Deciding to evict someone is hardly easy. The eviction process is costly, and it can feel complicated for landlords who have never had to go through it before. While landlords should try to avoid eviction whenever possible, most will find that they have to start the process at least once while renting out properties.
Even the most thorough rental background checks can let bad tenants slip through, and eviction is in your best interest if tenants won’t pay or cause significant damage to property. Luckily, the eviction process is easier than it sounds. The rules are strict, but the formal process can be broken down into easily achievable steps. Below, we walk through how to evict someone and also offer an eviction checklist, so you can be prepared if issues ever arise.
Step One: Know Your State’s Eviction Laws
Before you can begin the process of evicting a tenant, you must familiarize yourself with the eviction laws in your state. These laws vary by state, so it is especially important to review them if you’ve moved recently.
Knowing state eviction laws can also help when writing your lease agreements. If you incorporate them into your lease agreements from the start, you won’t have to spend as much time reviewing them when preparing to evict a tenant. You can even hire a lawyer to assist you if you’re worried about writing them yourself.
If you are looking to evict while the COVID-19 eviction moratorium is still in effect, you’ll need to know if your property is included under the law. There might also be additional state laws in place to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic, so be sure to stay up-to-date on both state and federal eviction moratoriums.
Step Two: Determine the Grounds for Eviction
You’ll need a valid reason to evict your tenant before you can proceed with the eviction. This is a good time to refer back to the lease agreement signed by the tenant and check for clear violations. Some common violations include:
- Failure to pay rent
- Consistent late payment of rent
- Property damage
- Using the property for illegal activity
- Disrupting other tenants
- Subletting without authorization
- Staying after the lease has expired
Be sure to thoroughly document evidence of any violations. You will need to present this documentation as evidence in court, so it is important to be as thorough as possible. These documents can include photos of damages, printouts of email or text conversations with the tenant, and bank statements or bounced checks.
Step Three: Issue a Formal Eviction Notice
If all attempts to reason with the tenant have failed, the next step is to send the eviction notice. The purpose of this document is to notify the tenant that you plan to evict and give them a set number of days to either fix the violation or vacate the property. The notice doesn’t automatically evict the tenant, but it lets them know how long they have to act before the case goes to court.
That said, there are three different types of eviction notices you should be aware of. These include a notice to pay rent or quit, a notice to cure or quit, and a notice to quit. The first two give the tenant the option to either pay past-due rent or stop committing the violation before you proceed with an eviction. The notice to quit, however, does not provide any opportunity to remedy the situation. It simply sets a date by which the tenant needs to vacate the property, to which you as the landlord can begin eviction proceedings. All three of these options share a similar structure, but it is important to choose the type that best fits your situation.
If you’re unsure about what to include in an eviction notice, here are some general rules to follow:
- Add the property’s address
- Include the date by which the tenant must resolve violations or move out
- Include the exact amount owed by the tenant
- Provide a clear explanation of why the tenant is receiving the notice
- Outline the current status of the lease
Step Four: File for Eviction and Attend the Hearing
If the tenant hasn’t moved out or stopped the violation by the deadline specified in the notice, you will have to go to your local housing court to file for eviction. Evicting a tenant without going through the courts is illegal in every state, so don’t skip this step.
At the courthouse, the clerk will require you to show proof that the tenant had a legal amount of time to respond to the notice. You can do this by providing either a certified mail receipt or the tenant’s dated signature from the day you issued the notice. Once you’ve completed these steps, you’ll receive a scheduled court date.
Your attorney will take care of the required paperwork for you and defend you in court if the case goes to trial. If you’re representing yourself, be sure to bring printed evidence of any violations and all other required documents with you to the hearing. Some of the necessary items include:
- A photo ID
- The signed lease agreement
- A copy of the written eviction notice with proof of service
- Your renter’s license (if required in your state)
- All payment records
As long as you remain confident and let your evidence speak for itself, you are likely to win your case.
Step Five: Evict the Tenant
After you’ve won your case, the judge will give your tenant a set number of days to vacate the residence. If you’re lucky, they will do so willingly and allow you to reclaim your property. However, you might have to get the police involved if they haven’t left by the designated date. An officer can serve a notice to vacate that gives the person 48 or 72 hours to leave. They can also physically escort the person from the property if needed.
Once the tenant is gone, you can file a small claims lawsuit to collect any unpaid rent. You should also refer to your state’s laws before throwing out any belongings the tenant has left behind. While some states allow you to simply leave abandoned belonging on the curb, others might require you to store them.
Tenant Eviction Checklist
Eviction Process FAQs
While the eviction process is fairly straightforward, individual circumstances can sometimes make it hard to determine whether the same steps will apply. If you still have questions, review the list below of common queries related to the eviction process to learn more.
How Long Does it Take to Evict Someone?
The time it takes to go through the eviction process varies by state and can depend on how cooperative the tenant is. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure the process goes as quickly as possible. These can include communicating openly with the tenant, closely following state laws, and issuing the eviction notice as soon as you have the grounds to do so.
Can I Evict Someone Who Doesn’t Pay Rent?
In short, yes. Failure to pay rent is one of the most common reasons landlords file for eviction. It can be a good idea to talk to your tenant first if their failure to pay is a one-time occurrence, but you can legally move forward with an eviction any time a tenant misses payments or consistently pays late.
If the person you wish to evict is an adult who is not on the lease, it can be tempting to simply kick them out. However, even if they don’t pay rent, this could cause you legal trouble down the road. In situations like this, you should refer to your state’s laws that define what qualifies a person as a tenant and pursue an eviction through the courts much like you would with any other tenant.
What’s the Easiest Way to Evict Someone?
Going through your state’s legal eviction process is the simplest way to evict someone. It can feel like a lot of work, but skipping steps or trying to take matters into your own hands is illegal and will only complicate the process further. If you are unsure about any of the steps, consider hiring an experienced eviction lawyer to help.
Can a Tenant Evict a Family Member?
If one of your tenants wants to evict a family member that is over the age of 18, it is possible to do so. However, they may need to go through a formal eviction process in the same way a landlord would. The laws for evicting a family member who isn’t on the lease vary by state, but the eviction process could fall under the tenant’s responsibility. If the family member is considered a subtenant, the original tenant should review their state’s laws to learn how to evict a subtenant.
How Can I Avoid Bad Tenants in the Future?
The best way to avoid the eviction process in the future is to thoroughly research and screen potential tenants before approving their rental applications. This process can include verifying proof of income, conducting a background check, and looking at an applicant’s rental history. You should also ask for references and personally reach out to past landlords to find out whether that specific tenant has a history of bad rental experiences.
Are There Any COVID-19 Eviction Restrictions?
There is currently a federal eviction moratorium in place, and several states have added their own restrictions to protect tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. This could prevent you from starting the eviction process until the restrictions are lifted. If you are not sure whether your property falls into one of the categories listed in the moratorium, consider speaking with a lawyer or reviewing the restrictions yourself.
As a landlord, learning how to legally evict someone will make your life easier now and in the future.
If you’re interested in streamlining your screening process to avoid future evictions, try running your rental applications through a virtual tenant screening service. That way, you can avoid doing it manually and prevent any details from slipping through the cracks.