You made the mistake of renting to a tenant that turned out to be a disaster. Maybe they stopped paying rent months ago, started subletting the basement without your permission, or adopted an unruly animal.
Even worse, maybe you have strong evidence your tenant is participating in illegal activities in the rental unit. What do you do?
Thankfully, landlords have a remedy for these situations: eviction. But the law doesn’t make eviction easy on landlords, and for good reason. The state wants to make sure renters aren’t being ousted from their homes haphazardly, especially without good cause.
Knowing the eviction process in detail is the best way to prepare yourself for every potential situation.
Here’s how to evict a bad tenant in six steps.
1. Know Your State’s Laws
Before you can file for eviction, it’s essential to be familiar with your state and local government’s laws. This is because eviction lawsuits vary considerably across the country.
If you don’t know the specific procedures in your state, you could risk accidentally compromising the lawsuit and having to start over. No landlord wants to be in this position, especially as evictions can take anywhere from five to seven weeks and cost thousands of dollars.
If you’ve never done an eviction before or aren’t confident in the legal procedures, it’s best to hire a real estate lawyer. The lawyer will guide you through the process with expertise and take over key steps so that you don’t have to, such as attending the hearing and presenting your case.
2. Identify the Breach of Contract
Next, you need to identify the breach of contract that is the cause for the eviction.
In order for your case to hold up in court, you need a justifiable legal basis for the eviction. The most common reason for eviction is nonpayment of rent, but evictions also frequently occur because the tenant damaged the property, exceeded the occupancy limits for the unit, or conducted illegal activity on the premises (such as selling a controlled substance).
Your reason is justifiable if the rule is listed in the lease agreement, and you have evidence to prove the tenant broke that rule.
If you don’t have a rental agreement or rent to tenants at will, you might have more trouble justifying your claim. In this case, you might be able to terminate the tenancy without eviction, or you may need to follow other state-specific procedures.
3. Send a Formal Eviction Notice
The next step is to send an eviction notice. It’s custom to deliver the eviction notice in person to an adult at the unit or post it on the front door. However, be sure to also send a copy via certified mail so that you get a receipt.
There are three main types of eviction notices: a rent demand notice (also known as a notice for nonpayment or pay-or-quit notice), a notice for lease violation, and an unconditional notice to quit.
Rent demand notices apply when the tenant did not pay their rent. For example, a 5-day pay rent or quit notice gives the tenant five days to pay their rent, move out (“quit”), or face eviction.
Notices for lease violations are for other breaches of the lease. If your state mandates a cure-or-quit notice, you must give the tenant a certain number of days to correct or “cure” the breach.
Unconditional quit notices are reserved severe lease violations, such as illegal activity, repeat violations, or substantial damage. They do not give the tenant an opportunity to correct the breach.
4. File the Eviction with the Court
If the tenant doesn’t pay rent or fix the breach by the end of the notice period, it’s time to officially sue for an eviction.
Usually, you’ll pay a small fee to file the eviction with the court. The court then sets a date and time for the hearing and serves the tenant a proper summons.
5. Attend the Hearing
At the hearing, both you and your tenant will present your respective cases.
Bring any evidence that backs up your case for eviction, including:
- The signed lease agreement
- Payment records
- Copies of emails or other communication
- The receipt from the eviction notice delivery
- Pictures, testimonials, or other proof of the violation
6. Evict the Tenant
So long as you followed the protocols and have a valid reason for the eviction, the judge will most likely rule in your favor. At this point, they’ll award you a Write of Restitution or Writ of Possession, which is the document that allows you to remove the tenant from your property.
Typically, the tenant gets a little longer (anywhere from 24 hours to a week or two) to move out. If they don’t, take the writ to the local law enforcement agency. After you pay the sheriff another small fee, an officer will visit the property in person to escort the tenant out.
Evictions are complex legal processes. However, by taking care that each legal step is fulfilled, you can make evicting a bad tenant as painless as possible.