Landlords: How to Evict a Tenant

If you are in the unfortunate situation of needing to an evict a tenant, it’s critical that you follow the law to ensure the eviction is proper, so that it can be completed as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

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Get Legal Advice Before You Seek to Evict a Tenant

While the general steps you need to take to evict a tenant are similar across the United States, the specific rules and regulations vary from state to state. To be enforceable, an eviction must follow the terms of the lease as well as the laws in the state in which the property is located.

Federal, state and local regulations on evictions related to COVID-19 further complicate the situation for landlords.

If you have any questions or would like to have access to a provider lawyer to help you through an eviction, consider getting a legal plan from LegalShield.

Is Eviction Your Best Option?

An eviction lawsuit can be stressful, expensive and time consuming. They can even result in countersuits from the tenant. As such, you want to make sure formal eviction is truly your best option. It is important to understand the law and options that are available to you.  

Have a Productive Conversation

One option is to try to resolve the situation through a firm yet compassionate conversation. Try to understand their situation and see if you can come to an agreement. Alternatively, ask them to leave and politely point out this could help avoid costly legal problems, preserve their credit and reduce conflict.  

Offer to Help the Tenant Move Out

Do you own a truck the tenant can use to move? Do you know of other properties that may be more suitable for them? Think about ways in which you can be help make moving out a bit easier and more appealing than fighting through a formal eviction. 

Try the Cash for Keys Strategy

This option involves you paying the tenant to leave. While it may sound backwards, especially if the tenant owes you rent, offering a cash payment to entice the tenant to hand over the keys can be a far less stressful and less expensive way to get a tenant to move out than going through an eviction. 

If you need legal advice about how to execute any of these options or would like a provider lawyer to assist you with  a difficult situation, join LegalShield today. Once your membership is approved, you can be on the phone with a provider lawyer in as little as four hours.

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Identify a Legally Valid Reason for Eviction

If you’re certain that eviction is your best option, it is important to make sure you have a legally valid reason to evict a tenant and that the tenant does not have a strong defense. Here are some of the most common reasons courts will allow a landlord to evict a tenant. 

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Other violation of the lease
  • Significant damage to the property
  • Tenant does not leave after the lease ends
  • The “tenant” is squatting or otherwise not legally allowed to occupy the rental unit
  • You want to sell or renovate your property and these situations are covered in your lease

The nature of the tenancy (12 months, month-to-month, etc.) as well as the facts surrounding the reason for eviction and the laws in your state dictate the specific type of eviction notice you must provide and the steps you must take to be successful.  

Draft and Serve Notice that Follows State Law

Do you need to send a Notice to Pay or Quit, a Notice to Cure or Quit or an Unconditional Quit Notice? How much time do you have to give the tenant until you can file for eviction? To be legally enforceable, can you serve the notice by mail or do you have to serve it in person with a witness present? Can you tape the notice to the front door? The answers to these questions depend on state law and the lease.

You need to make sure the notice is proper and properly given. For failure to pay rent or violation of the lease, the tenant should be given notice with the time allowed by law to cure the problem. Both the lease and the law dictate the rules for providing proper notice before a landlord can seek to take additional steps.

Notice to Pay or Quit

This type of notice is used when a tenant is late with the rent. Your notice will essentially say the tenant must pay up within a specific time frame or move out.

Notice to Cure or Quit

If your tenant has breached some other term of your lease, such as allowing an unauthorized pet or roommate to live in your rental unit, your notice will essentially say the tenant must fix the problem or move out.

Unconditional Quit Notice

If you have an extreme situation, like a tenant dealing drugs out of your unit, some states allow you to ask the tenant to leave without providing any option to stay.

When you send a notice to pay or quit in Iowa, the tenant has 3 days to pay or move out before you can file for eviction. Some states provide 10 days. In Maine, you cannot even send the notice until the rent is 7 days late and the landlord must tell the tenant that they can contest the termination in court or the court will not allow the entry of a default judgement. These are are just examples. The point is that to be enforceable, your notice must follow the laws in your state. Do you know the rules in your local area?

If you’d rather not stress and guess, work with a provider lawyer from LegalShield and get the advice and documents you need for a small monthly fee. 

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woman on phone

Filing a Formal Eviction Action

If you’ve properly served notice and your tenant has not paid, cured the lease violation or moved out, it may be time to file a petition for eviction. Like all other parts of the eviction process, there are state specific rules and regulations you need to follow. Here is a summary. 

  • Generally, you’ll need to draft a summons and complaint and file it with the district court in the county where the unit is located.
  • If a tenant owes you a significant amount of rent and you seek monetary damages, you may need to file your case in a superior court.
  • You’ll need to include proof that notice was properly served and other supporting documents, correspondence, etc. 
  • The court will either serve the tenant with a summons to appear at a hearing or issue the document for you to serve. 

By this point you may be thinking 'I should call a lawyer to help me with this process.' While it’s certainly possible for you to do this on your own, having the ability to call a lawyer with questions, get guidance along the way and have them review documents before they are sent or filed can dramatically increase your chances of success and make a difficult situation much less intimidating. 

Enforce the Judgement and Have the Tenant Removed

Congratulations! You attended the eviction hearing, argued your case and you won. However, even if you prevail in the eviction lawsuit, you still can’t just move the tenant and their belongings out. Be prepared you will need a writ from the court to provide to local law enforcement, normally a sheriff, who can provide notice to the tenant to move out within a certain period of time. If the tenant still does not move out, law enforcement can come back and enforce the writ.

As we’ve mentioned several times, as long as you follow the letter of the law in your state, you can be successful evicting a problem tenant. If and when you need legal support, joining LegalShield is an incredibly affordable and effective option.

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