is to vacate the property. If they leave, great! We're done here. If your tenant doesn't do that, then you move on to the next step.

Step two: File your eviction in court

If your tenant doesn't correct the problem that prompts your notice to vacate, or doesn't vacate your property as per that notice, then your next step is to go to court. First, you'll need to file an eviction officially. You'll pay a fee, the exact amount of which will depend on the state you’re filing in, and you'll be given a court date for a hearing. The court will take care of notifying your tenant of his or her eviction hearing, so that's one step you won't have to take. All told, you should expect to spend between $50 and $200 to evict a tenant when you factor in the cost of filing an eviction in court and having the court serve your tenant with proper notices.

Step three: Prepare for your hearing

Once you realize you have no choice but to go to court, you'll want to make as clear a case as possible for that eviction. To this end, you'll need to gather any legal documents or evidence in support of it. These could include:

  • Your lease agreement
  • Evidence of your tenant's violation of your lease agreement (for example, photos of your tenant leaving your property with a dog when your lease prohibits animals)
  • Copies of bounced rent checks

Step four: Make your case at your hearing

On the day of your eviction hearing, you'll get an opportunity to make your case -- as will your tenant. Keep in mind that you can choose to represent yourself during those eviction proceedings or you can hire an attorney specializing in real estate law to argue on your behalf. The upside of going this route is having a professional in your corner who knows what to say in front of a judge. The downside, of course, is cost. If you have plenty of documentation in support of evicting your tenant, then you may not need a lawyer for your court hearing.

Step five: Remove the tenant from your property

If all goes well during your eviction hearing, the judge will side in your favor and you'll be able to move forward with the eviction process. At that point, your tenant will be given a set number of days to vacate your property. That timeframe could be as little as 48 hours, depending on where you live.

If that timeframe expires and your tenant still hasn't vacated, you'll then need to enlist the help of someone from your local sheriff's department or law enforcement agency to physically escort the tenant off your property and remove his or her possessions. Do not attempt to remove the tenant yourself. If you don't go through the proper channels, there could be negative legal ramifications for you.

After the eviction process

Once your tenant is removed, along with his or her belongings, be sure to take photos of your property to check for damage, as you'll have the option to sue your tenant for the cost of repairs in civil court after his or her eviction is complete. It's a good idea to change the locks on your property, too, so your recently removed tenant can't easily attempt to get back in. You can also file a lawsuit against that tenant for property damage his or her security deposit won't cover.

If you're owed past rent, and the security deposit you have in hand doesn't cover it, then a civil lawsuit is your best bet. If you win that case, your tenant will be forced to either repay you or have a portion of his or her wages garnished and sent directly to you until you're made whole.

Avoiding the eviction process

Avoiding the legal and logistical headache that is the eviction process isn't always possible. But sometimes, it is. If a tenant isn't keeping up with his or her rent or has violated your lease agreement, you can try negotiating before going through the formal legal process. Tell your tenant that things aren't working out, and offer a reasonable timeframe for vacating -- say, 60 days. You might also agree to forgo past due rent in exchange for your tenant's immediate cooperation.

Of course, the best way to avoid finding yourself in an eviction situation is to vet each tenant you rent to thoroughly. But don't just check your tenants' credit scores and incomes. Jobs can be lost and good financial behaviors can falter over time. Get reference letters from previous landlords who can vouch for those applying to live in your rental units. And if you're dealing with a first-time renter, ask for letters from those who can speak to his or her character -- managers at work are generally a good fit.

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