How to Legally Evict a Tenant: The Eviction Process Explained

How to Legally Evict a Tenant: The Eviction Process Explained

Evicting a tenant is the process of removing them from your rental property.

Whether it is a family house or a vacation home, a landlord has the right to evict a tenant. This type of eviction process is also known as repossession or unlawful detainer.

A landlord may want to evict a tenant due to a number of reasons. A landlord can evict their tenants if they are involved in illegal activities within the rental property, have breached the lease agreement, are damaging the property, are bothering the neighbors, and have failed to pay rent repeatedly. Although these reasons for eviction may vary from state to state, they usually apply across most eviction cases.

Apart from these reasons or those enforced by the eviction laws of a particular state, landlords often have a rationale they observe when it comes to evicting a tenant. Some states require landlords to completely observe the eviction guidelines since such lawsuits are quick to handle and prevent legal complications. In other cases, landlords may choose to use other ways like providing the tenants with proper notice instead of leaving them homeless through eviction.

Tip: Apart from evicting a tenant, some situations may result in having to evict a roommate or a family member that lives with you. The best course of action is first to ask the roommate to change and correct the issue that is causing problems. If that does not help, you can serve them with an eviction notice to alert them about lease termination and inform them to leave the house.

Step-By-Step Guide on How to Evict a Tenant

As a landlord, choosing to evict a tenant may not be an easy process. Background checks on tenants help improve the chances of getting good tenants to avoid the costly eviction process.

However, when dealing with uncooperative tenants and the best course of action is eviction, then here is a step-by-step guide on how to evict a tenant you can observe:

Step 1: Ensure you have a valid reason

The first step is to ensure that your reason for eviction is valid under your state’s eviction laws. The reasons mentioned above are considered valid enough for eviction to happen. A landlord may also choose to evict their tenant if their lease has expired or is subletting without your permission. Ensure that your reason is valid to avoid any legal issues from the tenant.

Other common reasons that are valid and can be a cause for you to evict your tenant include your tenant failing to pay their rent, your tenant paying their rent late on a consistent basis, your tenant damaging your rental property, your rental property being used for illegal activity and your tenant being involved in activities that affect other tenants.

For the case of California State, the California law is clear on the circumstance that would be considered valid for an eviction. If your tenant is involved in any of the eviction reasons mentioned in the California law, then you are within your rights to evict them.

These reasons include failure to pay rent, violation of terms and agreement of the rental contract, damaging your property, your tenant bothering other neighbours, participation in illegal activities while in your property, like selling drugs and failure to vacate after the lease agreement has expired.

Step 2: Check your State’s eviction laws

The next step is to check your state’s eviction laws to learn how the process should occur. Eviction laws are referred to as the rules and instructions about the eviction process, usually regulated by the state or local and federal governments. A landlord should ensure that their rental leases have the eviction laws to make the eviction process easier and faster to handle.

Even though each State’s eviction laws play a part in the regulation of the eviction process, the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act also regulates the renting laws. This act, if used by you as the landlord, should be clearly stipulated in the lease agreement. This way, your tenant will be aware of all the rules that govern their renting process and eviction notice.

Note: State’s eviction laws require landlords to end the tenancy before they can start the eviction process. Therefore, a landlord must be aware of the termination of tenancy steps, which they should observe before starting the eviction process. Most states require that landlords issue a termination of tenancy notice to their tenant(s).

Step 3: Issue a formal eviction notice

According to the state’s eviction laws, the landlord should issue a formal eviction notice to the tenant. The notice is meant to formally inform the tenant of your plans to evict them and the reason for the decision. The eviction notice also provides the tenant with the amount of time they have to either resolve the issue or leave the rental property.

For instance, if the issue concerns paying rent, the landlord should provide the tenant with an eviction notice informing them to pay rent or leave the house. The formal eviction notice is not meant to automatically evict the tenant from your rental property. It mainly informs them of how long they have before the issue becomes a court case.

An eviction notice should basically contain the address of the rental property, the period of time the tenant has to resolve the issue (deadline date), the current status of the rental lease, and the reason as to why you are evicting them. There are two types of formal eviction notices, and they are the notices for termination with and without cause.

Note: You can either issue the eviction notice to your tenant in person or by using certified mail to ensure you have a receipt that acts as evidence of delivering the notice. When delivering it personally and the tenant does not accept it, the best course of action is to drop it on the ground next to them.

In case you are delivering the notice personally and you fail to find them, you can leave it with an individual you find at either the tenant’s workplace or residency. The person should be considered an adult based on your State, that is, 18 years old and above. After that, you are required to mail a copy of the notice to the tenant or post the copy on their door.

