One of the most stressful situations a landlord can encounter is an impending eviction. Even if you dotted your i’s, crossed your t’s, and screened your tenants, things still happen and an eviction notice might be necessary.
If you’re facing a possible eviction, it’s crucial to make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Otherwise, you could end up with astronomical legal fees and a big loss in profit while your rental isn’t collecting income.
Failure to follow all the laws and guidelines around evicting a tenant can come back to haunt you, that’s why we did the research and came up with a few important things to remember as you begin the eviction process.
First, brush up your state laws.
The Landlord and Tenant Act is a simple outline that many states have adopted as their version of basic rental rights. Before you sit down to write an eviction notice (also known as a demand letter), it’s important to research thoroughly and make sure your reason for evicting a tenant is legally sound in your state. Here’s a free eviction law guide for all 50 states that will help you determine if you have a case.
Then, include these two things in a written letter.
Once you’re sure that your tenant is violating their contract and you decide to move forward with the eviction process, you’ll want to give them a written notice. Besides the basics (a tenant’s name and the address of the property they are renting) your notice to vacate letter should always include two things: the reason for the eviction and a pay-or-vacate date. For example, if you’re evicting a tenant due to non-payment of rent, you’ll want to include a line that says, “You have three days to pay the full amount due ($2,000) or you will be legally required to move out.”
In order to keep a record of your eviction notice, post one copy on the door of the residence and send one via certified mail. Some states also require you to have a copy of the eviction notice delivered by a regulated third-party.
Finally, make sure to file it in court.
If your tenant fails to move out by the date specified, you can’t just haul their belongings to the curb and change the locks. You’ll need to take the matter to court by filing an eviction lawsuit (often called an unlawful detainer suit) and setting a court date. Usually, there’s also a small fee involved, so be prepared to pay it by looking up your state’s legal fees. Once that process is completed, the tenant will receive a summons and a court date. Make sure to have all the documentation ready for your court date, including a copy of the lease, payment records, the eviction notice, and proof the tenant received the notice. If you successfully win your case, a tenant will be legally escorted out and required to pay rent (usually by having their wages garnished).
What NOT to do
As tempting as it is, resist the urge to perform what’s called a “self-help” eviction. That means changing the locks, throwing out a tenant’s belongings, or shutting off the utilities. Any of those actions can easily end in a wrongful eviction lawsuit for landlords.
So why do people still use this method? Many landlords change the locks because they fear that a pay or vacate notice will result in retaliation during the 3-5 days that renters legally get to move out. If you’re worried about a tenant causing damage, in some states you can file an Unconditional Vacate Notice if a tenant has been late on rent multiple times or caused serious damage. This will allow you to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit later and possibly recoup your losses.
The bottom line is that evictions are a lengthy process. If at all possible, try to work with your tenants to avoid them. For some people, this means re-visiting the terms of your lease to come up with a payment plan. If you decide to go this route, it’s important to get it in writing and make sure it’s signed by everyone. Eviction should be considered a final option since it often ends up requiring time and money that exceeds your lost profits.