Eviction is just part of the rental business. The worst part.
Oddly enough, many people don’t actually know what an eviction is. Sure, it’s the act of expelling a tenant from property – I know.
But I’d like to modify that definition slightly, if I may.
It’s the act of expelling a tenant from property, LEGALLY
The Formal Eviction Process
In most counties, the formal eviction process is as follows:
- Terminate the lease with proper notice
- When the tenant doesn’t leave, file an action with the local eviction court
- Attend a hearing
- Win the judgement
- Hire (make an appointment) with the sheriff
- Show up on “eviction day” with the sheriff, reclaim possession of the unit
- Change the locks
A “self-help eviction” (lock-outs, or utility shut-offs) is usually illegal, and it gets thousands of landlords in trouble every year.
If you’ve ever read through the comments on any of our state law summary guides, you’ll see plenty of examples of landlords who have taken matters into their own hands. It’s not pretty.
To recap above, the first step of any eviction is to terminate the lease or agreement. In order to terminate a fixed-term lease early, you must have a valid reason, or “just-cause”, to do so. Month-to-month agreements can be terminated fairly easily with very little notice – usually 30 days.
When it comes time to go to court, the judge will ask “why are you asking me to remove this tenant from your unit?” What will your response be?
5 Legitimate Reasons to Evict a Tenant
1. Nonpayment of Rent
The most common reason for a lease termination and eviction is nonpayment of rent.
It’s an easy concept to understand: “if you don’t pay, you can’t stay”. Most courts and judges are reasonable about this, and make little exceptions to allowing a non-paying tenant to remain in the unit.
…if you don’t pay, you can’t stay.
With that said, if a landlord is failing to provide a habitable dwelling, then sometimes, nonpayment of rent is overlooked.
Note: “nonpayment of a late fee” is not the same as “nonpayment of rent”. Most courts (that I’ve heard of) will not award a landlord a judgement solely for unpaid late fees.
2. Lease Violation
The second most common reason for eviction is when a tenant violates a lease clause.
Many violations can allow the landlord to terminate the lease if the issue is not corrected quickly (anywhere from 3-30 days). Here are the most common lease violations:
- Unauthorized Pets
Having pets when none are allowed, or having more pets than what is allowed.
- Extended Guests or Unapproved Occupants
Many residents think that they can move their boyfriend or girlfriend into the unit without asking – for as long as they want. However, most leases don’t allow any occupants other than those listed on the lease (for good reason). Unapproved occupants, or “Rogue Tenants” as I call them, can be a complete legal and liability nightmare.
- Unapproved Subletting
Most leases grant a resident “exclusive” rights to occupy the dwelling. This means that the landlord can’t rent it to anyone else, but it also means the tenant is under the same restriction. Most thorough leases prohibit subletting without prior approval, so let’s hope your tenant remembers to ask before putting your unit on Airbnb while spending the summer in Italy.
- Improper Use
Many administrative or home-based business are allowed to operate out of a residential dwelling, but sometimes a tenant will take it too far. For example, it would be okay for tenant to open up a Mary Kay business from the rental unit, but probably not a welding shop, car wash, or a doggie day spa. A “residential” lease should be used for residential purposes, and not occupied by a high-traffic business.
- Nuisance Complaints
The neighbors (and the police) will only put up with so many loud parties. If “enough” noise/nuisance complaints are filed against your tenants, the police department will actually fine the landlord. At the first sign of trouble, it’s wise to remind your tenants that repeat noise complaints are a lease violation (assuming you put it in your lease).
3. Property Damage
We’ve all heard the wild stories of tenant damage. Sadly, the majority of tenant damage is not intentional – but rather caused by lack of common sense.
- A tenant who installs a 3,000 gallon hot tub on the 2nd story deck probably isn’t thinking about the structural integrity of the support beams.
- In the South, pools are common, but if they are not maintained regularly, there can be irreparable damage to the pool equipment.
- I’ve even heard about a tenant who installed his own skylights because his wife wanted to lay in bed and look at the stars. While romantic, and slightly Swiss-Family Robinson-ish, it caused over $5,000 in roof and water damage.
- Hoarding can also cause property damage, and can be a valid reason to terminate the lease as long as the person is not claiming that it is a mental disability.
4. Illegal or Drug Related Activity
When a resident is committing a crime, the police, and the local government want to know about it. There is very little grace granted to drug-dealers.
In Texas, a landlord can even immediately terminate the lease of a tenant who is convicted of public indecency (Sec. 91.003)! Yikes!
5. Expiration of Lease
Every good thing must eventually come to an end. But sometimes, a tenant refuses to move out, and now you have a squatter.
If the lease has naturally expired, or terminated with proper notice, then the tenant no longer has any right to occupy the dwelling. This alone is enough of a reason to file an eviction action in court.
What other legitimate reasons can you think of to evict a tenant? I’d love to hear any personal “war-stories” stories in the comments below.