can you evict a tenant without a lease

Updated September 2021

The real estate world creates a lot of unique challenges that can be difficult to address without previous experience. From intricate tax rules to changing rental laws, it’s hard to know how to handle new situations.

One complex question that many landlords have is: Can you evict a tenant without a lease?

Some landlords never have to encounter a tenant-without-contract situation. However, in some unique circumstances, you may end up with a tenant staying on your property without a lease.

Would you know what to do to remove a tenant without a lease if you had to?

The rules on how to go about evicting this type of tenant vary based on how this situation developed, and you will want to make sure you don’t break any laws while attempting to evict someone without a rental agreement. It’s key to address this issue quickly so that you don’t lose more time or money than absolutely necessary.

Today’s RentPrep guide covers various situations that you may have to deal with on your properties. Can you evict someone without a lease? Learn how to do this effectively today!

A Table Of Contents For Removing A Tenant Without A Lease

Doing a no-lease eviction has a lot of similarities to other evictions, but there are many aspects that you should pay extra close attention to. Ensure that you don’t slip up along the way by following this guide:

Can You Evict A Tenant Without A Lease?

Can You Evict A Tenant Without A Lease?

Even when there is no written lease in play, the law in most areas considers you and your “tenant” to have an oral agreement. Most places default this type of agreement as a month-to-month lease. This means that the tenant or the landlord can end the lease, with notice, at the end of any month. This can be done with or without a specified reason.

Thus, it is possible to evict someone even if there is no lease in play. A lack of a written lease does not mean that a tenant or occupant has indefinite permission to occupy your property. The property is still owned by you, and you still have rights in terms of how it is being used and occupied.

Typically, landlords need to provide notice in order to end the lease. This is not technically an eviction, but it can be progressed to an eviction if the tenant chooses not to leave after receiving this notice. To officially evict someone, the landlord will need to go through an eviction hearing in the local court jurisdiction if the tenant fails to comply.

Remember: All Regulations Must Be Followed

Many landlords feel that the law isn’t on their side when it comes to rental-related regulations.

The fact of the matter is, there are laws that both limit and benefit both sides of the rental situation, and the key to profiting despite those laws is to be familiar with them.

If you break the law, you can lose some rights related to your properties, receive a fine, or even be jailed. No landlord should ever end up in that type of situation, and you can avoid it by studying up on how to appropriately handle tricky situations like no-lease evictions.

Today, let’s cover the best ways to avoid these punishments by talking about what are lawful and unlawful reasons for eviction. The reasons covered below are relatively broad and may include situations where the tenant does have a contract.

Lawful Reasons For Eviction

Whether dealing with a no-lease eviction or a standard eviction, there are a limited number of legal reasons that you can end a tenancy period early. Each of these reasons warrants you sending the tenant notice to move out or to fix the problem immediately. If they do not comply, you can move forward with an eviction case.

The following are legal reasons for ending a tenancy early:

  • Illicit drug use
  • Property damage
  • Breaking any contract terms or agreements
  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Skipping required utility payments
  • Unauthorized pets
  • Health & safety violations
  • Removing property from the rental market
  • Owner moving into the property

The exact amount of notice required for any of these reasons varies, so make sure you look up your local and state laws to find out how to handle your exact situation before proceeding.

Unlawful Reasons For Eviction

Just as there are some legal reasons for eviction, there are also several reasons that you cannot use to justify asking a tenant to leave your property. Most of these reasons have to do with violating the Fair Housing Act and asking the tenant to leave over a protected class issue.

If your reason for eviction is on this list, it is essential that you do not move forward with an eviction. Instead, send out a standard notice to end the contract (oral or written) at the end of the applicable tenancy period. You cannot terminate early for these reasons:

  • Discrimination (racial, religious, familial, disability, or otherwise)
  • Retaliation for complaints or suits made by tenants
  • Withholding rent until the health issue is resolved
  • Landlord tries to evict tenant themselves without court order (a.k.a. self-eviction)

If you are trying to evict a tenant due to one of the reasons listed above, you must take some time to learn about being a landlord in a way that respects your tenant’s rights and identity. Violating your tenant’s personal beliefs, liberties, and rights can lead to big problems, fines, and even jail time, so you should adjust your practices quickly.

