How to Legally Evict a Tenant
Pursuing an eviction isn’t something that you as a landlord necessarily wish to do, but if forced to act, it’s important to follow the letter of the law to avoid any violations of your tenant’s rights. Every locality has its own laws on how you can evict a tenant, and in the event of extreme crises (like the COVID pandemic of 2020 and 2021) various levels of federal, state, and local governments may take the step of halting evictions entirely for periods of time.
Given how complicated evictions can be during normal times, you’ll want the help of an attorney, but it’s smart to first brush up on the required steps to evict a tenant.
Before You Begin the Eviction Process
Before you start evicting a tenant, you first want to make sure you have the legal grounds to do so. A poor relationship between landlord and tenant alone doesn’t suffice, but one or more violations of the terms of the lease can offer you a reason to evict your tenant.
Also every state has its own laws about how landlords can go about eviction and the steps that need to be taken. Justifying an eviction may require evidence, which is why thorough record keeping for rent paid and unpaid, repair bills, photos of damage, and contemporaneous notes about communications is a must.
Eviction is a serious action, so make sure you have all the supporting documentation and steps well understood before you begin the process.
Starting the Eviction Process
The process begins once you’ve officially served a tenant with a formal eviction notice. Service of an eviction notice isn’t done by slipping it in their mailbox or under their door; the law typically requires that it is delivered into the hands of the renter. Depending on the circumstances, this means either doing it yourself or, should they prove elusive, using a process server or certified mail to ensure delivery.
Understanding the Notice
An eviction notice indicates the reason for the action as well as the number of days a tenant has to resolve the issue before steps will be taken to remove them from the property. There are a few different types of eviction notices and again check with a lawyer for specific rules and laws in your area:
- Pay Rent or Quit. As the name suggests, tenants are given a set period to either provide the payment due for the rental or move out.
- Cure or Quit. If the issue is not unpaid rent but a separate violation of the lease, such as damage, the tenant has a specific time-frame to fix that problem or move out.
- Unconditional Quit. As the landlord you want the tenant out, regardless of their ability to address the violations. The tenant is given a period in which to vacate, with no option to remedy the situation.
At this point, it’s on the tenant as to how far the process is to go; if they either remedy the issue or vacate in the prescribed period, the matter is resolved (for now.) Should they fail to do so, you’ll have to take the dispute to court.
Filing with the Court
To move the process forward after the notice fails to remedy the situation, you’ll have to file the requisite eviction forms with a court and pay the associated fee. As part of your filing you’ll need to demonstrate that your tenant was served with an eviction notice in the manner and time frame prescribed by law. The court will then issue a summons to your tenant to appear for a hearing, which may be served either by the court or you, depending on your local court procedures.
Attending an Eviction Hearing
Once the court has granted an eviction hearing date, it’s best to engage a lawyer to assist with preparing your case. In laying out your eviction justification, you will need the following:
- a copy of your signed lease;
- records and receipts for any unpaid rent (if applicable);
- proof of the violation(s) that prompted the eviction;
- information on any potential witnesses who can support your case; and
- records of all the communication between you and your tenant.
Basically, you are looking for anything and everything that shows you’re in the right as far as the eviction. Be warned, though; the hearing is also a venue for your tenant to make their own case to the court that the eviction is unjustified or was improper in its execution under the law — another reminder that hiring a lawyer to ensure you are following state eviction laws is crucial.
Removing the Tenant
If the court finds in your favor, you will be granted a writ of eviction (also called a writ of possession), which severs any rights the tenant had to live at the property and allows you as landlord to take possession of the property. The evicted tenant now has a period of days (or less) to vacate the premises.
If they’re still in the rental unit at the end of that period, you can now request a writ of restitution, which allows you to call upon law enforcement to force the tenant to vacate. Landlords should be careful not to enter the premises or change the locks before the writ has been issued or without the supervision of a constable or sheriff.
The eviction process is possibly the most complicated any landlord has to undertake and requires know-how when it comes to state laws. Any mistake may give your tenant fair claim to say their rights were violated, which is why it’s wise to lean upon the counsel of a lawyer experienced in that arena. With LegalShield, you can connect with a provider lawyer within 24 hours to get started on a legal eviction. Sign up now to get the legal help you need.
Speak to an Attorney Familiar with Eviction Laws in your State