A Crash Course in Evictions: 4 Things You Need to Know

Navigating the choppy waters of an eviction can be tough. Landlord-tenant laws are complex, and even the most well-mannered of tenants can quickly become a problem when facing an eviction. As a landlord, it’s imperative that you know the finer nuances of the eviction process, and the “best practices,” that will make life a lot easier for you and your (former) tenant.

Know the 3 Types of Eviction Notices (and Your State Laws)

While the language varies from state to state, the core concept of evicting a tenant remains consistent: you usually need a reason to evict. Generally, this will fall into one of several categories: the tenant didn’t pay rent, he or she violated the lease terms, caused property damage, or violated a noise/health/safety ordinance. You must be able to prove your reason for evicting, and you must give your tenant fair notice. You can do this through one of the following termination notices:

  • Pay or Quit notice, which gives the tenant around 5 days to pay rent, or else he or she must “quit” the premises.
  • Cure or Quit notice, which gives the tenant a set amount of time to resolve the lease violation. For example, if your tenant violates a no-pet clause, this notice requires that he or she find other arrangements for the pet.
  • Unconditional Quit notice, which means you’ve made up your mind to evict the tenant, and you are not willing to give him or her a chance to resolve the issue. In most states, you’re only able to issue this notice if your tenant did something really serious, like drug dealing or extensive property damage.

It’s important to know your state’s individual laws. Some states require that you give your tenant a chance to resolve the issue, others don’t. Furthermore, some individual cities allow a “Notice for Termination Without Cause,” which lets you to evict your tenant without a reason so long as you give 30-60 days notice. You can find individual state laws here.

Be Prepared if Your Tenant Fights Back

In an ideal world, you would serve your tenant notice to quit and he or she would pack up and go. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and sometimes tenants don’t want to cooperate. By law, your tenant is allowed to defend the eviction in a number of ways. For example, flaws in the notice or improper delivery of the notice may nullify it. Your tenant may also claim the unit was uninhabitable, or that you broke certain landlord-tenant laws during the rental period. In any of these scenarios, you will likely end up having to attend a court hearing. After filing the eviction with a court for a fee, you will get a hearing date. Be sure to collect all the records you have to prove that your tenant violated the lease.

Never, Ever DIY

You may be tempted to take matters into your own hands – don’t. It’s illegal to lock your tenant out or remove his or her belongings. Shutting off utilities, threatening or harassing your tenant, and physically trying to remove your tenant are all very illegal. In fact, your tenant can not only sue you for their monetary losses, but they can also sue for additional “penalties.” You could end up paying your tenant’s rent for several months! No matter how troublesome your tenant is, never do anything that could be considered retaliation.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

You’re probably a reasonable person who wants to be treated with respect. You want your tenants to like you and enjoy their home, but when a tenant violates his or her lease, something needs to be done. So what’s the best course of action? Before you make motions to evict, think about if your tenant deserves a second chance. Is the violation something that you can both overcome? Does your tenant have a good or bad history with you? If you can work it out, try to do so. Be amicable but stern in letting your tenant know this can’t happen again. If you just can’t get past what he or she did, it’s time to start filling out the eviction notice.

For more help understanding evictions and landlord-tenant law, contact us.

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