Even good landlords deal with nonpayment of rent. When a tenant owes you rent, eviction is an option. However, landlords must follow landlord-tenant laws. You cannot just kick a tenant out of the property.

Know the Law and Document the Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Successful landlords are prepared. Before entering a landlord-tenant relationship, you should understand your state and city’s rules on rental properties.

You can also screen tenants before offering them a rental property.

Make sure your lease agreement clearly sets out the terms and conditions of the relationship. (If you need help drafting a lease, contact a real estate lawyer). Even if your tenant is a friend or family member, you should consider the rental agreement as a business transaction. All tenants should sign a lease.

When a tenant signs a lease agreement, create a file that documents your relationship. This file should contain the lease, a payment ledger, copies of any communications between you and the tenant, bounced checks, and other related information. If the relationship sours, this file will help with the eviction process.

Before Filing a Lawsuit, Negotiate with the Tenant

If you have a good relationship with the tenant, talk to them. Eviction proceedings can become expensive and time-intensive. Many tenants will agree to move out without a formal eviction. Consider meeting with the tenant in a neutral setting (such as a library or coffee shop) to avoid conflict.

Give the Tenant a Formal Eviction Notice

If you cannot amicably resolve the tenant’s rent problem, you should start the eviction process. The courts have set out specific procedure that must be followed in evictions. First, you must give the tenant a formal eviction notice

An eviction notice is a document that explains:

  • Why you are evicting the tenant,
  • Whether they fix the situation by paying the past-due rent, and
  • How much time they have to pay before eviction will occur.

Most states have strict timelines for evictions. Check with a real estate lawyer or the court to see how much notice you must give a tenant before filing a lawsuit.

You should post the eviction notice on the tenant’s door and send another copy by certified mail.  Hopefully, an eviction notice will convince the tenant to pay his or her rent, or vacate the property.

File an Eviction Complaint with the Court.

If the tenant does not pay the rent or vacate the property, you must file a complaint with the court. A complaint is a formal document that starts court proceedings. You also must send a copy of the filed complaint to the tenant.

After a period of time, the court will notify your tenant of your lawsuit. The tenant will have a chance to respond to your lawsuit. Then, the court will schedule an eviction hearing.

Get Ready for the Eviction Hearing

At the court hearing, you must convince the judge that an eviction is appropriate. Your word alone is not enough. Instead, you should have documents and other evidence. Make sure you have proof of your tenant’s non-payment, including:

  • The signed lease agreement,
  • Payment records and bounced checks,
  • Copies of any letters or emails you sent the tenant,
  • Your formal eviction notice, and
  • Proof that the tenant received your eviction notice.

If you have a lawyer, he or she will help you prepare and counsel you on best practices.

Evict the Tenant

If the court grants your eviction, it will give your tenant a set amount of time to vacate the property. If the tenant refuses to leave, you can ask the Sheriff’s Department to remove your tenant and his or her belongings.

What Should a Landlord Avoid Doing During an Eviction?

You cannot evict a tenant without a court order. Without a court order, you should never:

  • Remove the tenant from the property,
  • Remove or take the tenant’s belongings from the property,
  • Change the property’s locks,
  • Shut off the utilities (such as gas and water), or
  • Harass or abuse the tenant.

These behaviors may hurt your chances of prevailing at court (and may cause additional lawsuits).

Does Rent Control Factor Into Eviction?

If the property is rent controlled, you must have just cause for evicting a client. Typically, non-payment of rent is just cause. However, you cannot evict someone simply to raise rent. 

Can a Lawyer Help Evict a Tenant for Non-Payment?

Eviction procedures are very time specific and vary from state-to-state. It is probably in your best interest to hire a real estate attorney to help with the eviction process.