How Do I Evict A Tenant Without A Rental Agreement?

Now that you know a bit more about what you can and cannot evict a tenant for, this still does not answer this simple question: Can you evict a tenant without a lease?

You can, but the specifics of handling a no-lease eviction can be muddy since this is not a super common situation. Let’s walk through the general steps of this process before getting into specific examples.

General Step-By-Step Process For No-Lease Evictions

Step 1: Send A Notice To Quit.

You must send out a written notice asking the tenant to leave the property before you can consider filing for eviction. This is known as a notice to quit, and it should detail when and why the tenant needs to leave the property. The amount of time the tenant has to leave will vary depending on the state and situation.

Step 2: File For An Eviction Hearing

If the tenant does not leave the property by the specified date, it’s time to file for an eviction hearing. You can do this at your local courthouse. Some jurisdictions allow you to file and submit evidence online as well.

Once the court reviews your filing, they will schedule a hearing date and send notice to both you and the tenant. At the hearing, you will need to explain the no-lease situation, when you sent notice, and why the tenant should leave the rental property. The tenant will have a chance to explain why they deserve to stay.

At the end of the hearing, the judge will decide what happens next. If either party does not show up, the case is typically decided in favor of the party that does appear. If the judge agrees with your evidence, you will receive a judgment that can be used to ensure an eviction occurs.

Step 3: Authority Eviction

Once you’ve won your case, that does not mean you can simply show up and force the tenant to vacate. Instead, take your judgment to your local sheriff. They will then execute the eviction, and you can regain control of your property.

Evicting A Tenant You Inherit

One of the most common ways to end up with a tenant you did not choose or make a contract with directly is when you take over a property.

Whether you buy a property that is already being rented or you inherit a rental property, you now have a tenant you did not contract with.

Ideally, you would have received a copy of the existing lease agreement when buying the property. You should negotiate to have this, and you can find out during the buying process if this is a no-lease situation. If so, you may still end up with a tenant who does not have a written lease agreement in play.

In most cases, you can give these tenants a notice to quit. The period of this type of eviction is usually much longer than other eviction cases because the tenant did have a valid contract with the previous owner.

If you did not negotiate moving terms with the tenant before acquiring the property, you would need to follow these steps:

  1. Give the tenants an official notice to quit with the proper waiting period.
  2. If the tenants do not want to move, you would need to file for eviction with the court.
  3. Prepare documents explaining that you did not plan to keep the tenants when acquiring the property or why it is necessary for the tenants to leave before their original contracted period ends.
  4. If the court sides with you, take the court order to the local authorities to have the eviction carried out.
  5. Never try to remove a tenant yourself.

Often, tenants will be permitted to stay at the property until their original oral agreement runs out. While this can be frustrating for you as the new property owner, it is fair to the tenants. For that reason, it is key to research and review the existing arrangements before you purchase a property, so that you do not end up in a no-lease situation.

No-Lease Eviction Of Squatters

Another type of tenant without a lease who you might be trying to evict is a squatter. A squatter may be someone you previously rented your property to, and they then stayed after their rental contract ended. Or, they may be someone who moved onto your property without permission.

Evicting squatters is very similar to evicting renters. Even though it might be tempting to force the people off of your property, doing so could put you at risk of legal trouble.

To evict a squatter, you still need to give them notice that you will be filing a suit for eviction. Every state and area has different rules about how long before you file a suit you must give a notice to quit or a notice of eviction, so you will want to check these regulations.

Once you have given enough warning, you can file a suit for eviction. If the court sides with you that the squatter should be removed, you can use the court order to have them removed from your property by the authorities.

