There are certain situations that landlords never want to have to deal with. From fixing a major problem like a burst pipe at a rental property to filing for eviction, landlords may even avoid thinking about these disasters.
The thing about rental disasters, however, is that they will happen whether you think about them or not! It’s better to be prepared for the worst than to be caught off guard and left wondering, “What is the eviction process?” For that reason, you should learn about the eviction process and what to do when it’s time to evict.
Evicting a tenant is never an easy situation. The process is sure to cause a headache or two. The best way to prevent it from becoming a nightmare is to be knowledgeable about the right way to handle eviction proceedings. Otherwise, you could end up digging yourself into a hole that will wind up costing more than a standard eviction!
Would you be ready to start the eviction process tomorrow if you needed to? If you didn’t think “yes” immediately, keep reading. Today’s guide will introduce the fundamentals of eviction and how to legally evict a tenant.
A Table of Contents for the Legal Eviction Process
- Before You Start An Eviction
- Step 1: Valid Eviction Reasons
- Step 2: Sending The Notice
- Step 3: Filing For Eviction
- Step 4: The Eviction Hearing
- Step 5: Enforcing Eviction Rulings
- Step 6: Getting Your Money Back
- Prevent Future Evictions
While you are probably anxious to get to learning the essential steps for a legal eviction, there are a few things that you need to think about before we can continue.
First, remember that eviction laws differ from state to state and even from county to county. Depending on where your property is located, there may be different laws that you need to follow than what is listed below. While we will try to make this eviction knowledge as general as possible, you must become familiar with your local laws as well.
Second, you are never allowed to take eviction into your own hands. You should never do any of the following illegal actions:
- Changing the locks on a property where the tenant that won’t leave
- Forcibly removing the tenant or their belongings yourself
- Harassing or blackmailing the tenants
- Turning off any utilities
Finally, remember that eviction is part of the rental business. No matter how much time you put into being a great landlord, there is always a chance that you will need to file for eviction due to a tenant problem. While you can reduce the risk of eviction by choosing great tenants, anything can happen. Don’t let one eviction ruin your opinion of the business forever!
Now, let’s get into the six steps of how to legally evict a tenant from your property!
The number one thing that you need to do before you start any type of eviction proceedings is to ensure that you have a legal reason for evicting the tenant. Even though it is your property, you cannot simply force a tenant to move out because you feel like it.
There are laws and regulations that prevent this unfair treatment from happening to tenants. Instead, you must have the right reasons for evicting someone.
These are some of the most common, valid eviction reasons that you may need to use during your time as a landlord:
- Nonpayment of rent
- Consistently late rental payments
- Lease violations (extra roommates, pets on property, etc.)
- Intentional damage to the property
- Health or safety violations
- Crimes committed on property
It is also possible to evict a tenant that has overstayed their lease period or that is on a month-to-month tenancy, but these situations usually call for a “notice to vacate” rather than a “notice to quit.” While this difference is slight, it can change the tenant’s perception of what is happening.
Remember that as we mentioned in the beginning, every state has their own eviction laws. Be sure that your reason for wanting to evict your tenant is valid and legal in your local area.
Once you have confirmed that you have a valid reason for wanting to evict your tenant, it’s time to write up and send out an eviction notice. Eviction notices usually come in two main forms: the notice to cure or quit and the notice to quit. What is the difference between these two notices?
Notice to Cure or Quit
This form is used when the tenant has a chance to fix the problem before you file for eviction. In situations where it is the first offense or the offense is something that can be remedied without any lasting damage, this is the notice that you will want to use.
A notice to cure or quit will let the tenant know what they need to do in order to continue their tenancy on their property. If they have an unapproved pet, they will need to find it a new home. If they are late on rent for the first time, they can pay it within the specified date range.
The point of this notice is to give the tenant a warning but also to give them a chance to fix the problem. When a tenant has not caused any problems before, this is a great option to keep them in the property while maintaining its condition.
Notice to Quit
If a tenant has been consistently late paying the rent, caused extreme damages to the property, or repeatedly broken the same lease clause, you should send them a notice to quit.
Unlike the notice to cure or quit, this notice does not give the tenant an opportunity to fix anything. Instead, it tells them exactly how long they have before they need to leave the property. The amount of time that this document must give the tenant to leave is mandated at the state level.
Once the tenant receives this notice, they must vacate within the date range or you can formally file for eviction.
Serving Notices Properly
When learning about the legal eviction process, it is important to learn how your state and local laws required you to deliver an eviction notice.
In most areas, you should follow these steps in order:
- Deliver the letter to the tenant personally. If you cannot get ahold of the tenant, then,
- Send the letter by certified mail AND post it to their door.
Many states allow you to deliver the letter to any legal resident of the home over the age of 16 years old, but our experiences show us that there is more security in delivering the notice directly and through certified mail.