Notices for termination with cause

These notices for termination are used by landlords who have reasons as to why they want to evict their tenant(s). These are:

  • Pay rent or quit notices: A landlord uses this notice if their tenant(s) has not paid rent. The landlord usually gives them a 3-day to 5-day quit notice to either pay the rent or leave the rental property.
  • Cure or quit notices: Landlords use these notices if their tenant(s) has violated the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. For instance, if the lease says no pets or excessive noise and the tenant(s) have violated these terms and conditions, the landlord can give them this notice. The notice gives your tenants time to either correct the problem (cure) or leave the premises (quit) to avoid an eviction lawsuit.
  • Unconditional quit notices: These notices are known to be the strictest among the other notices. With this notice, the landlord does not give their tenant a chance to correct their issue or pay their rent. Instead, they are supposed to vacate from the rental property or face an eviction lawsuit.

    This notice is mostly used if the tenant has damaged the property, participated in any illegal activities at the premises, repeatedly violated the rental lease agreement, or failed to pay rent several times.
  • Notice of lease violation: With this notice, the landlord gives their tenant(s) this notice as a warning. It is meant to inform the tenant about how they have violated the rental lease agreement. The notice will offer this tenant(s) time to correct the problem or face the mentioned consequences.

    As the landlord, you can proceed with enforcing the consequences if your tenant does not change or resolve the issue. For instance, you can ask a tenant smoking within the rental premises to stop their smoking habit using this notice.
  • Notice of termination: With this notice, a landlord can inform their tenant that their rental lease will no longer be renewed. This is commonly used for monthly lease agreements.
  • Notices for termination without cause: For termination notices without cause, landlords can use these notices for tenants with monthly or shorter rental agreements. However, you must provide your tenant with the required notice period as per the state’s laws to start the eviction process.

    However, the landlord cannot use this notice to terminate the tenant’s lease if they do not have a valid reason and the tenant has a fixed-term lease. Also, some states do not allow landlords to use these notices for termination without cause.

Here are free eviction notices by states:

Step 4: Give enough notice

In the notice you prepare for your tenant, you must give them enough notice period as required by the State eviction laws. A notice period is the amount of time that you as the landlord must give the tenant to rectify the issue or move out from your rental property before starting an eviction lawsuit.

The eviction situation and the terms and conditions of the lease also determine the notice period you will give your tenant. For example, the notice period for a tenant to either pay rent or vacate may vary based on whether the lease agreement is periodic or fixed. For an expired lease agreement, you will have to give your tenant 30 days before you can file a lawsuit.

Step 5: File for eviction and attend the hearing

If the notice period in the eviction notice that you served your tenant has expired, but the tenant has not moved out or resolved the issue, the next step for you to take is to file an eviction lawsuit and attend the hearing in court. This step is essential as it makes the whole eviction process legal.

You will need to present evidence to the court clerk to show that you sent an eviction notice to your tenant. The clerk will also use the eviction notice to confirm that you gave your tenant enough notice period to change the issue or vacate from the rental property. With that in mind, ensure that you use certified mail to send your tenant the eviction notice. This way, you will have a receipt that acts as evidence in court.

The court will then give you a date when your eviction hearing will be held. Ensure that you find an attorney to deal with all the legal matters or have all the evidence and required documents in order if you are representing yourself.

All landlords must have the following for the court hearing:

  • Payment records
  • Signed lease agreement
  • Your photo ID
  • Copy of the eviction notice
  • Evidence of delivering the eviction notice to the tenant, that is, a certified mail receipt
  • Renter’s license (depends on the state)

Step 6: Complete the court process

For you to complete the court process, you will have to ensure that you have all the required documents and a final judgment from the judge. For a tenant who responds to being served and shows up in court for the case, your winning means that they need to leave your rental property or be escorted out forcefully by the police within a set period of time.

For a tenant who fails to show up in court 5 days after being served to attend the hearing, you can request the judge to give you a default judgment. However, the judge will require you to prove that you delivered the notice as required, using the correct method and gave your tenant enough notice period.

With sufficient evidence, winning the case means receiving a Writ of Possession from the judge. As the landlord, you will need to give the Sheriff this document since they have the authority to serve it to the tenant within 3 to 15 days. Once the tenant is served with the “Writ of Possession,” they will have only 5 days to leave your property or get forcefully evicted after 6 to 15 days of the notice expiring.

