How to Evict a Tenant – The Eviction Process in 8 Easy Steps

Written by on August 26, 2013

A Landlord's Guide to EvictionThis article will guide you through the general eviction process and should help you with removing delinquent or deadbeat tenants from your rental property.

Eviction: It’s Just Business

Being a great landlord doesn’t mean that you’re immune from having bad tenants. Yes, tenant screening is important, but even under the best of circumstances, it’s not unusual for a well-intentioned tenant to struggle to pay rent from time to time.

So even if you have a “good” relationship with your tenant, sometimes they just won’t be able to pay you. When that’s the case, you simply can’t let them stay free of charge, especially when there are others who will have no trouble paying you consistently.

Eviction seems harsh, but it’s the business of rental properties. If a tenant can’t pay, you have to remove them from your property.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking them to leave.  Other times, you will have to go through the formal eviction process.

Regardless of the situation, before starting the eviction process, you need to know the proper rules and procedures.  This process can be summarized into 7 steps.

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding the Eviction Laws
  2. Have a Valid Reason for Eviction
  3. Try to Reason with Your Tenants
  4. Give a Formal Notice of Eviction
  5. File Your Eviction with the Courts
  6. Prepare for and Attend the Court Hearing
  7. Evicting the Tenant
  8. Collecting Past-Due Rent
  9. Bonus Video: An Overview of the Eviction Process

Step 1: Understanding the Eviction Laws

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The eviction laws are different from state to state, and it’s smart to know and consider them while writing up your lease agreement, so that both parties know that such a document carries authority with it.

I recommend using a lease agreement that is written by lawyers, and specifically designed for your state.  US Legal Forms has some great lease options that will keep you safe, legally.

If your lease agreement wasn’t been based off of the state laws, or if you’re unsure, you’ll want to spend some time researching your current situation, and see if you can win an eviction case.

Be Familiar with the Landlord and Tenant Act

The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA) provides a more detailed explanation of the legal side of the eviction process. At least 21 states have adopted the URLTA as the foundation for their state-specific landlord-tenant laws.

Don’t Take Matters into Your Own Hands.  

“Self-help” evictions are illegal in every state.  Even if the tenant is a deadbeat, a liar, and causing physical damage to your property, you CANNOT do any of the following actions without a court order:

  • Remove the tenant’s stuff from the property.
  • Remove the tenant (i.e. hire Hulk Hogan to physically carry the tenant out)
  • Change the locks or lock-out the tenant.
  • Shut off essential utilities (electric, gas, water, etc)
  • Unleash a family of skunks in the tenant’s basement (aka, harassment)

In order for the courts to be on your side, you’ll need to follow these rules closely, and make sure that you do not to give a judge any reason to doubt that you are an outstanding law-abiding citizen.

In some cases, a tenant will make it easier for a landlord to evict them by breaking laws, destroying property, or violating the lease agreement.

Say Goodbye to Your Friendship

Keep in mind, eviction will always sour the relationship between a landlord and tenant, but if they break laws in the process, the courts are more likely to rule in your favor. However, don’t expect to remain friends with any tenant that you are forced to evict.  Landlord Tip #21, describes why you should never rent to friends.

Step 2: Have a Valid Reason for Eviction

valid-reason
You don’t want to start the process if you don’t have a good and lawful reason to. Typically, the following reasons (given fair notice to the tenant) will be sufficient for an eviction:

  • Failing to pay rent
  • Causing significant damage to property
  • Regularly breaking noise, guest, or pet restrictions
  • Health or safety hazards caused by the tenant

Remember, you’ll need documented proof of any claim against your tenant.  “Innocent until proven guilty” is still overarching rule in the U.S. court system.

Step 3: Try to Reason with Your Tenants

reason-with-tenants
If it doesn’t look like the law is entirely on your side, or if you just don’t want to spend the time and energy on an eviction case, try reasoning with them.

My suggestion would be to take your tenant to a public coffee shop and have a heart-to-heart chat about the situation.  Often times, if you are “understanding but stern”, the tenant will agree to leave on their own accord.  I prefer to have this conversation in a public location because the tenant is less likely to make a scene.

Be Understanding but Stern

Use this “script” when talking to your tenant:

I realize that you’re having trouble paying your rent, and I feel for your situation.  The fact is that I need someone in my rental that can pay rent, and if that’s not you, then you need to leave.  Because I respect you, I wanted to give you a chance to leave on your own before I file an eviction lawsuit.

If I have to go through the eviction process, it will ruin your credit score, and you won’t be able to get a mortgage, car loan, or any loan for a very long time.

When I win the case, I will also need to sue you for any back-due rent, in which I will eventually be able to use that judgement to garnish your wages.  If I have to do that, it will involve your employer, and will be very embarrassing for you.

I don’t want to do that to you.  How would you like to proceed?  Will you pay your rent immediately in full, or will you vacate the property ASAP?

