How to Evict a Tenant – Step-by-Step Guide & Tenant Eviction Process for Landlords

judge houseDespite 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?

  • KK

    Good stuff!

  • Brian

    I currently have a tenant that has broken her lease specifically concerning payment terms. I have bent over backwards, amending the lease agreement three times, in her favor. I just can’t do it anymore. Very nice person, just can’t manage to pay the rent, even though I have to pay the mortgage on the property or damage myself on my credit history. I keep getting the same excuses….”I have car problems.” “I had to go to a funeral.”…….So, how do I nicely tell this person, “You broke the written contract we both agreed upon, you have to find something else that works for you?” Any advice would be appreciated….[email protected] (Property owners have “rights” too!!!!)

    • Chris Jones

      Tell them them your still paying on the property and the bank dont allow excuses for payments. Either pay or get out so I can get someone in here that can pay. No offense Brian but it doesnt sound like you should be a landlord. Landlords arent supposed to be nice. Im mean as hell. People are scared of me, but its all an act. I could tell you a few tricks, but Im not giving away landlord tactics that I had to learn the hard way.

    • Marlene

      I had properties and being nice never worked. After my husband died the tenants cohooted together and would not pay their rent. As I was already in trouble I lost them; the tenants had to move as they no longer had a rent agreement without me; so, if they had paid I could have paid the mortgage. That is only the tip of the ice. An owner spends about $150.00 to file in court, and by the time the tenant is out they owe another month’s rent. Then it takes you a month to clean the walls, cabinets, refrigerator, etc. paint, clean the carpets, linoleum, kitchen cabinets, tub, toilet, windows, etc. Now the supplies cost about the same as a month’s rent. Therefore, if you rent an apartment for $500.00 and they do not pay that month, you pay $150 to file in court, then court day and tenant is given time to move so now it is the second month and you are $1150.00 in the hole. Now you need a month to do all the work so the supplies and repairs cost $500.00 that is now $1650.00 in the hole. It took you a month to do the work; thus no rent that month either so now you are $2150.00 in the hole. Unless you know the NUMBER of the law that would evict them the judge just uses….whatever comes to their head. and they may not even evict them that month so look in your book and know the law number. I kept trying to be kind, taking some money just to help me but they did not care. I came from welfare, my husband and I worked all the time thinking we would have everything in perfect structual shape and we would only need to maintain so items and we would have some income to help when we received social security. I say, give them a ‘nice’ notice once and then carry through because they will not thank you and try to take care of your property and it is going to cost you anyway. Get them out as soon as possible because you have bills and troubles also. Plus, you had to put a lot of money down to purchase this piece of property

  • Moon_247365days

    Business is business, being sympathatic is different story, your tenants are not honest and has no respect to you, therefore I can’t they are nice,you start the process to evict them, otherwise you will find yourself on mortgagee sale………..

  • Disabled lady

    My tenants stoped paying any rent. The property was rented because I have no income to pay the property loan. In hindsight that was a mistake. All inquerries to law enforcement are met with the same answer. “Not our problem” is the most common along with “pay a lawyer $250 and the judge $50 then we will help you”. This has been going on for two months. Deputies warned me not to show up at the property again or I will go to jail.
    Is their any way out of this life consuming mess with out money I don’t have?

    Disabled lady needs advice!!

    • Y?sm?n?

      The property is in your name so why would they put you in jail for being on the property?

  • PaxListings

    Great insight and guidelines for landlords. Landlords can evict a tenants who violates the lease with any reasons.Since tenant eviction procedures vary from state to state, check your state laws for specific eviction guidelines.

  • Sonia 294

    My tenants has pay the room rent but deduct the money of electricity bill and water bill. he is not paying for it. plz advise can we cut the electricity and water connection.

  • Sandy

    I had a tenant that was removed from her apartment by mental health and adult protective services because of her inability to take care of herself anymore. She is in the hospital and is not going to be able to return. There is no family that is willing to take on the responsibility to put her somewhere. How do we go about getting our apartment back? Do we have to file eviction notice to her even though she is not returning to the unit according to the mental health professionals and we would not allow her to come back to the unit because of her mental health issues. What is our next move?

  • George Lambert

    I might add that a lesson here is don’t wait. The sooner you get the eviction process going, the better. At the end of the day you have to make a good business decision. Deal honestly and fulfill your end of the deal. But don’t let them tug on your heartstrings.

    I’ve never lost a landlord-tenant case in court. Dress nice, look professional. Be organized, and know your numbers in advance. The majority of tenants don’t bother showing up, so it’s usually not hard to win.

    George Lambert

    Author, What You Must Know BEFORE Becoming a Greedy Landlord. How to build a portfolio of investment properties for an income that lasts a lifetime.

  • Josh Szabados

    What if the tenant does not want to sign the lease given and is late paying rent in the first 8 days

  • Jim Chow

    I’m in the state of Washington where pot is legal. Can I evict someone for being a smoker after they moved in, when my ad state very clear none smoker wanted?

    • Joe Hyler

      Hi Jim,
      I’ll say that if you have a no smoking inside the dwelling policy and it’s stated in the lease contract, you can have grounds to start the eviction process. I’m in Nebraska and pot it’s illegal here and sure this tenants it’s smoking in the apartment. Called the cops a couple of times but if they don’t answer the door or let them in, not much they can do, even if they can smell it. Try and find anything in the contract that the tenant failed to do ( my tenant failed to changed the electric sefvice to her name) and use that as a cause for eveiction. I gave her a 30 days notice and I’m sure she won’t pay me rent,so I’m ready to give her another 3 days notice for that. Good luck Jim.