How to Evict a Tenant, and What to Do When They Just Won’t Go

As a landlord, you are probably aware of the many landlord-tenant regulations that govern rental properties, including fair housing laws, maintenance duties and maintaining ADA compliance. Not surprisingly, the process of evicting a tenant has its own set of rules, and you can face serious liability for failing to follow the local laws and protocols in place.

Meeting with an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer is a productive first step if you have never dealt with the eviction process. Regardless of whether you consult an attorney, however, properly communicating tenant eviction procedures to renters can help mitigate the inevitable challenges from recently kicked-out residents.

Rules vary greatly from state to state, so it’s crucial to understand local landlord-tenant laws or speak to a lawyer before changing the locks — but these are the key things to know if you find yourself faced with a tenant who needs to go.

Understanding lawful reasons to evict a tenant

There are a number of legal (and very illegal) reasons to evict a tenant. Beginning with the former, lawful grounds for eviction could include any of the following:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Having a pet in violation of property policy
  • Damaging the unit or common areas
  • Committing a crime on the property
  • Causing harm or safety risks to other residents
  • Violating no-smoking policies, including marijuana
  • Failure to pay association dues
  • Regularly violating an enforceable term in the lease agreement (e.g., repeated noise violations or unapproved subleasing)

There are also several illegal reasons to evict someone that violate tenant rights. Any landlord caught illegally giving tenants the boot could face major civil penalties. Evicting a tenant because of the onset of a disability, for instance, is definitely illegal. Further, you must allow for tenants to have support animals, like seeing eye dogs, even if the building maintains a no-pets policy. And, of course, an eviction based on the tenant’s race, gender, religion, age, marital status or any other protected class is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.

Delivering proper notification of eviction

Believe it or not, there are constitutional concerns around tenant eviction. Following decades of court decisions and case law interpretation, the Due Process Clause has become applicable to landlord-tenant conflicts. Because of this, tenants are owed, at a minimum, proper notification of an impending eviction. In some situations, such as in a public housing unit, the tenant may actually have a right to appeal the decision to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

There are several ways to give proper notification to tenants. If the conflict surrounds nonpayment of rent, you must give the tenant a certain number of days to deliver the full payment before the eviction will go through. Known as “cure or quit,” this form of notification gives tenants a certain amount of time to correct the issue before they lose housing. The cure or quit method also applies to situations in which a tenant has violated a material term of the lease, such as keeping a pet, painting the walls or causing damage to the property.

If a tenant commits an egregious act, such as selling drugs or engaging in other illegal or risky behavior in the unit, you are usually within your right to issue an unconditional notice of eviction, also referred to as a holdover proceeding. An unconditional or holdover eviction does not allow the tenant any opportunity to correct the problem. This type of notice is available in nearly all states, but is only enforceable in the most serious scenarios.

Dealing with a tenant who will not leave

Obviously, an eviction situation will create hostility between you and the tenant, which could lead to an awkward standoff. If this happens, you are not permitted to trash the tenant’s personal belongings, throw things in the street or start selling the tenant’s property. Instead, a landlord with a holdover tenant will likely need the help of local law enforcement to physically force the tenant off the property.

Legally speaking, once a valid eviction has taken place and the final day of the tenant’s correction period has passed, the tenant is then considered an illegal trespasser and may be physically removed. This is a drastic measure, for sure, but may become necessary if a tenant simply will not vacate the premises.

No landlord looks forward to handling an eviction, and fortunately most tenant issues can be resolved before eviction would be considered – but it’s important for you to know the laws and procedures should you find yourself in this unpleasant situation.

Want to increase your chances of avoiding problem renters in the first place? Check out our tips for finding the perfect tenant!


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