Many new landlords are surprised that the process used to handle squatters differs so little from how tenants are handled. Ultimately, however, people have rights that cannot be violated even if they are technically trespassing. It will be up to the court and authorities to assign any such charges, and you as an individual should not try to enforce anything without that type of support.

Tenancy-At-Will Eviction Without A Lease

Are you stuck wondering, how do I evict a tenant without a lease who I originally allowed to be there?

This type of tenant is called a tenant-at-will. In tenancy-at-will situations, a verbal or written agreement has been made between you and a tenant. This sets up a month-to-month tenancy that can be terminated by either the tenant or the landlord with a 30-day notice.

Doing an eviction without a lease requires that you give the appropriate notice for your state. While we are using 30 days as the standard since this is the case in many states, some states or localities might default to a different notice period for tenancy-at-will situations. Be sure to double-check your local requirements.

To evict this type of tenant, you need to give the tenant a minimum of 30 days’ notice to leave the property. Because there is no long-term lease agreement, this is the extent of notice that you need to give to a tenant-at-will.

One exception to this is during nonpayment of rent situations. In this case, many states allow you to only give a 14-day notice to quit to any tenant-at-will who is not paying the rent as agreed. Since they are not meeting their part of the agreement, the process is faster.

Another interesting fact about tenant-at-will situations is that you do not need to give any reason in the notice to quit, other than your desire for the tenancy to end. Because there is no lease or contract involved, all the tenant needs to receive is notice that they will have to move.

How To Evict Someone From Your House Without A Lease

Another question that some accidental or less official landlords have is how to evict someone from your house without a lease. For example, parents that allow their adult child to live with them may, unfortunately, need to ask their child to leave, but the individual might feel like they have a right to live there.

Evicting someone in this situation can feel totally different from other situations, but the particulars are very similar. The individual can be considered a tenant or occupant, and the owners are considered to be the landlords. Then, the owners will need to send out a notice to quit and follow the proper eviction proceedings if the individual does not comply.

Evicting someone you live with can be complicated, but the property owner has rights that allow you to do this. Keep that in mind, and move forward to regain control of your living situation.

Fact Check: What Is A Notice To Quit?

All of these eviction techniques require that you send a notice to quit to a tenant. When it comes to tenants who do not have a lease, using a notice to quit is all but required to remove someone from your property.

What exactly is a notice to quit, and how do you put one together?

A notice to quit is an official way of letting someone know by what date they must leave a property. This type of notice is used both in cases where no lease applies and in situations where there is a lease. The exact terminology may differ, but the idea of the notice is the same.

If a tenant overstays their lease period, the lease end is usually enough to be considered a notice to quit, but it may be beneficial to give another notice to quit.

In the notice, the following information should be included:

  • The property address and any lease period information
  • The tenant name and contact information
  • The landlord name and contact information
  • Why the notice to quit is being sent out (lease over, agreement violation, nonpayment of rent, etc.)
  • By when the tenant must leave
  • Who the tenant can contact with any questions

Remember that your notice to quit paperwork is only valid in court cases if the paperwork can be confirmed as received by the tenant. If mailed, it’s best to send these papers by certified mail to ensure you have proof that you gave the tenant proper notice. Sending the notice by certified mail ensures that you have this proof.

A Bonus Option: Cash For Keys

A Bonus Option: Cash For Keys

Most landlords like yourself have likely noticed throughout this guide that going through the eviction process is complicated and, at times, grueling. Not every landlord will want to deal with this process, and some may even be willing to lose money to avoid eviction procedures.

Instead of losing money or getting stuck in the eviction court system, some landlords offer cash for keys to the tenants in residence.

In the cash for keys method, a landlord pays a flat fee to the tenant in exchange for their keys. Often, tenants who do not want to leave the property can be enticed to make a faster exit with this method. While you cannot force them to take this option, it is often cheaper than going through the entire eviction process, so it is worth asking.

