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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67 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Erin Nicole

    I live in a house that my mother owns and I manage the property for her as I am a former property manager. There are two housemates plus myself. One of the housemates has a large dog under strict pet terms in the lease. She has violated all the pet terms and is basically neglecting her dog, not picking up its waste and repairing its damages. I have served her with a 30 day notice to exit, but her behavior has not changed. She has to go now as her attitude and behavior is unlivable. Can I serve her with a 3 day notice to quit to get her out sooner or at least her dog? What would be the proper way since I live with her? Also, I always give proper notice to the tenants anytime my mother, the landlord, is coming by to look at the house. Can I have the 3 day notice executed by my mother instead after a scheduled house inspection even though I am the one documenting the damages? Thank you!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Erin,

      The amount of notice that you have to give for a lease violation depends on your state’s laws.
      Notices for lease violations range from 10 days to 60 days. Check them out: http://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      The notice should always come from the owner, or the official property manager. You don’t really need to do an inspection if it’s obviously that she has a dog. If the tenant doesn’t remedy the situation by the end of the notice period, then you could terminate the lease. Once the lease is terminated, then you’d have to go to court if the tenant doesn’t leave voluntarily.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Melissa carlod

    I live with my mom and sister in an apartment complex there name is on the lease my isn’t . There’s a person who lives in the same complex who doesn’t seem to like me well she went and told the manager that she saw me and my boyfriend having sex in the car while parked in the complex which isn’t true at all . My mom & sister got evicted now is that legal for a manager to evict someone over what someone else says with any evidence or prove ?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Melissa,

      Do you mean that their lease got terminated? The process of “eviction” means to file a case in the local court system and have a judge determine if the tenant gets to stay or if the tenant has to leave. If you and you family don’t leave when your lease is terminated, then the landlord has no choice but to file a court case. Then, a judge will determine if it is “legal”.

      However, last I checked, you are innocent until proven guilty. I think if you pay a lawyer or legal aid provider, a small amount of money, they will write a letter for you and send it to the landlord. The landlord will probably back down when they get a stern email from a lawyer.

      I hope that helps. Please know that in not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Tom Reed

    Once you go through the courts and get a Writ of Restitution, there is a date by which the tenant is required to leave. If the tenant does not leave by that date, then you have to get another document, which is a copy of the Writ of Restitution and take it to the Sheriff’s Office, pay them a fee and wait. Eventually, they will call you, tell you when they will meet you at your property to escort the tenants out of your property, at this time you change the locks. When will the law be adjusted to help the Landlord? In Albuquerque it takes the Sheriff’s Office 4 to 6 weeks before they get out to remove your tenants, another two months of no rent, but you still are paying your mortgage. THEY NEED THE LAW AMENDED TO ALLOW YOU TO LOCK OUT THE TENANTS WHEN THEY HAVE NOT LEFT YOUR PORPERTY BY THE DATE ORDERED BY THE COURT.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tom

      I agree with you that the process does not make it easy for landlords to protect their property, but I don’t agree on lock-outs. I think if the police department would respond within a day or two, then this wouldn’t be an issue. Just my two cents.

  • James

    I filed for non-payment of rent eviction (4 months in arrears on a month by month rental)
    and waiting to hear back from the county officials.
    Meanwhile, can I force the tenant out by shutting the utilities with the reason that I am no longer renting out the place and wish to move? If I do, what are the consequences for me?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi James,

      I think it would be very unwise to shut off the utilities. In almost every state, that is considered a self-help eviction, and not only would it potentially force you to start over your actual eviction, but it could give the tenants the right to remain in the property even longer.

      The little bit of money you’ll save by shutting off the utilities isn’t worth the risk. If they decide to hunker down, and fight you, you’ll probably have to compensate them for the self-help eviction (which only add insult to injury).

      In many states, the landlord will get fined, and the tenant is allowed to stay in the property if the landlord changes the locks or shuts off the essential utilities in an effort to force them out.

      Good luck, please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Mary

    I allowed my daughter and boyfriend to moved into my house and rent it from me no rental agreement signed just verbal. The rent would be half the mortgage on their part to help them out. As long as they kept the house up which they have not and for past two months no rent. What legal actions can I take to have them move?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mary,

      It sounds like you want to terminate the verbal agreement. The good news is that most verbal agreements are treated as month-to-month. And… you don’t need a reason to terminate a monthly agreement. That’s the blessing and curse of month-to-month agreements. You’d have to check your state laws to see how much notice is required of you to terminate it.

      https://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

      Good luck. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Marcus Maer

    My landlord file an eviction lawsuit against me without give me any prior eviction notice. On the SUMMONS he put a false paper “notice that he posted on the premises” Every month I pay on time, but two months ago the floor inflated and broke, I tried all my available resources but he can want to repair, so I send a email, photos and certified letter and nothing. I stop to send a check rent, and he made a false affirmation that notice to me. How is possible that he give to the court a false paper, and file a eviction lawsuit with that?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Marcus,

      It just means that he lied to the courts. Because you’ve been served a summons, my suggestion to you would be to talk to a lawyer. You can still attend the court hearing and explain the situation. I’m sure the landlord didn’t tell the court about the broken floor. But talking to a lawyer would be a great first step, so you know how to prepare for court.

      Good luck!

  • Maria

    Hello! What solution could I find if the tenant has only paid 3/4 of the rent this month and has asked me to wait for the rest of the money, even though this is the 2nd time this has happened. There are debts that are not paid and he said that he would leave, but I have to pay him back the 3/4 [the rent is paid before each month] but I would have to pay those debts myself [water, electricity etc.]. I would like to find a “strategy” or a more amiable solution than going to court or a drastic procedure. Any advice? Thank you!

    • Maria

      I would also like to mention that eviction is not a 100% solution for me since the money is really tight and I would like to either keep the tenant and find a solution to make him pay what he owes me OR make him leave but also pay his debts himself. The second thing I would like to mention is that he is not a very reasonable person [obviously, since I am writing this], so that’s why I’m trying to find a amiable solution to this.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Maria,

        There are really only 2 types of solutions: Let the tenant stay, or evict him.

        If you don’t want to go through eviction courts, and would rather have him stay, then you have to figure out how to motivate him to pay rent on-time in full.

        My suggestion would be to switch to automatic online rent payments, and use a free tool like Cozy (cozy.co). When rent is “automatic”, tenants tend to keep the money in their account knowing that a withdraw will be attempted.

        Other than that, your bite doesn’t really have any teeth if you’re not willing to terminate his lease and evict him for non-payment.

        Sure, you would work out a payment plan, but he’ll eventually be late again, or just ignore the plan completely. In order for rent collection to be successful, the tenant has to be “able and willing” to pay rent. It sounds like your tenant is neither – and human behavior is one of the most difficult things to change.

        If he owes you rent, why are you considering even given anything back to him. Yes, rent is paid in advance, but if you have to terminate the lease, you will certainly have damages to claim, and you could use that money you do have to pay for the vacancy until a new tenant is found. He doesn’t get his cake and gets to eat it too.

        I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

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