Rental Law

Rental Eviction Laws: When and How to Evict a Tenant

Eviction is a last resort that no property owner likes to think about. While you’ll want to avoid this difficult scenario if possible, it’s best to be prepared with the knowledge to handle evictions as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Explore the different types of evictions you may face as a landlord, how to avoid evicting tenants if at all possible, the rental eviction laws you need to know, the legal process to follow when an eviction becomes inevitable, and a few tips for tenants to avoid finding themselves in a difficult situation. 

Different Types of Evictions

Be aware that eviction laws and processes differ between states and counties. However, there are similarities across the board that every property owner and manager should know. 

There are two types of evictions: eviction with cause and eviction without cause. 

No matter what type of eviction, note that in all states (and many countries worldwide) a landlord is required to give written notice to the tenant detailing the information surrounding their eviction. 

Let’s dig a little deeper. Within the first type—eviction with cause—there are three subcategories: 

  • Pay Rent or Quit. This type of eviction is as it sounds. Pay rent or leave the premises. 
  • Cure or Quit. In this situation, the tenant may have their rent paid up to date, but isn’t abiding by the terms of their lease. They may have an unauthorized pet, a guest who’s overstayed their welcome, or any number of other violations. When they receive a “cure or quit” notice they have two options: fix the problem or move out.
  • Unconditional Quit. This third type of “eviction with cause” may or may not follow a previous written notice. Either way, there is no way to rectify the situation and the tenant is being asked to move out as soon as possible. 

There are any number of reasons a landlord may choose to begin the eviction process with a tenant. The most common, predictably, is unpaid rent. When the rent isn’t paid on time, even down to the minute, a landlord is well within their legal rights to serve a “Pay Rent or Quit” notice to their tenants. 

Other common examples of situations that lead to eviction notices are drug dealing or other illegal activity, hoarding or excessive damage to the property, or the tenant being incarcerated and unable to care for the property. 

Of course, there’s also the second type of eviction: eviction without cause. The reality is that you can evict a tenant for reasons of your own. Maybe you want to move into the property yourself, begin renovations, or for any number of reasons. It’s your property. It’s your business. 

This type of eviction is different because it’s through no fault of the tenant. Because of this, it requires earlier notice and usually a longer timeline, often between 30 and 90 days, depending on your state’s laws. 

In this situation, many landlords will simply choose not to offer to renew the lease when the tenant’s time is up. Even in this situation, you’re generally required to give the tenant notice that you won’t be renewing their lease. This way they’ll have sufficient time to find a new place to live. 

No matter the type of eviction, the process can be long and arduous for new landlords, and can easily lead to a lawsuit. If the landlord and tenant can’t reach an agreement and the tenant refuses to move out, the next step, inevitably, involves the court system. 

Avoiding Evictions

Before walking through the legal eviction process step-by-step, let’s discuss a few safeguards landlords and property managers can put in place to avoid evictions in the first place. 

#1: Fool-Proof Rent Collection

Your lease should outline in detail when rent is due, how to pay it (preferably automated payment online), and what happens when rent is even a minute overdue

#2: Communicate Early and Often

When issues arise or rent goes unpaid, begin communication with the tenant immediately. All communication—written and verbal—should be documented so you can point to it later on if needed. 

#3: Business Mindset

At the end of the day, you’re running a business. This doesn’t mean you have to be cold and heartless, but remember that, if someone is violating the terms of their lease with you, they’re violating the law. 

#4: Screen, Screen, Screen

The best way to avoid eviction? Screen your tenants as much as possible. If you have any doubts about their ability to pay rent or stay within the terms of their lease, find another tenant. Trust your gut on this one. 

These and other safeguards can keep you protected and ultimately avoid eviction if at all possible. 

Legal Eviction Process

Alas, as we know, safeguards often fail. So it’s best to understand the legal eviction process so you’re armed with knowledge in a worst-case scenario. 

You can’t legally evict a tenant unless eviction standards apply equally to all tenants. If they don’t, you’re in violation of fair housing laws and putting yourself in a dangerous position. 

In every eviction, you are legally required to give a written termination notice to tenants which document the reason/s for their eviction. If a tenant does not respond, pay rent, or change their behavior, then you can take your case to the legal system. At this point, you’ll probably want to seek legal counsel to advise you on exactly how to proceed in your state.

If the eviction does go to court, you should have the following things in place to plead your case: 

  • Warning Letters/Eviction Notices
  • Documentation of 3rd party complaints
  • Police records
  • Written logs by management
  • Photographs

Once a court has ruled in favor of the eviction they will issue a writ of permission. The situation is now out of your hands. Note that you cannot legally remove a tenant yourself, that’s a job for the sheriff. You also cannot shut off utilities or change the locks—it’s illegal and violates squatter’s rights. 

However, once the sheriff does remove the tenants (or they remove themselves before the agreed-upon date) have a locksmith standing by to change the locks ASAP. You’ll then remove any abandoned property left behind by the tenant, take a few deep breaths, and prepare your property to be rented out again—hopefully, this time to better tenants. 

Evictions are tricky and generally unpleasant for everyone. That’s why many landlords prefer to put the entire process in the hands of a property management company. A qualified property manager will help you stay compliant with legal guidelines and even avoid the need to evict tenants in the first place.

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