Delivering through certified mail gives you proof that you sent the notice and that it was received by the tenant. If you need to go to an eviction hearing in court, this proof will become very important.
Once you have properly served the notice, you must wait and see what happens. If the tenant fixes the problem within the allotted amount of time, the tenancy can continue as usual.
If the tenant does not fix the problem or they do not move out within the required period of time, you can now formally file for eviction.
Eviction filing is typically handled by your county courthouse. To file for eviction, you will need a copy of the lease, copies of all relevant documents, contact information for the tenant, and money to cover the filing fee.
Once you have filed, the court will review your case. If they believe you have a valid eviction case, both you and the tenant will be contacted with a date and time for your hearing.
Once you have a date and time for your eviction hearing, it is time to prepare. Gather up all relevant documentation that you have about the property and the problems that you are having with the tenant. This might include the following:
- Lease agreement
- Rental receipts or records of payments received
- Bounced checks
- Copy of communications
- Copy of reports from police or other administrations about violations
- Proof of lease violation
- Proof you delivered the notice as required by law
Anything that you believe proves you have a valid reason to evict the tenant should be brought with you to court. During the proceedings, you will have an opportunity to show this evidence. The tenant will also have a chance to refute your reasons for eviction.
The judge will then make a decision about the case. In most states, there are three possible outcomes:
- The tenant does not show up; you win automatically.
- The tenant does show up; the judge rules in your favor.
- The tenant does show up; the judge rules that you and the tenant need to make some compromises and continue the tenancy.
If the judge rules in your favor, you will be awarded a court order that tells the tenant how many days they have to leave the property.
The tenant should now leave your property. Typically, the judge will give tenants between 48 hours and 7 days to leave. If they do not leave within the number of days set forth by the judge, you can hire the local sheriff to remove them from the property because you have a court judgment on your side.
If this happens, you will need to pay the sheriff for this, and you will want to pay to have the locks changed immediately so that they cannot come back to the property after they have been forced to leave.
Depending on the local laws, the sheriff may also remove the tenants’ belongings. If they do, the tenant will be responsible for having the belongings removed. In some cases, however, it will be your responsibility to store the belongings for the tenant.
This may seem crazy, but the belongings are the tenants, not yours. For that reason, you would be responsible for storing the belongings for a specific amount of time. In some states, you can sell some of the belongings to recoup your costs. In others, you cannot. To learn more about these complex belongings-related laws, check out our article here.
It may seem like you are finally at the end of a long, hard battle. In some ways, you are, but there is still one important point that needs to be addressed: How do you get the money you are owed back?
If the tenant was late on rent payments or cause damages to the property, the judge in your eviction hearing is likely to assign a specific amount of money that the tenant owes you. Most tenants, however, will not pay this money right away. Many will not attempt to pay it at all, and they may simply disappear.
What do you do to get your money back?
If the amount is not large enough to cause permanent damage to your business, the best thing that you can do is cut your losses and move on. Eviction is a timely and costly process; tracking down your money will only cost more.
To recoup the money you are owed, you can take one of the following courses of action:
- File in small claims court: The eviction order that you won will prove your case, and the court can require the funds to be given to you from any bank accounts the tenants have.
- Hire a debt collector: Debt collectors will cost you a pretty penny, but they can get the job done. Additionally, they report to the credit bureaus, so that will protect other landlords from these tenants.
- Garnish the tenant’s wages: Some states allow you to take your court order back to the court or to your tenant’s employer to get repaid. A percentage of their wages would go to you each week until the money is paid back.
As you can see, there is no simple way to instantly get your money back. While it’s important to stand by your principles to get your money back, there are times when cutting your loss in the eviction process is a better choice than continuing to fight the same battle over and over again. Eventually, you’ll learn when to make that choice!
There is not one surefire method to prevent the need for future evictions. If there was, us landlords wouldn’t need to know how to start the eviction process at all!
While you may not be able to prevent evictions entirely, there are ways to reduce the risk of eviction becoming your only option. The best way to reduce this risk is to do take more care in selecting your tenants.
Many landlords rush to fill their properties as quickly as possible, but choosing great tenants can help lower the chance that you will end up in an eviction hearing with them down the line. And using a high-quality tenant screening service can help you do just that. Choose your tenants wisely, and you’ll be more satisfied with the results.
Running your own rental properties as a landlord can be a lot of fun, but going through eviction is not. Still, understanding how to orchestrate a legal eviction is a necessity as a landlord. With the tools we have introduced today, you’ll be ready to handle this situation if it ever comes up.
Remember the following as you move through eviction proceedings:
- Never self-evict a tenant.
- Keep proof of all documentation, payments, and any other potential problem points.
- Follow all local laws about notice and grace periods.
- Use a sheriff to remove reluctant tenants once you win your court hearing.
The key to succeeding in evicting a tenant is to follow the letter of the law. If you do things out of order, you may have to start over again. This will cost you even more time and money, so take care to only need to move through the eviction process once!