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How property managers should manage the eviction process

Legal Concerns Resident Retention

If you have a resident that has failed to pay rent or has broken clear terms of your rental agreement, you’ve likely thought about evicting them. But what are you really getting yourself into with an eviction? This is a serious legal situation that can easily become messy and expensive. So, before you write up a notice and tape it to your resident’s front door in a huff, it’s imperative that you understand the legal process involved so that you don’t accidentally wind up on the losing end of a court battle.

The eviction process can be long and complicated

Laws regarding evictions vary from state to state, and most states have a detailed legal process to follow in order to force a tenant to vacate your property. It’s always prudent to consult a lawyer who’s knowledgeable about the laws in your state.

How to begin evicting a tenant

To legally initiate the eviction process, you’ll need to begin with a written notice that you intend to terminate the rental agreement. This typically stems from one of two situations: either they haven’t paid rent or they’ve violated one or more terms of the rental agreement. The type of misbehavior you are addressing will determine the type of notice you deliver.
  • Pay Rent or Quit Notice is used when the tenant has failed to pay rent. The terms of this notice will give your resident a few days (typically three to five) to pay what rent they owe or vacate the property.
  • Cure or Quit Notice can be given when a resident violates a condition of the lease or rental agreement. Maybe they have more people living there than your occupancy clause allows, or you’ve discovered they have a dog in clear violation of your no-pets policy. This type of notice will also give the resident a set amount of time to rectify the situation or move out.
  • If you feel your circumstances are dire, you may be in a position to hand down an Unconditional Quit Notice. This will order the resident to vacate the property without any second chances. In most states, this harsher type of notice is reserved for residents that have repeatedly violated a major part of their lease, failed to pay rent at all, or have been late on several occasions, severely damaged the property, or are engaging in illegal activity.

For an eviction notice of any kind to be enforceable, it must be delivered in person or posted on the property in clear view. In the notice, include the reason you are initiating the eviction, the steps the resident can take to avoid being evicted, and the date by which the tenant must resolve the issue or vacate.

Taking a delinquent tenant to court

After you’ve given notice, if the resident fails to fix the issue or move out as you have asked, you can then file a Landlord-Tenant Complaint with the District Court. This filing is your legal request to regain possession of the property and/or request payment for back rent or damages. The resident will then have the opportunity to file a counterclaim. This is where things can get a little dicey, especially if you don’t have legal representation.

In the next step of the eviction process, both you and the tenant will present your cases in a hearing. Each of you will be allowed to argue your side of the story and cross-examine the other before the judge makes a ruling. If the resident does choose to formulate a defense, it could drag the process out for weeks, or even months. They may point out oversights in your notice or eviction complaint, or suggest the improper delivery of either, in an attempt to have the case dismissed or delayed. Also to your dismay, if the tenant can prove that you are guilty of misconduct as a landlord (maybe they think you are retaliating, or the unit is uninhabitable), this could easily shift the court’s attention onto you, rather than the resident’s wrongdoing.

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What happens when a tenant is ordered to vacate your property

If you are awarded possession of the property, the tenant will be forced to move out. This is a decision you are allowed to enforce. The tenant will generally be given a length of time to gather their belongings and vacate the property, pending an appeal. However, if they continue to occupy the property after this period, you can then invite an officer of the law to present the tenant with an “Order for Possession.” This notifies the tenant that they have a certain number of days before the sheriff will be back to forcibly remove the tenant and their belongings from the property.

It is vital to keep a level head throughout this process and remember that you cannot act outside of the processes laid out by the court. This means that you cannot tell the resident that they have to move out “immediately,” and you cannot hold their personal property ransom or threaten them in any way.

Again, we recommend you speak with an attorney to make sure the eviction process goes as smoothly as possible.

Sara Thompson

Sara Thompson is with Zenith Properties NW in Vancouver, Washington.