How to evict a tenant

Every time that you rent to a new tenant, you are taking a risk.

That risk can pay off if the tenant turns out to be kind, genuine, and communicative. There are times, however, when the risk factor turns out to be very real, and you have to face every landlord’s worst nightmare: eviction.

While eviction is certainly a long and complicated process that has rightfully gained its reputation for being frustrating, you don’t need to let the fear of filing for eviction keep you from regaining both control and profit for your business and your bottom line.

Are you stuck because the laws are confusing? Are you unsure that you have the proper grounds to file for eviction? Or are you simply fed up with waiting any longer?

Regardless of how you got to this point, our cheat sheet can help you understand the process of how to evict a tenant so that you can go into filing with a clear plan and conscious for what needs to be done.

A Table of Contents For Steps to Evict a Tenant

Step 1: Learn The Laws & Leases Involved

The very first thing that you need to do is research. You’re not going to be an expert in a few hours, but you will be better off than you were. In fact, you’re already on the right path by reading this guide!

There are many different laws and ordinances that you will be faced with while working through the eviction process. From renters’ rights to landlord’s rights to lease agreement requirements, everything will be examined during the eviction process, so it’s important that you become familiar with it now.

The three main things that you need to familiarize yourself with are:

  • Eviction notice requirements & filing procedures in your state & municipality
  • Renter & landlord rights laws in your state & municipality
  • Lease agreement requirements in your state & municipality

Due to how specific each of these sets of laws are, we cannot go into great detail about them all. But we can guarantee that all of the information that you need about these things can be found either on the appropriate government websites or by calling the offices directly.

Do this research, and you’ll be more comfortable throughout the rest of the process. Why be blindsided when you can be prepared?

Step 2: Valid Eviction Reasons

There may be times when a tenant is driving you crazy. Annoying you, however, is not grounds for eviction.

When you’re considering filing for eviction, you need to be sure that your tenant has done something to merit an eviction notice. In most areas, the following will suffice:

  • Not paying rent
  • Regularly paying rent late
  • Significant property damage
  • Violating the rental agreement
  • Creating hazardous or dangerous health conditions
  • Breaking local ordinances or laws

If you suspect that your tenant is doing any of these things, document your findings immediately. Even if you do not decide to file for eviction immediately, keep these documents. They will be essential should you decide to go to court.

If You Don’t Have a Valid Reason

How do you evict a tenant that hasn’t broken these rules?

If your tenant is not doing any of these things, you could still have a serious conversation with them about your frustrations. It’s possible that they are frustrated, too. Talking with them could improve the situation.

If it does not, offer them a cash bonus for ending their lease early. This is sometimes referred to as cash for keys. You would be surprised how often that tactic works!

Step 3: The Time For a Formal Notice

If you have a valid reason for eviction, it’s time to consider whether or not you want to formally file for eviction. Not every case of tenant problems has to progress to the eviction level, but it might be time for you to send an official eviction notice.

Try To Talk It Out

Most landlords will try to have a calm but firm conversation with their tenants before sending an eviction notice. By trying to talk it out, both parties have a chance to voice their situation and attempt to come to an agreement that does not involve the complexities of the court system and any associated costs, which is usually preferable to all parties.

This conversation should consist of you letting the tenant know that while you understand their difficulties to pay rent or otherwise their need to keep to their lease agreement, you cannot foot the bill for their burdens.

Let them know that you will be filing for eviction soon but want to give them the opportunity to get out of this situation before it becomes a greater problem for you both. Ask them to either pay rent in full or move out ASAP.

If they cannot do this, let them know that you will be filing for eviction and that you will also be suing for rent that they have not paid should the eviction be decided in your favor.

It’s Time To File

If talking with your tenant doesn’t have any effect, or they outright refuse your attempts at compromise, it is time to file an official eviction notice.

Despite being given the chance, not all tenants will feel that they have to leave, so a court-backed eviction will be necessary to regain control of your property.

Step 4: Court Filings & Hearings

This step in our cheat sheet covers all of the details about filing and going to court in eviction cases. Every single detail is not included here as they will differ depending on your situation and location, but you can get an idea of what to do.

Send Out the Notice of Eviction

You must send out a formal notice of eviction that details the conditions of eviction, the dates, and the reasons. If there is anything that the tenant can do to avoid eviction, this document must also give that information to the tenant as well as a deadline to complete your requests by.

Generally speaking, the notice must include:

  • Deadline for any required changes (i.e., pay rent by X, clean yard by X, mow grass by X)
  • Amount of money owed, including fees
  • How many days the notice must be posted before you may file for an eviction hearing

Once you have prepared the notice, you should have it mailed to them with a return receipt requested while also taping it to their door. Take a photo for proof of both delivery methods. This prevents the tenant from claiming that they were not notified.

