How to Evict a Tenant: The A to Z of the Eviction Process

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the process of evicting rental tenants

How to Evict a Tenant: The A to Z of the Eviction Process

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Unfortunately, evictions are a costly risk when owning or managing a rental property. While some tenants vacate after a simple eviction notice, others require your local courts and the aid of the sheriff’s department. Regardless of the situation you have with your troublesome tenants, take some time to review everything you need to know about how to evict a tenant and the eviction process before proceeding with your own renter.

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Cozy Up with your Local Eviction Laws

Before you start drafting up your eviction notice, you need to know if you can evict your tenant. Eviction laws vary from state to state, and even individual cities can have their own ordinances in place, so understanding your local eviction laws will dictate how you’ll evict your tenant. On top of your state and city’s eviction laws, take the time to review the terms written on your lease to determine how to move forward.

Without a court order, there are quite a few things you cannot do (no matter how frustrated you are with your renters). These restrictions can vary, but generally, property owners and managers are prohibited from:

  • removing the tenant's belongings from the property
  • forcibly removing the tenant
  • changing the locks of the property without the tenant's consent
  • shutting off essential utilities
  • harassing the tenant

Violating any of the restrictions above can jeopardize your eviction case, and you want the courts on your side.

Do you have "Just Cause"?

While most states don’t mandate that you have a ‘good’ (or ‘just’) reason to evict a tenant, many cities and states are starting to require this. The approved “just causes” can vary, but a few common reasons are:

  • Non-payment of rent
  • Breach of lease
  • Owner-occupancy

Rental properties that are affected by “just cause” eviction laws can only evict their tenants if they fit into one of the “just cause” categories. Without just cause, rental properties who violate this law can face serious legal penalties.

Even if your city or state doesn’t have “just cause” eviction laws, it’s a good practice to document why the eviction is necessary regardless, so consider this an extra cautionary step in your eviction process.

The Formal Eviction Notice

Once you’ve established that you can legally evict your tenant, you’ll need to make sure you follow your state’s legal procedures to a T.

First and foremost, you’re going to need to provide “notice of eviction”. This means, providing your tenants of a written document notifying them why they’re being evicted, what they can do to avoid the eviction (like pay rent), and the deadline.

While you should double check your state’s notice requirements, we recommend you include the following:

Quick Tip!

Don’t overlook time stamped eviction notices through USPS! Many tenants have extended the eviction process by claiming that the landlord or property owner didn’t legally inform them of the eviction. Keeping copies of time stamped documents like your notices, email/text reminders, or any other correspondence) is an essential part of learning how to evict a tenant.

File your Eviction with the Courts

If your tenants did not move out of their own volition, then it’s time to file your eviction with your local courthouse. This will entail filling out the eviction paperwork and paying the filing fee. It’s likely that you’ll have to show proof that you provided the proper amount of notice before filing (this is where the receipt from certified mail comes in handy), so be sure to bring copies of the notice as well.

Once filed, the clerk will schedule a hearing and notify the tenant on your behalf (via a summons).

The Court Hearing

While you’re waiting for your court date, you’ll need to collect all the documents you have relating to your renter. This includes lease agreements, payment records or bounced checks, any sort of communication records between you and your tenant (phone, text, or email records), a copy of the written notice, and the dated proof of notice.

How to Evict the Tenant: What to Do if they Don't Leave

If the court sides in your favor, then your renter will have a set amount of time to vacate the premises. This time frame depends on your local laws, and in some cases when the eviction was filed. If your tenant doesn’t leave within the allotted time frame, you’ll need to contact the Sheriff’s department (and potentially pay a fee) to escort them off the property.

"My tenant left their possessions behind!"

If it’s clear it’s trash that the renters didn’t dispose of – food, old alcohol bottles, magazines and papers – then you’re free to dispose of it. If the belongings have any value (monetary, medical or sentimental), then it’s safer to try to arrange a time for the renters to collect them.

Each state has their own laws regarding a tenant’s property. California, for example, requires property owners to provide the tenant notice of the abandoned property (and your intent to dispose of it, if not claimed). The state requires that the notice have specific information – from what should be on the notice to how long the landlord must host the renter’s property. Some states even have requirements for how you can dispose of the un-claimed property, so be sure to thoroughly read your state’s laws.

"My tenant left their pets behind!"

If you discover your evicted tenants have abandoned their pet or pets, you’ll need to handle the situation quickly.

    • Assess the animal’s condition – does it look like it’s been cared for? Does it look sick or hungry? Is it scared or aggressive? No matter how the animal appears, use caution.

    • Contact your local animal control. Depending on how comfortable you are around animal is, animal control might need to remove the abandoned pet for you. Afterwards you will need to file a report. If the pet’s condition is particularly bad, your former tenant might face charges of neglect and abandonment.

    • Animal abandonment laws – specifically the laws about holding the pet and contacting the tenants – can vary by city. Some states consider the landlord liable for the animal once the pet is abandoned by its tenants. Regardless, most states require that you do whatever you can to try to contact the tenant.

Collecting What is Due

There are a few options you can do to try to collect past due rent or fees from your evicted tenant. First and foremost, a lot of states allow you to deduct past due rent, property cleaning fees, and the price of the storage unit for abandoned possessions from the deposit. Beyond the deposit, you can take your prior renters to small claims court to pursue the owed rent money.

Quick Tip!

Some courts allow you to combine an eviction and small claims lawsuit!

You can also garnish their wages or tax refund, although these processes require taking your tenant to court. To garnish your prior renter’s wages for back rent, you’ll need to sue your tenant, win a judgment and then get a court order to recover the payment directly from your tenant’s earnings. Federal law limits wage garnishment to no more than 25% of the tenant’s net pay (and if the tenant has other garnishments, you’ll have to wait to get paid), and state law can place stricter limits. In some cases, you might be able to get a wage garnishment order through the eviction alone rather than going to small claims court. However, if your tenant was a government employee or was on a government paid program (unemployment and welfare), you’ll be unable to garnish their wages.

Some states allow you to garnish the tenant’s taxes, but keep in mind that this is typically only available within a certain amount of time and is typically awarded on first-come-first-serve basis. The benefit to this method is if you successfully snag a tax garnish then the wages are automatically collected from their refund.

Finally, you can hire a private debt collector. We recommend Rent Recovery Solutions, as they charge a flat fee (no commission) to send collection letters and calls on your behalf and report the collected debt to the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion).

free eviction process guidance
Download your free Eviction Process infographic

While it’s difficult to gauge what the true cost of an eviction is as the amount of time spent on an eviction varies and the price of legal fees is differs from state to state, some analysis’ have shown the cost to exceed $10,000 per case! As you work through a troublesome tenancy and take steps in your eviction process, take deep breaths and remind yourself that you’ll get through this. Learning how to evict a tenant is half of the battle.

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