Every once in a while, the time comes when you may need to evict a tenant.
Maybe the rent isn’t being paid, or maybe there’s illegal activity taking place on your property. Landlords who don’t act quickly to evict a tenant run the risk of seeing property value decline due to lost rental income and destruction caused by the tenant.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how a residential eviction works and offer actionable tips on how to evict a tenant.
Why Do Landlords Have to Evict?
No landlord wants to evict a tenant, but sometimes there is no other choice. Landlords who wait too long to evict a tenant can see cash flow quickly decline and potentially thousands of dollars in property damage caused by a bad tenant.
Some of the most common reasons a landlord has to evict a tenant include:
Nonpayment of Rent
One of the most common reasons for having to evict a tenant is nonpayment of rent. Unfortunately, even the best tenants can experience unexpected difficulties that impede their ability to honor their lease obligations.A reduction in working hours, a job loss or business closure, a major medical condition, or a change in family status are just a few of the situations that may prevent a tenant from paying rent, even if they want to.
However, owning rental property is a business like any other. While some landlords may opt to put a tenant behind on the rent on a written payment plan, eventually you may have no other choice than to evict.
A “professional” tenant is someone who rents your property with the intention of not paying the rent each month. While the tenant may have paid upfront money, such as the first month’s rent and security deposit, they may never pay another dime.
The professional tenant knows how the eviction process works and is an expert at exploiting loopholes in state landlord-tenant laws to live rent-free month after month until you are finally able to evict.
One red flag you may be dealing with a professional tenant is when the applicant is in a hurry to move in. They know there is often a time lag between a recent eviction showing up on a rental history report and they are in a race against the clock to rent a new home before their old eviction becomes public record.
Selling drugs, using the home for prostitution or gambling, or even running a legitimate business out of the house are all examples of illegal activity by the tenant that can be grounds for an eviction.
By allowing illegal activity in your rental property to continue, you’re also breaking the implied warranty of habitability given to other tenants in a multifamily property and creating problems for the neighborhood at large.
In many cases, a landlord can evict a tenant engaged in criminal activity on an expedited basis. You may wish to consult with a local attorney about the laws in your jurisdiction to learn your rights.
Violating Other Lease Provisions
Another common reason for evicting a tenant is for violating one or more lease provisions. For example, you may discover the tenant has a pet or roommate that isn’t allowed, or that you are repeatedly fined by the homeowners association (HOA) for infractions caused by the tenant.
Violations like these are normally curable, meaning that the tenant promises to fix the problem right away. But going forward, you or your property manager will need to closely monitor the tenant to verify that they are not violating the lease once again.
Sometimes tenants do as they promise, other times they don’t. Tenants who repeatedly violate the terms and conditions of the lease may be evicted, but do be sure to keep accurate records in case you end up in court.
Destroying the Property
Tenants who cause damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear may also be evicted from a rental property. Excessive damage, such as punched holes in the wall or broken windows, can be discovered during a periodic routine property inspection.
While some states allow a landlord to use the tenant’s security deposit to pay for damage, oftentimes the deposit amount isn’t nearly enough. That’s because states also limit the amount of security deposit a landlord can require a tenant to pay, usually an amount equal to one or two times the monthly rent.
When damage caused by the tenant reaches the point where your property value begins to decline and health and safety issues become a concern, it may be time to evict the tenant.
Tip: Using Stessa’s free secure online document storage system makes it easy to keep accurate records of the before and after condition of your property to help prove the tenant’s damage is beyond normal wear and tear.
How to Evict a Tenant
While the exact process for evicting a tenant varies by jurisdiction, there are typically eight steps to follow to evict a tenant:
1. Review applicable landlord-tenant laws
Before beginning an eviction, make sure that the law is on your side:
- Speak with a real estate attorney;
- Consult with your local property manager;
- Visit the legal resource website Nolo.com to learn more about the landlord-tenant laws in your state; and
- Check the laws of the local municipality.
2. Have a valid reason for evicting
After reviewing the laws, determine if you have a valid reason for evicting a tenant. In general, a landlord may evict a tenant for lease violations such as not paying the rent, conducting illegal activity, having an unauthorized roommate or pet and refusing to cure the situation, or repeatedly violating terms and conditions of the rental agreement.
3. Reason with the tenant
In some situations, it may make good business sense to speak with the tenant to see if they are willing to leave without being evicted. That’s because evicting a tenant can be time consuming and expensive, and most good tenants don’t want a negative mark on their credit report.
According to a recent post on the BiggerPockets Blog, a residential eviction can cost between $4,000 and $7,000, including court costs, repair expenses, and lost rental income.
