VerticalRent's Guide to Evicting a Tenant

As important as tenant screening is to run a successful property rental business, it’s not foolproof. Even tenants with the best of intentions can be late on the rent, and despite your best efforts to build a good relationship with tenants, that relationship can still go south.

As important as tenant screening is to run a successful property rental business, it’s not foolproof. Even tenants with the best of intentions can be late on the rent, and despite your best efforts to build a good relationship with tenants, that relationship can still go south. The reality is that no matter how good of a landlord you may be, there will still probably come a point in your career where you need to evict a tenant. When that time comes, you need to understand the proper process for doing so.

In order to end a lease agreement prior to its expiration date, there are certain legal procedures that need to be followed. Straying from that process not only could result in you losing your eviction case but could also cause you to be brought to civil court and could result in you losing your reputation.

First, it’s important to determine whether you even have a basis for evicting the tenant in question. Most eviction cases are due to the tenant failing to pay the rent on time, but there could be other reasons for evicting a tenant, such as:

  • Breaking specific rules of the lease, such as guest limitations, noise restrictions, pet rules, etc.
  • Causing significant damage to the property.
  • Staying on the property following the expiration of the lease; this is known as a holdover.

In most states, landlords are required to provide tenants with notices of any minor infractions along with a sufficient amount of time for correcting those issues before eviction proceedings can begin. Landlord-tenant laws vary among states. If you fail to provide your tenant with a warning, it is entirely possible that a judge could side with the tenant if the case ever makes its way to court.

Once you have determined that you do have a legal basis for evicting the tenant, the next step is to ensure you are familiar with the Landlord and Tenant Act. This act sets out the legal process that must be followed for evicting tenants. If you miss even a small part of this process, not only could you lose your own case, the tenant could actually have grounds for suing you in civil court.

Consider Whether You Really Want to Evict

Everyone is human and makes mistakes. Even tenants with the best of intentions can have money problems and fall behind on the rent. Following through with the eviction process can be time-consuming as well as expensive for a landlord. If you are concerned that the court might not side with you or if you would like to avoid the expense and hassle of the eviction process, consider trying to reason with your tenants. This could be particularly helpful if this is the first time you’ve had a problem with your tenants. You might be surprised at how much success you can achieve by simply having an understanding but firm conversation with your tenants about the issue at hand. If this doesn’t work, you may have no choice but to pursue eviction, but it is certainly worth a try.

Providing Notice of Eviction

In most states, landlords are required to provide tenants with written notice before filing for an eviction.

Types of Notices

The terminology tends to vary among states, but there are three types of termination notices that landlords may provide to problematic tenants.

Pay Rent or Quit Notice

This type of notice is used when the tenant fails to pay the rent. The tenant is provided with a specific timeframe to pay the rent or vacate the property. It’s not uncommon for landlords to run into problems by accepting even a partial payment during this phase of the process. In many jurisdictions, even a partial payment of rent, regardless of how small, could result in the eviction case being dismissed. If your tenant is behind on the rent, take care not to accept even a partial payment or you could find yourself in trouble and at risk of losing your case even if the tenant fails to pay the remainder of the rent.

Cure or Quit Notice

This type of notice is usually given when a tenant has violated a term of the lease agreement, such as no pets, making excessive noise, or exceeding the maximum number of guests. The tenant is usually given a set amount of time in which to correct the violation or face an eviction lawsuit.

Unconditional Quit Notice

With this notice, the tenant is ordered to vacate the property without the chance to pay the rent or correct a violation of the lease agreement. Unconditional quit notices are only allowed in most states when the tenant has violated a clause of the lease agreement repeatedly, been late with the rent on more than one instance, caused serious damage to the property, or engaged in illegal activity.

Eviction Notice without Cause

A 30-day or 60-day notice to vacate may also be used for ending month-to-month rentals even in cases in which the tenant has not actually done anything wrong. An eviction notice form is not allowed in many rent control cities. In such cities, the landlord is required to provide a legally valid reason for evicting tenants.

If you are required to provide the tenant with time to correct the relevant issue before filing for eviction, the notice must state this amount of time. Your notice should include the date of delivery, as well as the timeframe for correcting the problem (if relevant) and the date the eviction will be filed. The notice should either be hand delivered to the tenant or left posted on the front door of the property.

Should You Hire an Attorney?

