Despite your best efforts to build a good relationship with your tenant, sometimes the relationship goes sour. Even if you’re a good landlord, you’ll probably have to go through the eviction process at least once in your career.
Maybe a tenant didn’t pay the rent, maybe he’s disrupting the other tenants, or maybe she’s damaged your rental property.
To end the lease agreement early, you must follow the proper legal procedure. If you stray from the set process, you’ll not only lose your eviction case, you may also land in civil court and earn a reputation as a slumlord.
1. Decide If You Can Evict
Most eviction cases start with your tenant failing to pay to the rent, which is one of the biggest struggles of buying rental property and becoming a landlord. But while you can’t kick a tenant out just for giving you a hard time, you can evict a tenant for other issues like:
- Staying on the property after the lease expires, known as being a holdover
- Causing major damage to your property, but you must prove this damage in court
- Breaking specific rules you’ve set out in the agreement, like noise restrictions, guest limitations, or pet rules.
Many states require you to give the tenant notice of minor infractions and time to correct the problem before you can start eviction proceedings. If you don’t give your tenant a warning first, then a judge may not decide in your favor when the eviction goes through court proceedings.
2. Learn the Landlord and Tenant Act
If you decide you can evict and want to move forward, get very familiar with the Landlord and Tenant Act, which explains the legal process for evicting a tenant. To win your case, you’ll need to follow the eviction procedure to the letter. If you skip a step, the judge may decide in the tenant’s favor and the tenant may have the right to sue you in civil court.
You can get a copy of the Landlord and Tenant Act from your state attorney general’s website. If your state does not post these acts online, get a printed version at a local court office or through a lawyer.
3. Give Notice
Many states require you to give the tenant written notice before you even start filing for an eviction. You may also have to give the tenant time to correct the problem before you can file. Ohio law, for example, requires that landlords give a written warning three days before starting eviction proceedings, but does not require you to allow the tenant extra time to correct the problem. This notice, known as a notice to vacate, must clearly state your intent to evict the tenant. If the laws in your area require that you give the tenant time to correct the action before filing, you must state this amount of time in the notice as well.
When writing the notice, include the date of delivery, the timeframe the tenant has to correct the problem, and the date you will file the eviction. Hand deliver the notice to the tenant or leave the notice posted on the tenant’s front door.
4. File Your Eviction
Armed with knowledge of the law and having given your tenant a chance, you’re finally ready to start the eviction process by filing for a court hearing. If your state required that you give notice, file the eviction the morning after the waiting period expires. If your state did require you to give notice, you can file immediately. You can file at your local courthouse, and you’ll have to pay a fee to start the process. After completing the paperwork, the clerk will give you a hearing date, and the court will notify the tenant.
5. Get Ready for Court
Prepare your case before the eviction hearing. Gather any documentation you have, including your lease agreement, a copy of the written notice you provided, bank statements showing missing rent payments or returned checks, and records of all communication between you and the tenant. Prepare what you’ll say to the judge before you enter the court room. Rehearse. While you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script, you need to know what you want to say and feel comfortable in front of a judge. Don’t let yourself regret having left any details out.
On the day of the hearing, you and the tenant will both have a chance to make your case to the judge. The judge will then decide to either continue the eviction or allow the tenant to stay at the property. If you win the case, the judge will give you instructions for evicting the tenant.
6. Evict the Tenant
After the hearing, the tenant will have a set amount of time to leave the property. Some states require evicted tenants to vacate the premises in less than 48 hours. Some provide five days. If this period expires and the tenant remains, you will need to visit your property with the sheriff, who will remove the tenant and place any personal possessions on the curb. Use this time to inspect the property for damage. Bring a camera with you and take good photos. You can sue the tenant for major damage in civil court.
Final Word & Warning
Follow the section on how to evict a tenant in the Landlord and Tenant Act carefully. Do not attempt to evict the tenant yourself. Changing the locks to the tenant’s unit or the main door on the complex, removing the tenant’s belongings, or shutting off the utilities can have serious legal repercussions. Most states allow tenants to sue a landlord who tries to self-evict. If you’re dealing with a problem tenant, you deserve resolution. Don’t give up your power by making small mistakes.
Have you had to evict a tenant? What challenges did you face in the process, and did you succeed?
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