Offering the tenant cash for keys can be an effective way to obtain cooperation from your tenant and avoid an expensive eviction.
4. Serve a written eviction notice
The next step is to serve the tenant with an appropriate written eviction notice that, depending upon the applicable jurisdiction, may include:
- A pay or quit notice stating that rent is past due and providing the tenant a specific period of time to pay the past due rent in full, including any late fees, or immediately vacate the premises;
- A cure or quit notice when a tenant violates a provision of the lease other than the payment of rent, such as having a pet, a roommate, or frequent loud parties. The tenant has the opportunity to fix the problem (normally within a few days of receiving the written notice) or vacate the property;
- An unconditional quit notice requires the tenant to vacate the property immediately, without the option for curing the violation. Illegal activity, creating a public nuisance, or destroying the property are examples of when to serve the tenant with an unconditional quit notice.
5. Sue for an eviction
Many landlords choose to hire a knowledgeable real estate attorney who specializes in residential evictions to handle their eviction proceedings. This can be cost effective because, if each step in the eviction process isn’t precisely followed, a landlord may have to start all over again. Worse, a landlord who evicts a tenant unlawfully can be subject to costs, damages, or both.
A landlord who chooses not to hire an attorney will need to prepare and file the requisite pleadings in the appropriate court, pay the court filing fee, and effectuate proper service.
6. Prepare for court hearing
You or your attorney will need to bring the following documents to court:
- Original signed lease agreement;
- Payment records, such as a rent roll and bank statements;
- Copies of correspondence between you and the tenant;
- Evidence you made a good-faith effort to allow the tenant to cure the violation (if applicable);
- Evidence of the tenant’s breach of the lease, such as photographs of excessive damage or witness testimony that the tenant is disrupting other occupants’ right of quiet enjoyment;
- A copy of the eviction notice and proof of delivery.
7. Evict the tenant
Provided that you’ve followed the property eviction process in your jurisdiction, the court will likely rule in your favor. You will receive a court order, often called a Writ of Restitution, that allows you to legally remove the tenant from your property.
The writ is sent to local law enforcement who will visit the property, give the tenants a few minutes to pack some belongings, and then physically remove the evicted tenant and the tenant’s belongings, if necessary.
8. Collect past due rent
When you win an eviction case, the court will also often award you with a judgement for past due rent and the costs of any damages caused by the tenant. Many landlords hire a collections agency to collect money due from the tenant.
An agency will file the judgment with the credit bureaus, skiptrace the tenant if they have disappeared without a trace, and garnish the wages and other assets of the tenant until you have collected the money that the tenant owes.
Important: Eviction Laws Vary by State
The exact process for evicting a tenant varies with each state, and often varies across individual cities within the state. There are several ways to learn more about the specific state landlord-tenant laws and your local eviction process.
The legal resource website Nolo.com has numerous articles to review before beginning an eviction, including state landlord-tenant laws, state laws on termination for nonpayment of rent, and state laws on unconditional quit terminations.
Depending on the size of the market your rental property is located in, there may also be attorneys who specialize in residential evictions for a flat fee. Your property manager or local real estate investing group are two good sources for finding a real estate attorney. You can also search online using websites such as LawInfo.com and Avvo.
How to Remove a Tenant Without Evicting
Instead of having a non-paying tenant in your property for months while the eviction makes its way through the legal system, it can make good business sense to convince the tenant to leave without having to evict:
- Meet the tenant face-to-face in a neutral location (such as the local public coffee shop). Talk to the tenant about the ramifications of being evicted, such as a negative credit report and bad rental history report. If the tenant agrees to leave early, draw up an agreement for the tenant to sign in case they try to change their mind.
- Offer the tenant cash for keys by paying the tenant to leave early. Some landlords find that paying for the tenant’s first month of rent in a new place or covering their moving expenses is a small price to pay to avoid an expensive eviction.
Tips For Lowering Eviction Rate
Preventing an eviction often begins with good tenant screening.
Most online tenant screening services are free for landlords to use, and charge the tenant a small application fee for running reports such as:
- Credit history;
- Background check;
- Rental history report;
- Social security number (SSN) and identity verification; and
- Multi-state criminal and sex offender reports.
Reports are usually available for you to review within a few hours of the tenant completing an online rental application. Be sure to review the material received, contact the applicant’s current employer to verify income, and call the tenant’s previous landlords to learn if the tenant paid the rent on time and took care of the property.
Final Thoughts on Evictions
Evicting a tenant is something that most landlords have to do at one time or another. To successfully evict a tenant, be sure to understand your local laws, and follow the correct eviction process for your jurisdiction. Evictions can take a lot of time and cost a lot of money, which is why many landlords explore alternatives like offering cash for keys.