Legal How-To: Evicting a Tenant

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on January 28, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Landlords faced with less-than-stellar tenants may be wondering how to legally evict troublesome tenants. It's a question that's often raised in our FindLaw Answers Landlord and Tenant forum.

There are several reasons why a landlord would want to evict a tenant: for example, non-payment of rent, significant property damage, and violating the terms of the lease. In those situations, landlords may be able to evict a tenant, but must follow certain steps before they can lawfully kick the renter out.

Here are three tips on how to lawfully evict a tenant:

1. Why Do You Want to Evict?

Among the reasons for evicting a tenant, non-payment is one of the most common. But in general, tenants can be evicted for violating any of the agreed-upon lease terms. For example, if the lease specifies that tenants aren't allowed to have pets in the home, but the tenant sneaks her dog in, the landlord will have grounds for eviction.

Additionally, if the tenant conducts illegal activities, like selling drugs out of the rented home, landlords can also move to evict. Eviction may also be warranted if a tenant overstays the length of her lease (but this may also depend on the type of lease that's involved).

2. Give Proper Notice to the Tenant.

All states require landlords to serve tenants with an eviction notice before they kick the tenants out. Each state has different forms that landlords can (or must) fill out; some give tenants the opportunity to fix the alleged problems. Generally speaking, there are two types of eviction notices:

  • Eviction notices for cause are used when the tenant has done something wrong, like if he fails to pay rent or destroys property. For example, in California, when tenants fail to pay the rent, landlords can fill out a "3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit" form that specifies the amount owed and where the tenant can make the payment, according to Demand Media.
  • Eviction notices without cause allow landlords to evict tenants for any reason. Unlike the eviction notices with cause that have shorter notice periods, evictions without cause notices usually give tenants 30 to 60 days before an eviction lawsuit begins.

If the written notice alone isn't enough to remove the tenant from the property, then a lawsuit may be needed to evict the tenant. A landlord can file a complaint with the local court; you'll then be required to serve the tenant with a court summons and a copy of the complaint.

Need More Help?

While the above-mentioned tips offer some general guidelines about how to evict a tenant, keep in mind that each situation is unique. Also remember that the tenant may have defenses available to challenge a landlord's attempt at eviction.

Landlords will want to exercise caution when evicting tenants in order to avoid further costs and legal problems. That's why it's best to consult an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area to help build your case to lawfully evict a tenant.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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