This 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
- Understanding the Eviction Laws
- Have a Valid Reason for Eviction
- Try to Reason with Your Tenants
- Give a Formal Notice of Eviction
- File Your Eviction with the Courts
- Prepare for and Attend the Court Hearing
- Evicting the Tenant
- Collecting Past-Due Rent
- Bonus Video: An Overview of the Eviction Process
- Protecting Yourself in the Future
Step 1: Understanding the Eviction Laws
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
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
- Violating the lease/agreement (pets, subletting, illegal use, etc)
- Causing significant damage to property
- Breaking noise, occupancy, or health ordinances
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Protecting Yourself in the Future
Evictions can be costly and time-consuming, so hopefully you can avoid ever needing to perform one. You can protect yourself by gathering as much information as you can about potential tenants before they move in.
Cozy offers robust tenant screening tools that can help give you a more complete picture of your rental applicants. Best of all, they’re free for landlords, and just $34.95 for your applicants.
Tenant credit reports can give you a good sense of an applicant’s personal financial situation, and whether or not they’ll be able to pay rent reliably, on-time, every month. Meanwhile, background and eviction checks can help ensure you’re renting to a tenant that doesn’t have a criminal history and hasn’t been evicted in the past.
The folks at LegalTemplates.net put together a clear infographic that makes it easy to understand the eviction process. While the steps don’t match the article above exactly, it’s still the same process and completely accurate.
Other Helpful Articles:
- The True Cost of Eviction is More Than $5,000
- ezLandlordForms.com: Eviction Process – A Basic Step-by-Step Guide to Eviction
- BiggerPockets.com: Evicting Tenants: A Step by Step Process For Dealing With Delinquent Tenants
- Rocket Lawyer: How to Evict Tenants from a Rental Property