Eviction is a legal process, controlled by state law. The general pattern is the same everywhere, but the details vary from state to state.
Grounds for Eviction
If you want to evict a lodger or tenant mid-lease, you need a legally sound reason. Standard grounds for eviction with cause would be that the tenant hasn't paid rent, or that she's broken a provision in the lease. Depending on state law you can give her a cure or quit notice, or pay rent or quit notice requiring her to fix the problem within a given period of time. The minimum amount of time she gets is set by state law, though you can always grant extra time if you want.
In extreme cases — such as illegal activity or repeated failures to pay rent — you can deliver an unconditional notice to quit. The unconditional notice requires she leave with no chance to make the problem good. State law, again, says when this is an option for you.
Eviction Without Cause
In most locations, you can legally order a tenant to pack his bags when the lease or the rental period expires. Usually this requires 30 or 60 days notice. Some rent-controlled cities do not allow eviction without cause, however.
Federal law does not allow you to evict anyone based on factors such as race, religion, national origin or gender. Some states add other restrictions. You can evict for cause. However, if you evict tenants belonging to one group while cutting others some slack, that could be grounds for a lawsuit.
If a tenant takes an action against you, such as reporting health hazards to code enforcement, evicting her as a punishment for exercising her rights is also illegal.
Going to Court
If the tenant leaves when you tell him to go, the eviction is done. If he chooses to stay put, you'll have to go to court to remove him. The technical term for this is an unlawful detainer lawsuit. You will have to notify the tenant, who can file a response with the court. If he doesn't file by the state's deadline, the judge will usually rule for you. In California, for example, the tenant has five days to respond after you give him notice of the suit.
A tenant who chooses to fight can add weeks or months to the lawsuit by various challenges. For example, he might assert that you didn't follow correct legal procedure, or that you're retaliating against him for a past complaint. During the legal process, he can keep living on your property.
If you win, you take the court order for unlawful detainer and contact the county sheriff. That department handles eviction. You usually have to pay for this service.
There are lots of tactics you might want to use to force a tenant out faster, such as shutting off utilities, making harassing phone calls, changing the locks, or physically moving her possessions into the street. However, these tactics are all illegal. Use them and your tenant can sue you for damages. You may also suffer fines or penalties from the state government.
- Nolo: How Evictions Work: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers
- Massachusetts Legal Help: When Is Eviction Illegal?
- FindLaw: Tenant Eviction: What You Should Know as a Renter
- American Landlord. "State Eviction Laws for Curable Violations." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Justia. "Eviction." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Nolo. "How to Delay an Eviction." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Experian. "How Does an Eviction Affect Your Credit Report?" Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
- Fair Credit Reporting Act. "§ 1681c. Requirements Relating to Information Contained in Consumer Reports." Accessed Oct. 6, 2020.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.