With tenants and rental property, chances are you’ll have to evict a tenant sooner or later either because the tenant hasn’t paid his rent or because strange people keep visiting him at odd hours of the night. Whatever the reason, the tenant hasn’t lived up to the terms of the lease agreement and you want him out. The question is, how do you go about evicting him?
First and foremost, remember that the laws in your state may require different procedures than the general advice in this post, so get familiar with the rules in your area and 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 general eviction steps that apply in many states. As the real estate law section of FreeAdvice. com says: “The process of eviction is a very fast one compared to other kinds of legal actions. The trade off is that the landlord must do everything exactly right.”
Step 1: Give notice – The very first step is to give the tenant notice. This notice can take many forms.
A. Nonpayment of rent – If the tenant has breached the lease provision that talks about paying rent on time, you’ll typically send a “pay rent or quit” notice that says you’ll begin the eviction process if the breach isn’t cured within a certain number of days. That’s just a fancy way of saying pay up or ship out.
B. Violation of occupancy rules – If the tenant has violated any other occupancy rules, like 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, just like with past due rent, you may have to give him a specific number of days to correct the problem before proceeding with the eviction. Best bet is to check with a lawyer.
C. Unconditional notice – In some states, you can give notice of eviction for any valid reason without giving the tenant an opportunity to “cure the breach”. You’ll send this type of notice when you don’t want the 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 the 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 it may require a personal appearance in court. In either case, once the tenant is served, he generally has a certain number of days in which to respond before additional actions are taken.
Step 3: Fight or flight – If the tenant does not respond to the eviction action within the allotted time, then you’ll receive a default judgment in your favor. If the tenant fights the action, then you’re on your way to court. If you haven’t found yourself a good lawyer yet, now is the time.
Step 4: Getting on with eviction – If the court rules in your favor, the next step is to contact the 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 land you in trouble. Instead, let the Sheriff’s Department do its job. They’ll post a notice on the door and remove the 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 already does. And don’t wait for an eviction before you do. This is one area where it’s best to prepare for the worst rather than hoping for the best.
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