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
  10. Protecting Yourself in the Future

Step 1: Understanding the Eviction Laws

state-laws-banner
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
  • 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

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

fairy-godmother

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.

Step-by-Step Infographic

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.

Eviction Process Infographic

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144 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • S. BLAKey

    I am a landlord of three houses which I keep in a condition that I would be happy to live in them myself. I have a tenant that lived in one of my houses, needed more space so I moved her into a nicer home at the same rent as she was a single mother and had alwaysbeen very responsible. We transfered the month to month lease from the first house to the second so she would not have to purchase another MO which is sold at a cost. A note was made on the lease that she had verbally agreed to this. She did not sign the note that was added. I found out she has moved from the house without telling me, when I found her on facebook and sent her a message she was abusive and rude and said the house was a dump, its older but not a dump. Attorney?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi S.

      What damages did you incur because of her actions? Because she was now month-to-month, you likely could really only charge her for 1 month of rent for failure to give proper notice of vacating/termination. If there were any physical damages beyond normal wear and tear, then you could certainly charge her for that.

      If you have a 1 or 2 month security deposit, then you should be covered. If there are damages in excess of the deposit, then you just need to decide if the amount is worth pursuing her in small claims court? An attorney would definitely be helpful, but probably not necessary if you have written proof of the M2M agreement, and any damages and you go to small claims court. But please don’t let me stop you from talking to an attorney. I’m certainly not one, nor can I give legal advice.

      • S. BLAKey

        the house was newly renovated with hardwood floors master suite first floor two bedrms upstairs full bath insuite and full upstairs. now new closet doors destoyed and left in the upstairs bath holes kicked in walls three broken windows. I have people interested in the house but she tells me she is not out yet. Can I legally change the locks and hold her washer and dryer and beds that r stored in basement untill she pays rent,(also has not paid water bill which I will be responsible for) I have one month damage deposit that wont even cover the damages.$450.00. If we go to court can I petition for her to also have to pay court costs, rent, water,as well as the damages over her deposit? This is about the last straw for me. Thank you.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi again,

          Sounds like you have a lot of damages. If she has moved herself out, and you have confirmation that she is not living there anymore, then you would have to research your state’s specific laws on handling personal property. Most of the time, the landlord is able to relocate the abandoned property, but he/she can’t get rid of it (yet). The landlord would have to safeguard it somehow – but it shouldn’t prevent you from renting the unit to someone else.

          If the tenant have voluntarily moved-out, and simply just left stuff behind, then it’s generally okay to change the locks. Again, each state is somewhat different on this.

          We’ve summarized many state laws here: https://www.landlordology.com/state-laws

          I wish I could help you more, but you’re asking legal questions, which I can’t answer. That’s what lawyers do.

  • Delbra

    Learned from reading the discussions.
    We have a tenant that has stopped paying rent and will not even return phone calls. I have sent a shape up or ship out certified letter, but the post office cannot give me a confirmation of tenants receiving it until Dec. 22. In the mean time they will owe 2 months rent.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks, Delbra

  • Shelly Simmons

    I went to court & the judge ordered my dad 2 pay me an amount 4 my mobile home setting on his newly acquired property. I had 30 days 2 move. I’m past my deadline. Iv offered 2 pay him a month of rent so I can finish moving & he declined. Now what?! Iv paid the property taxes here for 6 1/2 yrs. It is my mobile home. Judge told him to pay me 4 it but I have 2 move

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Shelly,

      I’m confused… is your dad buying the trailer from you or are you simply going to move it off his land?

      If the Judge gave you one month to move, then I suggest you obey the judge. It’ll look really bad if you go back to court and you didn’t do what you were ordered to do.

  • Wei Jianhui

    Hi Lucas,
    You have a good promotion here. I got a problem. I have a tenant living in my property in California, and have not pay any rent or have any sign of paying. I told her many times that she should go. Now the property has its own problem, so I need to do some work with it, and maybe later sell it. I have a permit from the city, and I am hiring some workers to work on it really soon. My question is can I give notice to the tenant that I will work on the house and cut the water and electricity without her permission. and if I can how much time do I need to give her before the cut.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Wei,

      Yes, give her notice for the repairs. Hopefully she will just leave.

      But the bigger question is, why haven’t you evicted her yet? Go to court if you have to, but it’s bad business to let tenants stay in a property who don’t pay rent.

      • Wei Jianhui

        Thanks for helping. I would do as you told me. What if she still stays? is it lawful to cut the water without the tenant permission? and how much time in law do I give her to prepare to leave? I let her stay because I am afraid that someone else would break into the house. I really appreciated your help.

