How to evict a tenant

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 4 min. read

Published on October 6, 2008

Chances are, at some point in your property management career, you’ll have to evict a tenant. Whether it’s because he hasn’t paid his rent, threw one too many late-night parties, or violated any other term of the lease agreement, the bottom line is you’ve come to the point where you want him out. Now the question is, how do you go about evicting him?

First and foremost, remember that your state’s specific laws may require different procedures than the general advice recommended in this post. Begin by familiarizing yourself with state laws and be sure to get yourself a good lawyer—preferably one that specializes in landlord-tenant disputes.

With the legal disclaimer stuff out of the way, let’s look at some of the more general eviction guidelines that apply to many states. As the real estate law section of says:“The process of eviction is a very fast one compared to other kinds of legal action. The trade-off is that the landlord must do everything exactly right.”

Step 1: Give Your Tenant Notice

The very first step is to give your tenant notice that he is being evicted. This notice can take many forms.

  • Nonpayment of rent: If your tenant has breached a lease provision for rent payment timelines, you’ll typically send a “pay rent or quit” notice stating that you’ll begin the eviction process if the breach isn’t resolved within a certain number of days. Essentially, this is just a fancy way of saying “pay up or ship out.”
  • Violation of occupancy rules: If your tenant has violated any other occupancy rules—such as housing people who aren’t on the lease—you may be able to send him an eviction notice under current law even if it’s not explicitly called out in the lease. However, as with past due rent, you may have to give him a specific number of days to correct the problem before proceeding with the eviction. Your best bet is to check with a lawyer.
  • Unconditional notice: In some states, you can give notice of eviction for any valid reason without providing your tenant with an opportunity to “cure the breach.” You’ll send this type of notice when you don’t want your tenant to fix the problem; you just want him out. Again, check with a good lawyer to see what the laws in your state say.

Step 2: File the Action in Court

If you’ve sent the required legal notice and your tenant still hasn’t fixed the problem within the specified number of days, then it’s time to file an eviction action in court. Depending on where you live, filing an action can be as simple as filling out a form online or as complicated as requiring a personal appearance in court. In either case, once your tenant is served, he generally has a certain number of days to respond before additional action is taken.

Step 3: Fight or Flight

If your tenant does not respond to the eviction action within the allotted time, you’ll receive a default judgment in your favor. If your tenant fights the action, you’re on your way to court. If you have not yet found yourself a good lawyer, now is the time.

Step 4: Getting on with the Eviction

If the court rules in your favor, the next step is contacting your local Sheriff’s Department to enforce the ruling. Resist the temptation to change the locks or remove the tenant’s personal property; taking matters into your own hands will almost certainly lead to trouble. Let the Sheriff’s Department do its job. They’ll post a notice on the door and remove your tenant’s belongings after waiting the appropriate period of time. That’s when it’s time to call the locksmith.

So, what’s the bottom line? Get to know the laws in your state before you begin an eviction or, better yet, find yourself a good lawyer who knows all the ins and outs of eviction. As tempting as it may be to put this step off for as long as possible, it’s important that you don’t wait for an eviction before contacting a lawyer. The more advance preparation and knowledge you have, the better you’ll be able to handle an eviction situation effectively and efficiently when it arises.

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Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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