How Do I Evict a Tenant?
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
A rental property can be an excellent investment. But problem tenants can cause stress and financial issues if they stop paying rent or violate the lease.
The eviction process offers a legal way to regain control of your property. Keep reading to find out when and how you can evict a tenant.
You must have a valid legal reason to evict a tenant. Laws vary by location; some cities and states have more tenant protections than others. You should check local laws or speak with a lawyer before starting the eviction process.
Examples of reasons to evict a tenant include:
- Nonpayment of rent: The tenant isn't paying the full amount of rent.
- The lease ended: The renter doesn't leave at the end of a lease term.
- Drugs and illegal activity: The rental property is being used to sell or manufacture drugs, or serious or violent crimes are happening on the property.
- Damaging the property or creating a health hazard: A tenant's activities or lack of care are causing property damage beyond normal wear and tear, or the renter is causing hazards for neighbors.
- Violation of lease terms: The tenant violates a significant lease term, such as having an unauthorized roommate, an unauthorized pet or making modifications to the property that aren't allowed.
Federal and local laws protect tenants from eviction for certain reasons, including race, disability or pregnancy. Your lease agreement can also impact whether you can evict a tenant.
Notice requirements can vary significantly based on the location of your rental property, but written notice is almost always required before an eviction. The reason for the eviction and the lease terms can also impact the required notice.
For example, Vermont law requires between 14 and 30 days of notice, depending on the reason for the eviction. In many cases, California only requires three days of notice but doesn't count weekends or holidays.
Sometimes a renter may have the right to fix the problem. Many states allow renters the chance to "cure or quit" after receiving written notice of a potential eviction. That means the tenant can decide whether to move out or remedy the situation during the lease period. If a tenant pays the total amount of owed rent or gets rid of a prohibited pet during the notice period, you may be unable to proceed with the eviction.
Sometimes tenants don't have the right to attempt to fix the problem, such as when a tenant repeatedly violates the same lease term or conducts criminal activity on the property. Laws vary by state, so remember to check your local laws or speak with an attorney.
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You can often provide notice by certified mail or by leaving the document with an adult at the tenant's residence. Make sure you comply with the law in your area, or you may have to restart the eviction process. Nearly all jurisdictions require real estate owners to provide written notice in a way that is reasonably certain to reach the tenant.
You'll have to pursue a court case if a renter fails to remedy the violation or vacate the property as demanded. A court order is necessary to forcibly remove a renter.
Many courts have a form or template you can use to file your eviction case with the court. Before filing a lawsuit, you should ensure you have a valid reason for eviction and have already provided the tenant with formal written notice as required by law.
The court will set a date for a hearing on the eviction. Procedures and deadlines vary by location, but you'll need to serve the tenant with a copy of the complaint and notice of the court date. Typically, you must meet the requirements for personal service in your jurisdiction, which usually means you'll need to have a process server or the sheriff's department serve the documents.
At the court hearing, you must present evidence for the eviction:
- Written agreements: Bring the rental agreement, addendums or written correspondence adjusting the lease terms.
- Proof of payments: Evidence of payments can show the renter hasn't paid all they owe.
- Notices: You may need to show the renter was given legally required notices.
- Communications: Bring phone records, emails and other evidence of relevant communications with your renter.
- Other evidence: Other relevant evidence may include photographs, police reports or testimony from neighbors.
Many courts have rules requiring the disclosure of evidence before the hearing, so make sure you understand relevant laws and procedures. The renter can present a defense to the eviction. Defenses may include claims that you've violated the law or refused to make necessary property repairs.
Unfortunately, sometimes even after notices and judgment from the court, renters refuse to vacate the property. These situations can be frustrating, but you do have options. Law enforcement can assist you by scheduling a forced move-out date. If the renter hasn't left by the scheduled move-out date, the sheriff's department or other agencies can forcibly remove the renter and help you change the locks.
For example, in Charleston, South Carolina, landlords can request a writ of ejectment after obtaining a court ruling. The writ of ejectment allows a Constable to schedule a date to force the tenant out of the property. Law enforcement won't move the tenant's belongings, so the landlord may need to hire help to remove furniture and possessions from the property.
Landlords sometimes also have the option of charging renters with criminal offenses, such as trespassing or failure to vacate.
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