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Wei

          You can cut any essential service for a short amount of time (like during the day), but I think it either needs to come back on at night, or you should put her up in a hotel.

          If she stays, then you have to go through the eviction process to force her out. I’m not sure what to tell you about cutting off the utilities. Generally, you can’t use that as a form of intimidation, however, in your case, you are making repairs.

          Why not just get a security system if you are worried about break ins? It would be cheaper than a squatter tenant.

  • Joyce Howard

    I have a house that my son rents from me. He moved a gal & her 2 kids (13 & 10) in with him about 4 months ago until she could find her a new place. They do not get along, and they figuratively fight/argue all the time. He asked her, then told her to leave, but she will not. They went thru this 6 months ago & she finally left. Then he felt sorry for her & let her back in Oct 2015. She doesn’t even pay rent! He has now moved in with me because of the arguments in front of the kids, for which she starts but blames him. How can I get her to leave my home my son rented from me, when she doesn’t even pay rent? She has also been destructive, throwing a brick thru the picture window & burning holes in the couch after she left 6 months ago.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Joyce,

      Is she just refusing to pay rent, or did you not have a rent requirement in the first place? Meaning, are you letting her stay there for free, or have you asked her to pay rent, and she refuses?

      Generally speaking, the formal route is to go through your county eviction court – especially if she failing to pay rent according to the agreement.

      If she were my so-called-tenant, I’d talk to a lawyer about whether or not I need to go to eviction court. Then when she finally does leave, I would send her a bill for all the damages. If she didn’t pay it, then I would go to small claims court to get a judgement against her.

  • king

    Dead Beat tenant ? not in all cases they dead beat sometimes is the landlords fault ..

  • Frank Sarro

    We have a tenant who’s in jail we went through all the legal processes court, constable issuing him papers court found in our favor but the constable is hiring a moving company to take pictures of his possessions in the apartment which is only 850 sq feet 3 small rooms and is saying it could cost up to $5000 dollars which seem way high and we are not paying for the storage which the tenant will have to pay if he gets out of jail or after 3 months they will auction it off. What feel like we are being taken advantage any other legal options

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Frank,

      I’m not really sure. The rules on handling abandoned personal property are determined at the state/county level.

      Why not get a few more quotes? I’ve used Apartment Movers before, and it’s very inexpensive. http://apartmentmovers.com/

      If I were you, I would continue to work with a lawyer, and then sue the tenant for the damages when he gets out of jail. That’s just what I would do – but please don’t take this as legal advice.

  • Loretta McField

    My granddaughter gave a woman permission to live in the house given to her by her mother several years before she passed away. My granddaughter and the tenant made a verbal agreement that the tenant would pay $250.00 a month for rent (there is no rental license) and $32.99 per month on the back real estate taxes. The tenant is paying the monthly taxes but refuses to pay rent. She has refused 2 men access to assess needed repairs and is disrespectful to both me and my granddaughter via phone calls and text messages. We don’t care about the unpaid rent, we just want her out. Do I need to apply for a license to rent to evict her ? Overall, what steps do I need to take ?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Loretta,

      Rent licenses are required at the county-level and not all counties require them.

      Eviction court is the appropriate course if you have a tenant in your house who isn’t paying rent. It’s even the best action for squatters who don’t have the right to be there.

      If you’re unsure how to start, I suggest you talk to your local courthouse, or a local attorney (which I’m not). Good luck to you.

  • George Lambert

    Wow, Lucas, judging by all the comments you really hit on an important topic.

    I might add that a lesson here is don’t wait. The sooner you get the eviction process going, the better. At the end of the day you have to make a good business decision. Deal honestly and fulfill your end of the deal. But don’t let them tug on your heartstrings.

    I’ve never lost a landlord-tenant case in court. Dress nice, look professional. Be organized, and know your numbers in advance. The majority of tenants don’t bother showing up, so it’s usually not hard to win.

    George Lambert
    Author, What You Must Know BEFORE Becoming a Greedy Landlord. How to build a portfolio of investment properties for an income that lasts a lifetime.

  • Ramona Villafuette

    My sister and brother in law are my tenant. I never charge them for security deposit and no t lease agreement.
    After 16 years renting my house. I made a rental agreement which they refused to sign. Now I would like to sell my house since I got good profit but now they refused to pay their rent ant waiting to evict please help.