When preparing to file for eviction, many landlords often wonder whether they should hire an attorney. If you own multiple properties, you might find it beneficial to have an already established relationship with an attorney. Your attorney will be able to advise you of issues related to eviction as well as handle any legal actions related to possible evictions. In fact, you may find that you save money by paying a flat fee for certain legal tasks rather than hiring an attorney on a case-by-case basis.

It’s also important for landlords to be aware that landlord-tenant laws can vary, oftentimes significantly, among states as well as jurisdictions. Additionally, if you manage properties that are government subsidized, you may be restricted by additional federal or state regulations.

Filing for Eviction

In the event that you are required to provide the tenant with notice, you may file the actual eviction the morning following the expiration of the waiting period. This can be done at your local courthouse. Be aware that you will need to pay a fee to begin the eviction process. After the paperwork has been completed, the clerk will provide you with a hearing date. Your tenant will be notified by the court.

Be aware that tenants may also mount a defense. If your tenant elects to do so, it could add significant time to the eviction process. Tenants could highlight mistakes made in the notice of eviction itself, in the way the notice was delivered, etc., all in an attempt to have the case dismissed or delayed. Your previous relationship with the tenant could also be called into question. For instance, if you have retaliated against the tenant or if the tenant can prove that your unit is uninhabitable, your chances of winning your case could be seriously diminished.

Preparing for Court

Prior to your court date, it is important that you take the time to prepare for the hearing. This includes gathering any supporting documentation you may have, such as copies of written notices, the lease agreement, bank statements proving missed rent payments, and any communication you may have had with the tenant. One of the most common mistakes that many landlords make when an eviction case goes to trial is failing to have sufficient evidence. Make sure you do not lose your case due to this. You should also prepare your statements to the judge so you will feel comfortable on the day of the hearing.

Bear in mind that during the actual hearing, you and the tenant will have an opportunity to speak. The judge will then arrive at a decision to continue the eviction or decide in the favor of the tenant, allowing him or her to remain on the property. If the judge decides in your favor, you will be provided with instructions for eviction.

Evicting the Tenant

Following the hearing, if you have won the case, the tenant will be provided with a specified amount of time for leaving the property. In some states, tenants may be required to vacate in less than 48 hours. Other states allow a maximum of five days. This time period varies among states, so be sure you are aware of what your state allows. If the tenant has not vacated the property within the specified amount of time, you will need to arrange with your local sheriff to visit the property. The sheriff will remove the tenant, and any personal possessions of the tenant will be placed outside the property. This is a good time to inspect the property for any possible damage. Take photos to document any damage. If there is damage, you could bring the tenant back to civil court.

How to Collect Past-Due Rent

Keep in mind that just because you have successfully evicted a tenant, that does not necessarily mean you will automatically receive the back rent owed to you. In some small claims courts, you may be able to combine an eviction case with a small claims lawsuit, which will allow you to sue the tenant for back rent. This is not the case with all local courts, which means if your court does not allow this, you will need to file a separate case.

In the event the judge makes a determination that you are owed past-due rent by the tenant, you will receive a judgment, which is basically a court order. This court order can be provided to your tenant’s employer, forcing the employer to garnish the tenant’s wages. You will be paid before the tenant is paid.

Beyond garnishing a tenant’s wages, another option would be to garnish his or her tax refund. You could also use a private debt collector, which will help you to collect your unpaid rent and ensure the debt is reported to the credit bureaus so that other landlords can be made aware.

Avoiding Evictions in the Future

Regardless of the reason, evicting a tenant can be time-consuming as well as expensive. It can eat up resources that could be dedicated to other parts of your business. The best way to handle an eviction is to avoid it in the first place. The most effective way to do that is by screening prospective clients before they ever move into one of your properties. VerticalRent offers a comprehensive tenant screening service that allows you to gather all of the details you need about an applicant so you can make an informed decision. Find out what you need to know about an applicant’s financial history with tenant credit reports while ensuring applicants do not have a criminal history and have not been evicted elsewhere with background and eviction checks.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that it is imperative that you do not attempt to self-evict a tenant. Removing the tenant’s belongings, changing the locks on the door, or shutting off the utilities are all examples of attempting to evict the tenant on your own, and such activities can have serious legal repercussions. The tenant could even sue you. If you have a problem tenant, whether he or she is not paying the rent on time, failing to follow the rules, or damaging the property, you could have serious grounds for eviction, but it is important to follow the legal procedure in your state for evicting your tenant.


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