Step 4: Give a Formal Notice of Eviction

eviction-notice
If your tenant has chosen to be uncooperative, and you’ve established that you have the right to evict your tenant, you will need to make sure you follow the set legal procedures exactly.

One of the most important steps is to provide adequate “notice of eviction”.  This is usually a simple document or form that gives an ultimatum – telling your tenant why they are being evicted and what they can do to avoid that eviction; pay rent, clean up the house, etc.

Tips for the Eviction Notice

  • It should include a deadline (date) to “pay-rent or move out”.
  • It should include the amount owed (including all fees)
  • You are typically required to post this notice within X number of days before filing the eviction paperwork with your local court.
  • This document should be taped to their front door, as well as sent via Certified Mail / Return Receipt Requested with the United States Postal Service (USPS)
  • Make it easy on yourself – use a state-specific eviction form template.

At this point, it’s their move…

Congratulations, your tenant now knows that you’ve done your research, and that you’re serious about the situation. Usually, a formal eviction notice is enough to whip them into shape.

Otherwise, if the set amount of time (usually a week) goes by and nothing has changed, it’s time to file the eviction with the courts.

Step 5: File Your Eviction with the Courts

files-prepare
Visit your local courthouse to file your eviction and pay a fee (try not to think about all the money, time, and energy that your tenant is costing you), at which point the clerk will schedule your hearing and will eventually notify the tenant on your behalf – via a summons.

You will probably have to show proof (via receipt from certified mail) that you have given the proper amount of time that your state requires for an eviction notice.

Step 6: Prepare for and Attend the Court Hearing

court-gavel
Gather all related documentation and proof of your claim. You’ll want to have the following items at a minimum:

  • lease agreements
  • bounced checks
  • records of payment of any kind
  • records of the communication between you and your tenant (phone and email records).
  • a copy of the written notice that you provided your tenant
  • dated proof that the tenant received the notice (a signature from the tenant, or receipt from the Post Office).

Since a tenant won’t be able to lie about not paying their rent (since they can’t fabricate real rent payment records), their most likely defense will be to claim that you didn’t properly inform them of the eviction.  Be prepared.

From the courts perspective, you will have the benefit of doubt on your side (some landlords might disagree with me).  Besides, why would a landlord go through the trouble to evict someone for no reason?

Even with that working in your favor, you need to step up to the plate, armed with all the right information. Do your homework before your hearing.

Remember to get some sleep the night before your scheduled court date so that you are attentive and confident during the hearing. Always be honest and let your documentation/evidence speak for itself.

Step 7: Evicting the Tenant

eviction-stuff
If all goes well in court (and it probably will), then your tenant will have a set amount of time to leave, which is anywhere from 48 hours to a week, depending on where you live.

If your tenant doesn’t leave on time, you have the right to get someone from the Sheriff’s department to escort them out and place their possessions on the curb. It’s definitely not a favorable outcome, but it does happen.

Step 8: Collecting Past-Due Rent

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Small Claims Court

Some courts allow you to combine eviction and small claims lawsuits if they are related and involve the same individuals.  If this is the case, you can sue for any back-due rent at the same time as the eviction case.

If your local court does not allow this, you’ll have to file a separate small claims lawsuit to pursue the owed rent money.

Garnish their Wages

If the judge determines that the tenant does owe you the past-due rent, you will receive a “judgement” in your favor.  This judgement will be delivered in the form of a court order, which you can give to the tenant’s employer.

This will force the employer to garnish the tenant’s wages, and then pay you before the tenant gets paid.

Related Article: eHow: How to Garnish Wages for Back Rent

Garnish their Tax Refund

Believe it or not, you can actually garnish their tax refund!  RentPrep does a fantastic job of explaining this process in the article: How to Execute Tax Refund Garnishments for Past Due Rent.

Wouldn’t that be a surprise when the tenant is expecting a $1,000 refund from the government, and it all goes to you instead.

Use a Private Debt Collector

Debt collection companies, like Rent Recovery Service, will help you collect the debt and will report it to the 3 major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). It is important to let the credit bureaus know about this dead-beat tenant so that future landlords will know to avoid him/her.

Bonus Video: An Overview of the Eviction Process

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17 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Robert E. Ross

    When a tenant destroys your property is it legal to be able to garnish wages to cover cost of materials and labor?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Robert,

      If a tenant destroys a property, the landlord must first win a judgement in court for the specific amount. The cost of materials and labor can be included in your total damages.

      Then, as a method of collecting money on that judgement, the landlord can reach out to the tenant’s employer and garnish wages. The court order is required before an employer will send you any money.

      I suggest you talk to a lawyer in your area. I’m not a lawyer so please don’t consider this legal advice. I’m just a landlord trying to help.

  • Roy

    I honestly have never heard anyone (other than the government) be able to garnish wages, least not a rental issue. What state(s) is this legal in? I’ve been told I can sue but likely will never see the money because “you can’t get blood from a turnip”.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Roy,

      Indeed – you cannot get blood from a turnip. But if the tenant has a full time job, then there is money to garnish.

