The process of evicting a tenant is not overly complicated, but it is important that you follow the exact steps and go through the appropriate legal channels. This will protect you and allow you to get that tenant out. The process does vary state by state, but here is the general guideline on how to evict a tenant:
Step 1: Have Legal Grounds to Evict a Tenant
Most people assume that evictions can only happen if the tenant does something wrong. This isn’t necessarily true. In fact, we wrote an entire article about odd situations that lead to evictions. However, for simplicity’s sake, the process outlined in this article is best applied to cases where tenants have done something eviction-worthy. These actions may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Paying rent late or skipping it entirely.
- Violating the lease terms.
- Having unapproved roommates and/or pets.
- Smoking in an non-smoking dwelling.
- Ignoring quiet hours or noise restrictions.
- Participating in illegal activity in the dwelling such as prostitution, drug possession, or gang involvement.
- Remaining in the property after a notice to vacate has expired.
- Causing intentional or neglectful property damage.
If your tenant has done one of the above, you may have grounds to evict! In this case, you can initiate the eviction process legally.
Step 2: Provide Notice
To get the ball rolling, you have to provide a written notice of your intent to evict to the tenant. There are a few different types of eviction notices, so make sure you use the right one.
Pay Rent or Quit
Just as they sound, this type of notice is for situations where the tenant has missed a rent payment. It instructs them to either pay their rent or move out by a given deadline. Consult your state laws or our state-specific articles to find out how much time you have to give your tenants. For instance, Wisconsin generally requires 14 days notice while Minnesota doesn’t require any notice for missed rent before going to court.
Cure or Quit
In the event your tenant violates a section of the lease, you’d deliver a cure or quit notice. In this case, they must either remedy their violation or move. Using an example above, they’d have to get rid of their pet and prove it to you in order to stay.
Unlike the first two types of notices, this one requires the tenant to move out by the given deadline. It gives them no opportunity to fix their issue, which is why it’s reserved for more extreme circumstances. State laws outline when it’s acceptable to use an unconditional quit notice; however, it’s generally reserved for when the tenant’s actions put other residents (or your property) in danger.
Include the Required Information
Depending on what notice you’re using, there are different pieces of information you should include. In general, every notice should contain:
- The date of creation.
- Explanation of why they’re receiving a notice.
- Pay or Quit: Rent of ___ amount that is ___ days late plus applicable fees.
- Cure or Quit: Explanation of how they’re violating their lease with a copy of the lease terms to which you’re referring.
- Unconditional Quit: Whatever actions they took that lead you to evicting them.
- Deadline for when they need to remedy the issue (if allowed) or move out before you take further action.
- To be extra clear, you may also include:
- Names of those affected.
- Address of the property in question.
Deliver the Notice
You’ll need to show the court that your tenant actually knows they are being evicted and received notice in accordance with state and local laws. These laws typically dictate when the eviction notice has to be given to the tenant prior to taking further action as well as the means in which they’re delivered. Timing usually varies between 5-30 days, but consult your local laws. As far as how to deliver the notice, the best option is to give it directly to the tenant and get their signature. If that’s not possible, there are two good alternatives…
Post in an Obvious Area
An easy way to provide notice is to put it directly on their door and take a picture of it there. The photo can prove you posted the notice, but not that the tenant saw it. Because of that, we recommend using the next method no matter what!
Send via Certified Mail
Additionally, it’s wise to send them a certified letter as second notice. You’ll receive a return receipt which can be used as proof of delivery in court. In some states, if you fail to give the tenant proper notice before pursuing other action, you’ll have to start the process over. In others, you will lose entirely just because you didn’t follow the proper steps set forth by the law. It’s always a good idea to check the state and local laws where your property is located to ensure you’re following them exactly.
Step 2: File for Eviction
If your tenant doesn’t remedy the issue or move out by your deadline, the next step is to file for an eviction. You can generally do this at the court house in the county where the property resides. In some cases, they’ll require proof that you delivered proper notice to your tenant. Additionally, you will have to provide upfront fees to file, but these costs are minimal in comparison to the losses you’ll suffer if your tenant remains in the property.
Once a hearing is scheduled, court officials typically send you and your tenant the exact details. However, some states (such as Indiana) may require the landlord to notify the tenant of all hearing details. Again, consult your state law to ensure you’re following exact protocol. (Hiring a lawyer to help you through the process is easiest and highly recommended. However, you can represent yourself if you feel confident in your ability to handle everything independently.)
Step 3: Eviction Hearing
Regardless of your choice, make sure you show up to your hearing fully prepared. We’ve written an article that speaks at length about how to prepare for eviction court (including what to wear and how to speak) that you may find helpful. Below is the summary.
What to Bring
Typically, a landlord will be asked to provide:
- A copy of the lease.
- A letter explaining how the tenant violated the terms of the lease.
- Contact information for both the landlord and tenant including the property address of the rental.
- Proof of the tenant’s violation, which could include bounced rent checks, photos of damage caused by the tenant, or any other documentation supporting your claims.
- Any correspondence between the tenant and landlord since the issue began. This includes proof that an eviction notice was delivered to them prior to filing in court.
How to Dress for Court
Dress to impress. Wear a suit and tie if possible. While being prepared is the best thing you can do, dressing up is another sign of respect to the judge hearing your case. It shows them you’re taking this seriously…
How to Act in Court
Don’t speak unless spoken to. Don’t interrupt your tenant or the judge – no matter how heated it gets. Use formal terms like “sir,” “ma’am,” and “your honor.” And above all, make sure you are on time and conduct yourself in a calm, collected manner!
What to Expect from the Hearing
This hearing allows both the tenant and landlord a chance to present their argument in front of a judge. Sometimes the tenants don’t show up for the hearing, in which case, the eviction is usually granted to the landlord by default. If the tenant shows up and proves they shouldn’t be evicted, the case is closed and the tenant stays in their dwelling. If the tenant appears for their hearing but loses, the court will order them to move out in a certain timeframe. The judge will then provide the landlord with a writ of recovery that proves they’ve won the case and gives them the right to take their property back.
Step 4: Reclaim Your Property
Once the court ordered deadline passes, you have the right to reclaim your property. Tenants can sometimes be difficult and refuse to move even after the court-ordered eviction. If this happens, the landlord should reach out to the local authorities. Provide the police with the paperwork declaring the eviction and they’ll force the tenant (and their belongings) out.
What You Should NEVER Do When Trying to Evict a Tenant
You should not employ self-help tactics at any point of this process. These methods may include, but aren’t limited to:
- Shutting of utilities at the property in question.
- Changing the property’s locks so the tenants can’t enter.
- Verbally (or physically) harassing the tenants.
- Removing their possessions personally.
Step 5: Deal with Personal Belongings Left Behind
Depending on state law, landlords might be required to store tenant belongings for a specific duration of time (usually 30 days) in an acceptable storage space. Generally, when they have to do this, they can charge the tenant for the costs associated if they come to claim their belongings; however, either way, they have to notify the tenant where they’re being stored and for how long. Unclaimed items can usually be sold by the landlord once the required time passes.
On the flip side, some states/circumstances allow landlords to immediately throw away or sell belongings to recoup costs. For instance, Wisconsin allows landlords to do whatever they want with tenant property when they leave it behind after an eviction so long as their lease said they won’t move or store the abandoned property. (The only exception to that law is when the tenant leaves behind medications. In that case, the landlord has to hold onto them for 7 days.) To protect yourself best, consult state laws for specifics.
We hope this guide is helpful in understanding the importance of following the correct steps to evict a tenant. This content was generated solely for informational purposes and should not be used as legal advice.