Why and How to Evict a Tenant

how to evict a tenantEvicting a tenant is never easy, but it can be an unfortunate part of your job as a landlord. When that time comes, it’s important to know how to do it properly to streamline the process and avoid any legal blowback. Your tenants have rights and any violation of them could extend the eviction process longer than it should.

Keep reading to understand how and when to (properly) evict a tenant.

When should you evict a tenant?

Unpaid rent is the primary reason to evict a tenant. However, you cannot ask them to pack their bags at a moment’s notice because you did not receive their rent payment. You’ll have to give the tenant a few days’ notice (the exact number depends on your state). A formal written pay rent or quit (move out) notice will serve as your tenant’s “heads up.”

If they fail to pay within the time stated in the pay or quit notice you submitted, then you can begin the eviction proceedings. This involves filing an eviction lawsuit.

Other reasons to evict a tenant

Non-payment is not the only reason you may choose to begin the eviction process. The following are other issues that provide cause for you to submit an eviction notice:

  • Criminal activity: Selling drugs, possessing an illegal firearm or stolen goods, etc. in a rental unit.
  • Violating community health and safety standards: Letting a rental property get so dirty it attracts rodents or insects, which may make other tenants feel unsafe.
  • Staying on premises after the lease has expired: When the lease is up, so is the tenant’s time living at your property. Otherwise, your new tenant(s) can’t move in. Address this issue quickly before a squatters’ rights case can occur.
  • Severe property damage: Putting holes in the wall, breaking windows, flooding and other severe damage caused by tenants can provide a reason to evict.

Just like with non-payment, you must provide a written notice to start the tenant eviction proceedings.

How to evict a tenant

As you might already be aware, evicting a tenant is a multi-step process. Once you have deemed you have a legal reason for eviction and you’ve given your tenant a fair warning through a written eviction notice, you can take the following steps to remove them:

  • Sue for eviction/file an eviction lawsuit: Consider hiring a real estate attorney who handles residential evictions. Doing so can save you money in the long run because any misstep in the eviction process could force you to start from the beginning. Additionally, if your tenant eviction is found to be without cause, you could wind up facing a lawsuit.
  • Prepare for your court hearing: You (or your attorney) might have to bring a number of documents to court which may include:
    • The original signed lease agreement. 
    • Financial documents, like rent roll and bank statements. 
    • Any documented correspondence between you and your tenant.
    • Evidence that you gave your tenant a chance to revolve their violation as well evidence of how they violated their lease. The evidence could be in the form of pictures of property damage or witness testimony detailing the tenant’s misdeeds.
    • Copy of the eviction notice and proof of delivery.
  • Evict your tenant: If the court rules in your favor, you’ll receive a court order (which some states call a Writ of Restitution) that gives you legal authority to evict your tenant. The court order also grants law enforcement the authority to physically remove the unwanted tenant and their property if needed.
  • Collect past due rent: If your eviction case was due to non-payment, the court may award you a judgment for past due rent, along with payment for damages the tenant caused. You can hire a debt collection agency  to get the money from the tenant if they cannot pay the judgment right away. The agency will take a number of steps, including garnishing the tenant’s wages and other assets, until you recoup the money owed to you.

How long is the eviction process?

Eviction process length can depend on a number of factors including how difficult the tenant makes it, the processing time for the court, and if needed, a sheriff to physically remove the tenant. For example, if you’re evicting a tenant for something other than unpaid rent, like having an unauthorized pet, they might agree to move out by the requested date on your eviction notice. That could be a couple of weeks or a month at most.

On the other hand, if the tenant challenges your eviction notice, you’re looking at a potential legal suit that could last up to a year and potentially longer. The eviction process will most likely take longer if you attempt to evict a tenant without proper cause. You should avoid breaking a fixed-term lease without good cause because you’ll likely face a breach of contract suit. Even in short-term, month-to-month lease situations, you still must give a tenant proper notice before evicting a tenant without cause.

