The eviction process is a time-consuming and costly endeavor for any landlord. Based on a survey conducted by TransUnion, the average cost of evicting a tenant is roughly $3,500 and the entire process can take nearly a month – even before you factor in the fees associated with the possibility of having to take the case to court.
Evicting a tenant is a situation that no landlord wants to go through, however, it’s one that many will inevitably find themselves needing to confront. Thoroughly understanding how to begin the eviction process will help you get your property back on the market quicker, and keep eviction costs to a minimum.
1. Primary Reasons to Begin the Eviction Process
Tenant eviction is a last resort. Generally, a landlord will want to resolve any problems with a tenant personally, but there are times when that simply will not be an option.
The two most common forms related to the eviction process are a Notice to Pay Rent or Quit (aka late rent notice) and a Notice to Quit. The particular circumstances regarding the reason for eviction will determine which notices must be sent to the tenant.
- A Notice to Pay Rent or Quit is fairly self explanatory — it informs the tenant that they will be evicted unless they resume paying rent.
- A Notice to Quit should be sent whenever it becomes clear that the tenant has violated the terms of the lease and they should cease the offending activity or face eviction.
There are two classifications for lease termination in which a landlord can begin the eviction process – termination with cause, and termination without cause. Landlords typically need to provide just cause for terminating a lease agreement, although, there are instances where a landlord can reclaim their property even when a tenant has done nothing wrong.
a. Termination With Cause
Non-payment of Rent
Failure to pay rent is one of the most common reasons for terminating a lease, and is also one of the easiest lease violations to prove, should the eviction require a court hearing. State law varies on when a landlord can begin the eviction process, when a tenant misses a rent payment. Some states require that the tenant be notified via a Notice to Pay Rent or Quit, while others allow a landlord to begin evicting a tenant right away.
Violation of Lease Agreement
When a tenant fails to uphold any clause outlined within the terms of their lease agreement, a landlord can file for eviction by sending the tenant a Notice to Quit. Lease agreement violations typically include intentional damage to the rental property, letting the residence fall into disarray, or non-compliance of rules such as pet policies. If the tenant does not fix the issues specified in the Notice to Quit within a certain amount of time, the eviction process can begin. A landlord can also start the eviction process as soon as they become aware of any illegal activity taking place in the property by the tenant.
b. Termination Without Cause
Selling the Rental Property
There are many reasons that a landlord may wish to sell their rental property before a lease has expired. States differ on how long in advance a tenant must be notified before they must vacate the premises.
Reclaiming the Rental Property for Personal Use
Whether it’s to move in to the property themselves or any other reason, a landlord may decide to utilize their rental property for personal use at any point. If a property owner seeks to reclaim their rental property and move into it themselves, they must first notify the current tenant that their lease will be terminated. It’s important to note that the possibility of selling or reclaiming the property must be included in the lease agreement beforehand.
Certain states, such as New Hampshire or New Jersey, do not allow landlords to terminate a fixed-term lease agreement without cause.
2. Beginning the Eviction Process
How exactly do you evict someone? The proper legal procedures must be followed in order to ensure a successful eviction and reduce the risk of a prolonged court hearing, or losing the eviction case altogether.
After a written notice to resolve the problem has been delivered to the tenant, a formal eviction notice can be filed and the process will be set in motion.
a. Process Varies by State
Every state has legislation that determines the time in which a tenant must be given to correct an issue. Make sure you check the requirements for your state before you issue an eviction notice.
Landlords in six states (Georgia, New Jersey, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, and West Virginia) are free to set their own timeframe in which a tenant must cease a violation before the eviction process begins, as long as it is stipulated within the lease agreement.
b. Written Notice to Vacate
Once a cause has been determined, a landlord must first deliver a written notice of lease termination. In almost every instance, proof that the tenant received the written notice must be acquired. This can be accomplished in one of two ways:
- Delivering the notice in person
- Requiring a signature through a Certified Mail Receipt
If the tenant fails to resolve the problem within the given amount of time, the landlord is legally authorized to terminate the tenancy. At that point, an eviction notice may be filed letting the tenant know that their lease has been terminated and they must vacate the premises.
c. Unlawful Detainer
Ideally, the tenant will move out immediately after an eviction notice has been served, but what happens when they refuse to leave the property? This is known as an unlawful detainer.
A landlord must first receive an official court order signed by a judge when a tenant remains on a rental property past the date of eviction. In order to forcibly remove a tenant from the property, a court order requesting the intervention of the local authorities is required.
This type of legal proceeding is typically expedited through the court system and a judgement is made rather quickly. In certain regions, tenants are granted a court hearing to defend themselves before being forcibly removed.
3. Winning an Eviction Lawsuit
If a tenant fails to show up to court or deliver a written defense, the plaintiff (landlord) will win the case and a sheriff will be summoned to remove the defendant (tenant) from the property. A subpoena is usually delivered within days of a successful judgement in the plaintiff’s favor and a tenant is usually given a reasonable amount of time to vacate the premises under their own volition.
Once a judgement has been passed and a subpoena has been issued, law enforcement officers have the power to enter the rental property and remove the tenant along with any remaining possessions.
A landlord does not have the jurisdiction to take matters into their own hands and forcibly remove any of the tenant’s belongings that may still be present on the property. They must wait until the local authorities have carried out an unlawful detainer judgment.
4. Losing an Eviction Lawsuit
If a landlord has responsibly upheld their duties as a lessor, it is unlikely they will lose an eviction lawsuit. However, it’s important to keep in mind the various reasons that may result in an unsuccessful judgement.
- Not following proper state protocol when beginning the eviction process
- Accepting partial payment after serving an eviction notice
- Poor management of the rental property or improper bookkeeping
Be cognizant of the specific landlord-tenant laws in your region. Know what documents to fill out and at what point they must be filed. If you do not follow the proper protocol laid out by your state or local legislature, you may find yourself unable to evict a tenant.
After you have submitted a notice to pay or quit, do not accept anything less than the full amount of rent due. Accepting a partial rent payment may surrender your legal right to pursue judgement against a delinquent tenant.
Make sure that you are upholding your responsibility as a landlord and maintain rigorous bookkeeping standards. Accommodate any maintenance requests by the tenant in a timely manner. Ensure that the rental property is up to code and habitable.
5. How the Eviction Process Works (Infographic)
This easy-to-follow infographic shows you the exact path to take during the eviction process:
By and large, the eviction process is an expensive, tedious, and stressful undertaking. Minimize the hassle involved with evicting a tenant with our state-specific eviction notices.