When you’re sending out your first (or fifth!) eviction notice, always make sure to triple check your state’s requirements for deadlines. Every state requires notices to be sent out a different number of days before you can file for eviction, so you need to be familiar with local specifics.

File For Eviction

If your tenant does not make the required changes in the allotted period, it is time for you to file for eviction.

Go to the local courthouse and ask for the paperwork necessary to file for eviction. Bring with you proof (via the return receipt requested) that you gave the tenant a formal notice of eviction. If the paperwork is correct, the courthouse clerk will schedule a hearing date.

The court will handle sending a summons to the tenant, so you do not have to do this. Instead, gather up your documents and prepare for court.

The Hearing

Before the hearing, you need to prepare the documents that you have been keeping that show the tenant is not holding up their end of their lease agreement. Without evidence, the court will have no way of knowing which side to believe.

Gather up as much of the following information as possible before the hearing:

  • Lease agreement
  • Records of payments (late, on time, missed, etc.)
  • Bounced checks or written notices of lateness
  • Phone and email records, if applicable
  • Copy of eviction notice given to tenant
  • Proof that the tenant received said notice (via receipt from post office or tenant signature)

Throughout the hearing, be honest and clear about everything that has happened. You do not need to lie to prove anything, as the documentation that you gathered says it all. As the court reviews your documents, they will decide if the tenant should get more time to fix the issue or if your eviction filing will be approved.

Step 5: Eviction

If the eviction filing passes, it’s time for the actual eviction to occur.

So you may now be wondering: What are the steps to evict a tenant once the court says “yes?”

The court will set a date by which the tenant must move out. While this sounds simple, not every tenant will leave by that date.

If the tenant does not leave, take the court records to the Sheriff’s department. Because you have a legal judgment against them, the Sheriff can step in to repossess the property. Do not make any attempt to remove the tenant yourself.

If they leave property behind, you will have to deal with that legally as well.

Step 6: Collecting What You’re Owed

Now that the tenant has been evicted, you may be wondering what to do about the money that you have not been paid.

Security Deposit
If the amount of money owed by them in rent or property damages can be covered by the security deposit, you can keep that. If, however, the tenant does not owe anything and did not leave behind any damages, you must still return the deposit despite the eviction.

Small Claims Court

In some areas, you can file a combined suit for both eviction and small claims at the same time. If your area permits this, you should file at once to get your money back as fast as possible.

Don’t worry if your area doesn’t have this type of combined case. Once you have an eviction judgment in your favor, you can sue your former tenant through small claims court. If the court rules in your favor, you will have another judgment against the tenant for unpaid rent.

Even with the judgment, however, it can be difficult to get that money back. Decide if it is worth it to pursue the judgment with a debt collector or if it is better to move on, saving you both time and money.

Garnishment

If the tenant refuses to pay you the money that the court says that you are owned, you can use the judgment that you received to go to their employer and garnish their wages. This means that their job would pay you before it pays them, ensuring that you get your money back.

It’s important to note that every state has restrictions on when you can garnish wages, so you should read up on what it takes to collect back rent.

There are also ways to have a former tenants taxes garnished so that any tax refund that they are entitled to is first used to pay unpaid rent back to you before the balance is returned to them. Doing this is easier than it sounds when the court has ruled in your favor.

Avoiding Eviction In The Future

As you have learned, eviction is a long and complicated process. It takes a lot of time and energy to get a bad tenant out of your home and even longer to collect the money that you are owed. Going through this process can even cause disillusionment with renting property out at all.

So what can you do about it so that you don’t have to use this new-found knowledge about how to evict a tenant?

The best thing that you can do is to learn how to choose better tenants to begin with.

There is no method that 100% guarantees that you will not have to deal with eviction problems in the future, but there are ways that you can minimize the risk of ending up in an eviction situation.

One of the most successful tips that experienced landlords have for newer landlords is to use a tenant screening service to make the most of credit and background checks. A good tenant screening service will ensure that you know the risk based on the tenant’s researched history, and that will help you make more informed choices.

Evict To Move Forward

You don’t want to learn the proper way to evict a tenant in order to exact revenge on the tenant for causing your grief. You need to learn how to evict someone to take control of your future and move forward with your business.

What are the steps to evict a tenant that matter most? Remember:

  • Document everything to back up your reason for filing
  • Always learn the local laws
  • Never try to evict a tenant without going to the courts first
  • Choose better tenants to lower the risk of needing to file for eviction

The future of your business is in your hands. Eviction takes time, money, and effort, but you’ll be able to move forward with your properties in the clear once you file. It’s time for you to take back control!

About the author

I believe the biggest mistake you can make in life is not learning from them. I've been a landlord since 2009 and still learning all the time.

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