In case your tenant files a complaint against you and proves that you, as the landlord did not follow the required steps, the court will favor the tenant. This is because the judge will give them a ruling of “leave to amend,” and you will not be able to repossess your property.  This hearing usually happens within 10 to 20 days of the tenant’s complaint. In this case, however, a landlord can still file another case if they have valid reason and evidence against their tenant.

Step 7: Evict the tenant

After winning the eviction lawsuit, the next step is to evict the tenant. Your tenant will be given a number of days to leave your premises by the presiding judge. In case the tenant fails to adhere to this judging, you are allowed to seek help from the police. The police or enforcement officer will either physical remove them or give them about 72 hours to leave willingly.

Based on your state’s laws, you can file a lawsuit to claim any uncollected rent. You should also find out if you are required to store or allowed to throw away the tenant’s belongings before making a move that might cost you.

Step 8: Store tenant’s belongings

According to your State’s eviction laws, you may be required to store your tenant’s belongings after the eviction process for a particular period of time. In other cases, you can either throw away, or sell their belongings.

A landlord can only dispose or sell the tenant’s remaining belongings if they have made it clear that they have permanently left the premises and allowed the landlord to repossess the rental property. For most states, landlords must observe the storage and notification procedures by allowing an enforcement officer to handle the tenant’s removal and belongings.

You can also download the eviction notice here for free:

Notice-Pay-Rent-Or-Quit

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Has the COVID-19 outbreak affected the eviction process?

    The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the eviction process in most States. There is an eviction ban that prevents landlords from evicting their tenants during this pandemic period. Landlords can still assess penalties and late fees from their tenants for issues like failure to pay rent. Landlords should also confirm the status of their eviction laws in their State before starting an eviction process.

    Are there any COVID-19 eviction restrictions?

    There are COVID-19 eviction restrictions that have been put in place to protect tenants during these tough times. These restrictions are meant to prevent landlords from evicting their tenants. Therefore, landlords must determine the category that their rental property falls into to determine their course of actions regarding the eviction process.

    What may be the defenses to eviction that a tenant may raise?

    A landlord should always be prepared in case a tenant decides to raise defenses against your eviction process. Some of the defenses a tenant might raise against you include identifying issues in the eviction notice and complaining about the delivery of the notice. Ensure that your past behaviour is good and your current eviction notice is in check to avoid complications and delays in court.

    How can I remove a tenant after an eviction suit?

    After winning the eviction suit, the best way to remove a tenant from your rental property is by following the state’s legal processes. These procedures usually provide directions on the proper physical removal of the tenant, like having the landlord ask for help from the sheriff.
    However, it is illegal to lock out the tenant from the rental property or cut off their utilities just because you won the eviction lawsuit.

    How long does it take to evict a tenant?

    The time it takes to evict a tenant depends on the State and the tenant’s cooperation. This period may vary between a few weeks to months. By following the State’s eviction laws, communicating with the tenant, and giving out a proper eviction notice, landlords can speed up the eviction process.

    Can I evict a tenant who does not pay rent?

    As a landlord, you can evict a tenant who does not pay rent and is living in your rental property. If it is a one-time mistake, you should first talk to them before evict them from your premises. Whether there is a lease or not, the tenant not paying rent should be evicted using the correct legal channels to avoid lawsuits from the tenant.

    What is the easiest way to evict someone?

    The easiest way to evict someone is by observing the State’s eviction laws. Following all the necessary legal steps will make it easier for you to evict that troublesome tenant faster and easily.

    Can a tenant evict a family member?

    A tenant can evict a family member from your rental property if the person is an adult (18 years). Such a tenant must still observe the legal steps of the eviction process just like you would do as a landlord. Eviction laws about evicting a family member vary from State to State based on whether the family member is not on the lease or is a subtenant. You should advise your tenant to check on those laws so as to have an easier eviction process.

    How can I avoid bad tenants and eviction processes?

    The most effective way for landlords to avoid bad tenants and eviction processes is by conducting thorough background checks on these tenants before accepting their rental applications. A landlord may also ask for references so that you may reach out to their previous landlords and learn their rental history.

    How does eviction affect a landlord and a tenant?

    Eviction affects both parties either positively or negatively, depending on the situation. For a tenant who has been evicted based on valid reasons, the eviction would affect them negatively while benefiting the landlord, who will get their property back. The tenant is likely to have a hard time trying to find a new rental space.
    The landlord will also suffer in that they will lose their income and experience a stressful time finding a new tenant. It will most likely be time-consuming and expensive for the landlord, especially if the eviction lawsuit takes long.