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

Last updated on August 15, 2016 by

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

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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

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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174 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • BV

    My rental property in CA is being foreclosed on and the current tenants of 4 years are aware of the situation and have not paid rent for two months. I am able to avoid the foreclosure sale and sale it on my own. My question is do I serve a 3 day or quit or the 60 day eviction? What’s the quickest way to have them vacate?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi BV,

      If the tenant hasn’t paid rent in 2 months, then they would be in violation of the agreement due to nonpayment – which only requires a 3 day notice to pay or quit. If they pay, then they can stay.

      If they don’t have a fixed-term lease, but rather are only month-to-month, then the standard 60 days notice to terminate would apply (assuming they pay all their rent).

      Check out our guide on all the CA state laws: https://www.landlordology.com/california-landlord-tenant-laws/

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

  • Nancy

    My Aunt evicted her son and he had to be out of the home by May 19, 2016 (court ordered). My Aunt recently passed away in June of 2016. On the same day she died, her son returned to the property, had the locks changed and moved back in. Can he do that legally? He is not listed the beneficiary and he is not listed on the title of her home. How can we legally get him out? No one has access to the eviction paperwork.

  • Brad HallBrad

    I have a step son age 53 that has been living with us for 25 years. He is a Harvard graduate and has never paid 1 penny toward his keep including food, housing, automobile, gas , he has trashed our his bedroom with milk crates from floor to ceiling, he has 14 aquariums in his bedroom, he has converted his bathroom to a support center for his aquariums, he is abusive to his Mother and disrespectful to me ignoring my demands to clean up his room. He has two dogs and we have 1 which is one dog over the HOA limit. He just brought another dog home ( 2 month old puppy) which brings the total dogs to 4. I have given him a car to drive in hopes he could find a job and find his own life. My wife and I are 75, we do not want another dog. Help !!

  • Lolita douglas

    how can I evict my daughter who is living in my other house for 7 years without paying we don’t have any rental agreement

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lolita

      Dealing with Family is rough in situations like this. If she refuses to leave, and your relationship is beyond saving, then you could follow the instructions in this article, and you could have her evicted by force.

      But don’t do that unless you’re prepared for the consequences – it’s like dropping and atom bomb on the relationship.

  • Maria Nunez

    Can the sheriff put a 5 day notice to move out after the tenents file bankrupt one day before our trial date ?

  • Donna Baker

    I am renting my house with 2 people signing the lease. One of the signers is moving out. Does that void the original lease cause we don’t want to rent it to just the one person.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Donna,

      It’s irrelevant that one person is moving out. As the landlord, it shouldn’t matter to you whether they live there or they don’t. They signed a lease that commits them to paying rent. If they choose to spend their time elsewhere, or move-out completely, it doesn’t release them from their obligation to pay rent.

      If I were you, I’d tell the tenants that you expect rent to be paid in full until the lease expires. If they need to go find a replacement to make that happen, so be it. If the remaining one says “but I can’t afford it on my own and the other tenant won’t pay”, then you can offer to let them out of the lease, as long as they pay the rent until you can find a full replacement. Then sue them for any lost rent in the mean time. Does that make sense?

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

  • Sha

    Hi, Lucas. I sublease my room to a girl. Our lease is ending 6/30/2016. She is not paying my rent from June ,and she reject to moving out. We went to court 8/30/2016, unfortunately we didn’t set a agreement. The second time court will be 10/7/2016. My lease with building manage is end9/30/2016. Could you give me some advice that I can get rid of the situation ?
    Thank you very much

  • Cindy

    I have a son that is living in my old house for free. 4 yrs. He gets people to move in and pay the bills. Well this is the second person he has had in there that has not paid what they said they would.
    These people said they would pay all the bills and get them in there name. They are not doing it. There is no written agreement. I want to turn everything off. My son needs to get things in his name. The people will not get out. They said I have to evict them. Do I have to evict them and spend money at the courts because there was no written agreement they are living with my son and I’m turning the power off on him. I have a restraining order on him so I do not talk to him. Everything’s in my name.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Cindy,

      You can’t ever just shut off the utilities or change the locks. Don’t do it. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a written agreement. They were allowed to live there with your son’s approval – which is agreement enough.

      The only two methods that I’ve seen work are
      1. Continue to go through the courts/sheriffs office
      2. offer her cash for keys: https://www.landlordology.com/cash-for-keys-bad-tenants-move-out/

      Alternatively, you could talk to an attorney about it.

  • cerci

    served month to month tenant a 30 day notice. they refuse to pay rent for the 30 days and said they were going to move. they have moved some of their belongings and have abandoned the premises and I don’t know where they are. what can I do and can I move in other tenants

  • carmel francois

    I have a house that I am renting ti someone do I need to have a lower in case they stop paying rent and want to evict them without going to court myself

  • Dani

    Hi, my parents have a rental property in MN. The current renters have a 4 wheeler that they have been driving all over and destroying the lawn even after they were told to stay off of it and now they’re driving on the alfalfa field even though they were told to stay off that as well. Also they have a trampoline that they were told several times to get rid of and they still haven’t done anything with it. At this point they are becoming hostile and used their brothers side by side to tear around on the end of my parents driveway at their own residence. Do my parents have enough grounds for eviction? And how many days do they have to give them before filing with the courthouse?

  • Brenda

    We have a rental property that has tenants that are good tenants but there maybe a separation between my spouse and I. If I was to leave, I would like to live in my rental property. Can you give advice on how to go about this in a proper way for everyone?

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