An eviction can mean losing future rent to the tenant search and screening process, the cost of repairs and cleaning, and unforeseen costs if the tenant ends up contesting the eviction.
For this reason, it's good to know what to expect from the eviction process, depending on where your investment property is.
What You Can't Do
Even the most landlord-friendly states require a notice that informs the tenant that they've violated the terms of the rental or lease agreement. It's against the law to take measures to get your resident out of your property without a court order.
That means you can't:
- Change a lock
- Shut off utilities
- Harass a tenant
- Remove your tenant's personal property
- Threaten to or use actual force to make your resident leave
The Legal Steps to an Eviction
Step 1: Serve an Eviction Notice
In most cases, you must serve your tenant with a written notification once you've become aware that they've violated the rental or lease agreement.
The most common tenant violation is not paying rent, but all sorts of breaches can merit an eviction:
- Keeping an unauthorized pet.
- Letting someone move in without permission.
- Noise problems.
- Intentionally damaging property.
The vocabulary around evictions can vary from state to state. Even what the eviction notice is called can be different. Common variations include "Notice to Quit" and "Demand for Possession."
The notice tends to give the tenant the chance to correct or remedy the violation. The most frequently used windows of opportunity are five, seven, or ten days for failing to pay rent; ten, fourteen, and thirty days for other violations.
Providing and serving your occupant with a proper notice is a prerequisite for a court-ordered eviction. If you're not using a property manager, then a qualified attorney or eviction specialist may be useful.
Step 2: File in Court for Eviction
The eviction process can end with your occupant correcting the lease violation or simply leaving during their window of opportunity. But if the tenant fails to fix the problem or leave, then the landlord has to file an official complaint or summons with their local rent court.
Which court you use depends on your property's location, although more and more courts are open to online filing.
If you end up having to go to court, you should bring a copy of your:
- Any addendums
- Rent ledgers
- All other relevant information
After this, the court will process all of your documents and schedule a hearing date. How long that takes varies between municipalities. You may wait a week; in a larger city or county, it could be months.
Either way, you want to file your complaint right after the notice period expires to avoid delays.
Step 3: Rent Court Hearing
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord or their representative (an attorney, agent, property manager, or eviction specialist) must be present in the court to explain the rationale for the eviction.
By this point, your tenant will already have gotten a notice to appear for the eviction hearing. While the tenant will have the opportunity to give their perspective, they may opt-out of appearing at the hearing. It's on the landlord or their representative to offer as much evidence to support the eviction as possible.
The result of the eviction hearing is based solely on the judge's personal opinion. Even if the landlord is justified by most metrics to force an eviction, the judge may require the landlord to take other measures and file a second eviction hearing. It's in the landlord's best interest or their representative to be differential, professional, and well-organized since these traits will impact the judge's decision process.
Step 4: Writ of Possession
A "Writ of Possession" is the court's document that declares that a rental property must be returned to the landlord. At this juncture, the landlord should carefully read over the document to ensure they follow any steps that must be taken before having the tenant vacate the property.
The Writ of Possession tends to be delivered to the tenant by a sheriff or constable. By this point, your occupant will know that they have to leave the property by a particular date and time or be removed by force.
Writs of Possession vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Step 5: Eviction Day
Known as the "put-out" or "lock-out" date, eviction day is when one would hope the tenant leaves on their own accord. Sometimes, the sheriff or another authorized party will arrive at the pre-agreed upon time and oversee the landlord's forced entry into the rental property, whether using their key or locksmith.
If the tenant fails to vacate, the sheriff will remove them by force. It is then the landlord’s responsibility or their representative to remove the occupant's possessions. What's to be done with the occupant's things may vary from state to state, so be sure to determine what's expected of you.
It's best to arrive early to the eviction with hired help to remove your occupant's things faster. The locks should be changed during the moment of eviction to keep your one-time resident from re-entering.
If you have contractors, you should have them get started on all maintenance and repairs right away so you can start showing the property ASAP. This way, the vacancy period will be as short as possible.
Bottom Line on Evictions
You might think that by performing a rigorous screening that you won't have to evict anyone, but even the best of tenants may have to be given the old heave-ho. And, as you can see, the eviction process can be quite involved.
Even in those instances where eviction takes less time, it still eats up resources. For this reason, some people opt for "cash for keys," which is paying your tenant to leave the property. Sometimes it's worth it to pay someone $500 to skit-skat.
Hopefully, though, you'll never have a tenant that needs evicting.