Getting rid of troublesome tenant isn't as simple as just asking him to leave. To evict the tenant you'll need to give him notice of your intentions and a chance to leave on his own before you file for an eviction in court. The amount of notice required depends on state and sometimes local laws, as well as on the grounds for eviction.
In most states, the law requires you to notify a tenant of your plans to either terminate or not renew her lease. The notice must usually be in writing and is often known as a “quit notice.” A quit notice is not an official court document: You write it and serve it to the tenant. If the tenant ignores the quit notice, you must then file for an eviction at your local courthouse. At that time, you'll have to arrange to have your tenant served with a summons to the eviction hearing.
State landlord-tenant laws usually define the type of quit notice you must use. If your tenant is behind on rent, you may have to give him a “pay or quit notice” which instructs him to pay the rent or leave the apartment. On the other hand, if the problem is a lease violation, such as having an unauthorized pet, you may have to give your tenant a “cure or quit notice,” informing him that he must get rid of the pet or terminate his tenancy. If the problem is illegal behavior or your tenant has repeatedly violated the lease, state law may allow you to serve her with an “unconditional quit notice." This type of notice does not give the tenant any options for remaining in your property.
State laws determine the length of time a tenant has to pay rent, remedy a problem or simply leave after you serve the quit notice. The tenant may have several weeks to correct a problem or only have 24 hours to vacate the rental unit. The length of time prescribed on a quit notice usually corresponds to the severity of the grounds for eviction.
Some landlords think that a verbal or written request to leave is enough to evict a tenant. But eviction is a legal process that must be ordered by a judge. You should never attempt to evict a tenant without a court order. In most states it is illegal for you to attempt to force a tenant out by changing the locks, cutting off utilities or physically removing the tenant or her belongings from the rental unit. Doing any of these things can result in legal action, including criminal charges, against you.
Avoid conflict with your tenants by making sure that your rental and lease agreements clearly state your policies and expectations. If you are having trouble with a tenant, take the time to talk with him to see if you can resolve the situation. Many communities provide eviction mediation services. In eviction mediation, you and your tenant sit down with a neutral third party who tries to help you work out your differences. In some places, eviction mediators can negotiate a legally enforceable agreement for a tenant to move out without the property owner having to go to eviction court.
Lainie Petersen writes about business, real estate and personal finance, drawing on 25 years experience in publishing and education. Petersen's work appears in Money Crashers, Selling to the Masses, and in Walmart News Now, a blog for Walmart suppliers. She holds a master's degree in library science from Dominican University.