  • John baron

    Our tenate hasn’t payed rent science Sept its now February she was servered with court papers to appear she tore them up and threw them in the face of the server we have waited an additional 4weeks and are forced to wait until we receive a letter from the cook county sheriff s depart explaining what will happen next. This is so wrong she gets to stay without paying rent when I have a family ready to move in and pay the rent.she a five day notice way back in October and she’s still here what ate my options now and how do l collect what she owes .please help as I’m struggling to make my mortage

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi John, I’m sorry to hear about the situation. I would have expected the process server to report back that the tenant was properly served. What she did with the papers afterwards is irrelevant. I would’ve expected the court date to continue as planned and to be ruled in your favor. It sounds like you needed to hire a lawyer months ago. Perhaps you should hire an attorney to expedite this. Then, sue the tenant for legal fees in addition to rent.

      At least, thats what I would do. Please know that I’m not a lawyer nor is this legal advice.

  • Sarah Lund

    I’m really failing to understand, why tenants aren’t checked to see if they can afford it, before moving in. Why would you just suddenly move someone in, and assume they’d definitely be able to pay it? And then you complain when you can’t get rent money from them? Normally it’s ship one out, ship another one in. I also don’t get why you’d want a friendship with any tenant. That would be a bit too close for comfort, for me. It’s just business. You can’t always guarantee that every tenant will look at it, the same way you do. Some tenants will regret moving there, some won’t. That’s life. You have to accept it. But why let it “pull at the heartstrings”? In fact, why would any landlord feel any sort of attachment to their tenants? Creepy.

    • carto

      Perfect. I needed to read this comment today. Thank you Sarah Lund.
      “Renters’ remorse” is a made up term that is being bandied about by one of my tenants. I think that after they moved in they realized that they rented a cute, sweet sixty-year old house *not* a suite at the Four Seasons. Ever since I’ve been treated as if I am a concierge who should bend to each demand no mater how it is made: phone, in-person, email – you name it; any form of communication BUT written notice of needs or desired action.
      Friends? Nope. No way. Ever.

  • emily

    We have a tenant who sent us a rent abatement notice over repairs that are either fictitious or already completed. She claimed that the heat in her unit doesn’t work and we keep sending our plumber who has now confirmed four times that she has put the thermostat on permanent hold at 60 degrees and refuses to follow the instructions we and he have given her. She claims the water is caustic and contaminated, but our other tenants have made written statements that its great and that she sits in the very same water in a portable hot tub she brought onto the property. We’ve addressed every issue and are now just waiting until she withholds the rent so we can begin eviction proceedings. Isn’t it fraud to make false claims if money is involved?

  • joanna

    I am a landlord in CA and my tenants have refused to pay rent even after a 3-day notice. I am now filing a complaint against them , we never did a contract or lease where they signed everything was oral will be that work against me? They are also stating that they can live 3-months free if they want to, is that true?

  • Fernando Dolence

    I rented an apartment for a couple one year ago.
    I didn’t do contract with them. In December 2 2015, I asked them to leave the apartment in March 1 2016 (3 month), because my family is coming to live with me. They say not find apartment for rent. I believe they don’t want to pay the first, last month and deposit. What do I have to do now

  • Sharon

    My landlord of a big complex in Portland OR is going to Court tomorrow because she evicted the people above me and they refuse to leave. I am wondering is this first court date is nothing but an appearance and I will have to wait and live under them and the harassment for another month or more until, we show all the documentation, witnesses and evidence. Or does my landlord get to prove that tomorrow and they could possible be evicted in the next 48 hours to a week?

  • Layneang

    Hi I have a problem about my house right now I rent the house to someone but they don’t pay and I want them to move out but they don’t move out so what should I do ?

  • mike

    I have a renter in another state (AZ) where i live in CA with a now separated wife. I would like to get our renter out of our AZ condo, as she never pays rent on time and has abused the condo. How can i nicely get her to move out? I would like any qualified renter other than the one who has consistently missed payments.

  • jose avila

    I’m tired of seeing my mom cry as the manager and how badly they mis treat her where always caring and a christian family and the ladys in my building keep doing bad stuff to my mom like throwing water from upstairs down with chemicals saying she was washing her floor with drastic buckets of water always breaking the rules always starting fake accusations and just being little gossip girls all over the building. the husband of the lady with the water came down fighting with my dad yelling and a big argument infront of all the tenants disrespecting my family got scared and afraid the guy was gonna hit my dad i feel full of fear being around this building with these people

  • luthando

    i have tenants that don’t want to leave my house,there is no lease signed,they are vandalising the place and are 1 month behind.i gave them the notice last month but still they do’nt want to leave.how do i tell them Pro and nice to vacant?help

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Luthando,

      This situation is exactly what the formal eviction process is for. You should talk to your local courthouse about filing an unlawful detainer action – and follow the steps above.

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