It’s easier to evict a tenant on shorter notice if you have good cause. The most common situations, in this case, are Pay Rent or Quit (pay past due rent within three to five days or move out); Cure or Quit (resolve lease violation within a negotiated period of time or move out); and Unconditional Quit (there’s nothing the tenant can do to stay, usually occurs in cases of criminal activity or consistently late rent payments).

Eviction timeline

If you win your eviction case, the court will determine how much time the tenant has to vacate the property. In some states, it could be right after the trial is finished. However, the tenant will usually be granted one to four weeks to move.

The timetable could be longer if the tenant stays past their court-ordered vacate date and you need to have a sheriff or Marshall come in and enforce the eviction. Other causes for delay include a rulings appeal, bankruptcy filing or if a motion is filed for more time. Meanwhile, evictions that occur during instances like a pandemic or severe weather could also push the timeline back. Any of these instances could extend the process by as much as a year or more.

How do you remove a tenant post-eviction? 

As a landlord, you can’t take measures into your own hands to evict a tenant — it’s illegal to change the locks or shut off a tenant’s utilities to force them out. You also cannot verbally order the tenant to leave. Engaging in any of these actions, also known as “Self-Help Evictions” only hurt your case as a landlord. Your tenant could sue you for a variety of violations depending on what happened during the eviction process.

If a court found your actions unlawful, you could be financially responsible for temporary housing for the tenant, any food that was spoiled when you had their electricity turned off or any property that was lost or stolen when you locked the tenant out of their rental unit.

Instead, you have to look at your local eviction procedures for removing an unwanted tenant from your property. This usually will involve law enforcement of some kind engaging in a physical eviction.

What should you do with abandoned possessions?

Your state will determine what you can and cannot do with your evicted tenants’ belongings. You likely cannot just dispose of them at your pleasure unless it’s obvious that the tenant is not coming back to get them. Otherwise, check out your state’s storage and notification laws before you begin tossing items.

Depending on where you live, rules can vary about whether or not you have to notify your tenant about their abandoned property before removing it. You also want to be informed about your state’s laws regarding property storage and who’s entitled to any money made if you sold your tenant’s abandoned property.

Final takeaway

Evicting a tenant is probably the last thing you want to do as a landlord. If or when the time comes when you have to perform this uncomfortable task, it’s critical that you do it correctly. One error is all it takes to open the door for a tenant to take legal action against you, and suddenly you’re the one who could be facing financial liabilities and additional court costs.

The AAOA’s mission is to make your job as a landlord easier. We strive to provide you with the necessary tools to serve your tenants more effectively, as well as create better quality rental communities.

Additional landlord resources and support with AAOA

Evicting a tenant is a painful process. Bringing in quality tenants is one way to minimize how often you have to do it. AAOA’s tenant screening services can help ensure that all of your tenant applicants are properly vetted so you can make an informed decision when trying to find the right tenant.

We highly recommend using tenant screening services as they can help you determine if someone’s likely to pay their rent on time as well as see if they’ve caused any trouble as a renter in the past. Knowing this information ahead of time could save you months of chasing down back rent or going through lengthy eviction processes.

Save time, and potentially money, with AAOA’s tenant screening services.

Our tenant reports also offer the following benefits:

  • 24/7 access: You can run a report and receive instant results at any time.
  • Tenant credit checks: Protect your rental properties against renters who try to hide any red flags in their rental applications.
  • Easy process: No documentation, underwriting or onsite inspections are required when you check the tenant’s credit with AAOA.
  • Comprehensive reports: Along with credit checks, AAOA’s tenant screening reports can include background checks, eviction history, criminal reports and more.

Join AAOA for Free!

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The information provided herein is for advisory purposes only and AAOA takes no responsibility for its accuracy. AAOA recommends you consult with an attorney familiar with current federal, state and local laws.