The term eviction refers to the legal process in which a court orders the removal of a tenant from a rented property based on a request from their landlord. The landlord must have a justified and specific reason as to why their tenant must be evicted.
Some examples of such reasons include, but may not be limited to:
- If a tenant stops paying rent;
- The tenant or their guests have caused substantial damage to the rental property;
- The tenant has breached the terms of their lease or rental agreement; and
- The tenant does not move out after their lease has expired and is now considered to be a squatter.
It is important to note that the eviction process generally involves many steps that have strict legal requirements for both the tenant and the landlord. These requirements are governed by specific state laws, meaning that they will vary by jurisdiction. Tenants also have a number of defenses they may use against a landlord’s eviction notice, which can help prove that the eviction is unfair or that there is no reason to evict them in the first place.
The process to evict a tenant for not paying rent will be further discussed below. However, it is imperative to note that eviction can have devastating effects on the person being evicted, including homelessness. Landlords should keep in mind that they are working with fellow human beings and attempt to compromise before pursuing eviction.
Know the Law and Document the Landlord-Tenant Relationship
Before entering into a landlord-tenant relationship, you should understand your state and city rules regarding rental properties. As previously mentioned, laws associated with eviction and the landlord-tenant relationship can vary from state to state, and even city to city. Additionally, eviction bans may be in place during times of economic hardship, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential that you educate yourself on local and current laws before moving forward.
You can also screen tenants before offering them a rental property. Screening rental applicants and potential tenants is a vital part of an ethical landlord-tenant relationship. Before attempting to screen any applicants, you should be familiar with the nondiscrimination provisions in the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), as well as health and safety laws such as the implied warranty of habitability.
Ensure that your lease agreement clearly details the terms and conditions of the relationship. Your lease should contain terms which address the following general issues:
- Landlord entry;.
- Security deposit; and
- Payment of utilities.
Especially if your tenant is a friend or family member, you should consider the rental agreement to be a business transaction. As such, all tenants should sign a lease. When a tenant signs a lease agreement, you should create a file that documents your landlord-tenant relationship. This file should contain:
- The lease;
- A payment ledger;
- Copies of any communications between you and the tenant;
- Copies of bounced checks; and
- Other related information that will help with the eviction process if need be.
Before Filing a Lawsuit, Negotiate with the Tenant
If you have a good working relationship with the tenant, talk to them. Determine whether the two of you can come to a solution that avoids eviction.
Eviction proceedings can become expensive and time-intensive; as previously mentioned, it is crucial to remember that your tenant is a human being first. Both parties should treat each other with respect and dignity. Many tenants will agree to move out without a formal eviction.
Give the Tenant a Formal Eviction Notice
If you are unable to amicably resolve the tenant’s rent problem, you should start the eviction process. State courts have set out specific procedures that must be adhered to. First, you must provide the tenant with a formal eviction notice. This may also be referred to as a failure to pay rent notice.
Simply put, an eviction notice is a document that explains:
- The reasons as to why you are evicting the tenant;
- Whether the tenant may remedy the situation by paying the past-due rent; and
- How much time the tenant has to pay before eviction will occur. This is generally between 3 and 30 days, depending on the jurisdiction.
The eviction notice should be posted on the tenant’s door, and another copy should be sent by certified mail. An eviction notice may be enough to convince the tenant to either pay their 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 which initiates the court proceedings. Additionally, you must send a copy of the filed complaint to the tenant, generally through certified mail. Once the eviction notice has been filed with a local court, the clerk will send a summons to the tenant and provide you with a court date for a hearing.
At this point in the eviction process, both the landlord and the tenant should be collecting evidence to support their arguments for and against the eviction at the hearing. As previously mentioned, this is where your file of gathered documents will come in handy.
Get Ready for the Eviction Hearing
First and foremost, it is highly recommended that both parties appear at the court hearing. Not appearing before the court can result in serious legal consequences, such as being held in contempt of court. Depending on the state, the court may also require the parties to attend a mediation session prior to being heard by a court. This is intended to encourage the parties to cooperatively come to an agreement.
While at the court hearing, you will need to convince the judge that an eviction is appropriate. Because your word alone is not enough, you should be prepared with documents and other evidence. To ensure you have proof of your tenant’s non-payment, you should include:
- The signed lease agreement;
- Payment records and bounced checks;
- Copies of any letters or emails sent between you and the tenant,
- Your formal eviction notice; and
- Proof that the tenant actually received your eviction notice.
Evict the Tenant
If a court rules in your favor, your tenant will have a certain amount of days in which to leave the premises. If they have not left after that time period has expired, you may contact local law enforcement to have the tenant arrested and removed. This would most likely be your sheriff. Additionally, your tenant has the right to appeal the ruling against them; however, they must usually do this within seven days.
Alternatively, if your tenant wins the hearing, they will continue to enjoy the right to remain on the property. The judge may also order you to pay the tenant’s legal fees, as well as other damages that the tenant may have suffered due to the eviction action. This is yet another reason why landlords should approach eviction with extreme caution and preparation; failing to follow through could end up costing you more money than anticipated.
What Should a Landlord Avoid Doing During an Eviction?
It is imperative that you take steps to avoid a dispute during an eviction. Once again, you should treat the tenant with dignity and respect, even when they are being evicted from your property.
You cannot evict a tenant without a court order. Without this 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 without providing the tenant with a current key;
- Shut off the utilities, such as gas and water; and/or
- Harass or abuse the tenant in any way.
Such behaviors may harm your chances of prevailing at court, and could cause additional lawsuits.
Can a Lawyer Help Evict a Tenant for Non-Payment?
If you are considering evicting a tenant for non-payment, you will need to consult with an experienced local landlord-tenant attorney.
A local lawyer will help you understand your state’s laws regarding the matter, as well as how to safely proceed. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.