If you believe that going through the eviction process would be slow or frustrating for you, consider whether the cash for keys method could help speed up the resolution of the problem on your property.

Eviction without a lease is a situation that landlords never want to end up in. While cash for keys can speed up the process, the best way to avoid eviction is to make sure you always have a lease in place and screen all tenants before signing an agreement with them.

High-quality tenant screening, such as the services provided here at RentPrep, is a fantastic way to find the right tenants for your property. By ensuring that their background check, income verification, and other information gathered on the rental application fits your requirements, you can reduce your risk of ending up in a difficult eviction situation.

Try RentPrep’s tenant screening today!

FAQs: How To Evict Someone Who Is Not On The Lease

Can you evict someone without a lease in my state?

Every state has procedures for how to do a no-lease eviction, but the exact policies can vary from state to state. The general process usually looks very similar. Even though you do not have a written lease, your state law will consider that you have an oral agreement.

From there, you can proceed with your notice to leave the property and subsequent eviction filing if the occupant is not willing to comply with your terms.

It’s scary to consider that someone is living in your property without your permission, but remember that you have options. Consult a local real estate lawyer or experienced paralegal for assistance on the laws that apply to your properties if you need additional support.

Is evicting a tenant without a lease expensive?

It’s impossible to say with certainty how much handling a no-lease eviction will cost. Depending on how long it takes the tenant to comply, if you have to go to court, and whether or not they damage the property in the process, the amount can vary widely.

In some cases, a no-lease occupant moving out will cost no more than any other turnover. The tenant will leave the property, and you will need to do usual cleanup and repairs. In other cases, the tenant will be unwilling to leave and lead you to a months-long court issue until you can finally get things resolved.

Even if the court decides in your favor, it is possible that you will not be able to get any money back from the tenant to cover damages or unpaid rent. Tracking down money owed from eviction cases can be very difficult, and hiring a collections agency is also a difficult road.

As a landlord, it is best to try to avoid no-lease situations as much as possible. Sometimes they are unavoidable, but they can be an unpredictable money pit, so experienced landlords will know to avoid them.

What do you do when a tenant without a lease refuses to leave?

When a tenant without a lease refuses to comply with your written notice to quit the property, you should move to file for an eviction hearing as soon as possible. The faster you have an eviction hearing on file, the faster your case will be resolved and you can regain control of your property.

Do not hesitate to file for eviction when they do not comply. Even if it feels like a daunting affair, you’ll be happier and more financially sound in the long run after making this decision.

Can landlords keep personal property that was left behind after an eviction?

No. Even if an evicted tenant leaves personal property behind, this property cannot be disposed of until it has been stored for an appropriate period of time. Any property that is moved to a secure location must be listed, and this list needs to be forwarded to the tenant so they can come collect it.

The length of time and how much the landlord can charge for storing the items varies from state to state, but you can generally recoup this cost. While this can be frustrating for landlords, it is important to follow proper protocol when a tenant or occupant leaves belongings behind.

Act Fast When Evicting A Tenant Without A Lease

Removing a tenant without a lease can seem like an impossible affair if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Can you evict a tenant without a lease?

Yes, but you must do it the right way to ensure that you do not end up in trouble. It’s not always easy, but there are legal and effective ways to clear your property of tenants even if you don’t have a contract to guide this procedure.

Remember that you need to work through these steps:

  1. Determine if your reason for wanting to evict a tenant without a lease is illegal or not.
  2. Figure out what type of tenancy you have (overstayed lease, squatting, tenancy-at-will).
  3. Consider if you want to try the cash-for-keys method.
  4. Send out a notice to quit, if relevant.
  5. Escalate to a court eviction if necessary.

While eviction is a scary word, it doesn’t have to be a scary process. With the right tools and information, you can regain control of your property in no time. Acting quickly throughout the process is key, but you should act with accurate knowledge to avoid making any mistakes.