      Whether or not a judge decides that the landlord is worth of a garnishment order – I do not know.

      However, I’ve met a few landlords from around the county who have successfully received garnishment orders after an eviction, and have been able to give those to the employer, who had not choice but to comply.

  • Devon learn

    Hi,

    I’m a landlord and I just served my tenant with my company’s help for 3 day to comply or quit. He is on month to month but has been such a trouble tenant. Would never let the workers in without wearing booties. What is the next step I should do to get rid of him.

    Thank you

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Devon,

      The amount of notice that you need to provide, and what to do next depends on your state laws. Check out the guides and links found here: http://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      After the notice period expires, the lease terminiates. If the tenant hasn’t moved out by the time that the lease terminates, and refuses to leave, then the landlord must file an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit with the local courts. Then, after the court hearing, and a judgement awarded to the landlord, the sheriff will come to force the tenant out.

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, so this might vary some depended on where you live. I’m just a landlord, so please don’t take this as legal advice.

  • Samantha

    my mother passed away less than 2 weeks ago. Yesterday her landlord took it upon herself and others to go into the apartment and place all of my moms belongings on the curb for trash except for the items she chose to keep for herself…is this legal?!! Doesn’t she have to allow us time to remove the things and give some sort of notice or eviction???

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Samantha

      I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your mother.

      Each state has their own laws on handling the personal property of tenants. The property of a deceased goes to the family or the estate, and I don’t believe the landlord really had any right to throw it away as quickly as she did – especially if the rent was paid in full for the current month.

      I can’t tell you what is legally right, since I’m not a lawyer, but if I were in your shoes, I would seek compensation for the property that the landlord tossed or stole.

      Unfortunately, you might get anywhere without the help of a lawyer. If you can’t afford one, use the links to “legal aid” services mention above.

      Here are some links to law: http://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

  • Adam Dorathy

    I have just served a 5 day notice to pay or vacate. They basicly told me they weren’t going to leave and its doubtful I will get any money. She also doesn’t work so how would I be able to garnish her waives even if she tries to get a job?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Adam,

      First, you’d have to win a judgement in court. Then, you can ask for a court order for a garnishment.

      You’d have to keep tabs on her, and if she ever did get a job, you could take that court order to her HR dept and garnish her wages that way.

      To be honest, I’ve never had to garnish someones wages, so I’m not speaking from experience. I’m also not a lawyer. This is just my understanding of how it works based on research. Here is a decent article to help you learn more about garnishments: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/collect-court-judgment-wage-garnishment-30146.html

  • Sam

    My mom passed away bout 10 years ago and we verbally promised my ex step dad he could stay in her house but now we want to live in house. He and my mom was divorced and the house was and is deeded in my name at her time of death . Can we evict him out of house or does he have any rights.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sam,

      If he doesn’t have a written fixed-term lease, you can probably treat it like a month-to-month agreement.

      He does have rights because you’ve allowed him to live there. It’s his home.

      Check your state laws to see how much notice is needed to terminate the tenancy. http://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      If he doesn’t leave after you’ve given proper notice, you should file an eviction suit in court. At that point, I suggest you talk to a lawyer in your county to ensure you follow local protocol.

      Just my two cents, I think it’s better to be overly cautious rather than running the risk of performing a self-help eviction and getting in trouble. I’m not a lawyer so please don’t take this as legal advice.

  • Willie Cai

    Can I garnish tenant’s unemployment compensation after tenant move-out? I know her former employer from her payment copy at beginning of her move-in.

    • Lucas Hall

      Willie,

      Absolutely. Generally speaking, you first have to get a judgement against her and a court order to garnish the wages. Then, you can take that court order to the employer and they will take the money out of the former tenant’s paycheck.

      To get more specific guidance, please talk to a lawyer (which I am not)

      • Willie Cai

        Thank you, Lucas

        How come her former/previous employer can take her paycheck out if she’s no longer working for the employer? My question is: she is getting Unemployment Compensation from government now? can I garnish her UC payment?

  • Ashely

    My tenant brought a guest her boyfriend and she didnt ask my permission is that okay or not

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Ashley,

      It depends on the situations. Tenants are always allowed to have guests over, which is usually considered implied in their right to enjoy the property. However, those guests are subject to the same terms and conditions that the tenant is, and they are not allowed to take up residence in the dwelling. Simply put, a guest usually goes back to their home. If your tenant moved-in her boyfriend without permission, then you could potentially terminate her lease for the violation – because her lease only gives her the right to occupy the premise.

      But like I said, it depends on the situation. Further, I’m not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice in anyway. I think think it’s common sense. You should check your state laws for the amount of notice you must give for a lease violation: http://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      Further, here’s a helpful article: http://www.landlordology.com/rogue-tenants-long-term-guests/

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