How to Evict a Tenant

How to Evict a Tenant
••• DAJ/amana images/Getty Images

Sometimes it becomes necessary to evict a tenant from one of your rental properties. While the process varies between jurisdictions, evictions usually follow a similar timeline of notifying your tenant of the impending eviction, going to court and then waiting for a law enforcement officer to enforce the eviction. Never attempt to force a tenant out by using “self-help” methods such as shutting off utilities or changing the locks. This is illegal in most states and landlords who use these tactics face criminal and civil penalties.

Make Sure You Have Grounds for Eviction

Grounds for eviction vary by jurisdiction, but typically include nonpayment of rent, criminal behavior, or violating lease terms. Check the law in your state and municipality to make sure that you can legally evict your tenant. Next, review the process for filing an eviction order against the tenant. If you are confused about what you need to do, talk to your lawyer.

Write a Quit Notice

Many jurisdictions require landlords to serve a preliminary “quit notice” to a tenant before filing an eviction case. Landlord-tenant laws often specify the language contained in the quit notice and how you should serve or deliver the notice to the tenant. Check the law to learn what you should include in the notice, whether you are obligated to give the tenant a chance to correct problems and how you must deliver the notice to the tenant. In some places, you must try to deliver a quit notice in person while other jurisdictions permit landlords to send the notice via certified mail.

File Eviction Case at Courthouse

If the tenant doesn’t move out or correct the problems listed in the quit notice, you must go to court to file for eviction. Each court sets its own fees, which you will have to pay to start your case. You may, however, be able to recover these fees from the tenant if your eviction case is successful. Your lawyer can do this for you though some landlords decide to do this on their own. Your courthouse may have a self-help clinic that can help you with selecting the appropriate forms to file your case. Once you’ve filed, you’ll be assigned a court date and should arrange to have notice of the case served to your tenant by a process server or sheriff’s deputy. Be prepared for the possibility that your case may take several months to complete, particularly if your tenant is represented by a lawyer.

Prepare for Eviction Day

If a judge orders the eviction, your tenant may move out on her own. However, she isn’t obligated to leave until a law enforcement officer, usually a sheriff’s deputy, arrives at the residence to enforce the eviction. After you’ve scheduled the eviction enforcement, review any instructions the law enforcement agency gives you. Some sheriff’s departments advise landlords to have a locksmith present at the time of the eviction. This is for two reasons: First, a locksmith can change the locks immediately after the eviction, securing the building. Second, some tenants try to delay the eviction by changing or damaging the locks so that the deputy can't get into the rental unit. A locksmith can remove the lock so that the eviction can proceed.The sheriff’s department may also require you to have several movers on hand to remove the tenant’s property from the premises.