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by Ben Luxon June 10, 2019 7 min read

Filing for Eviction - Process in The Us

Evictions are, unfortunately, part and parcel of being a landlord. Nobody wants to have to go through an eviction process, and hopefully, you won’t have to. however, knowing the process, and knowing how to prepare is absolutely necessary to avoid expensive complications.

The best practice is always avoidance. Screen your tenants carefully. But it can happen no matter how careful you are in your selection process.

So, we have broken down the process for you step by step.

It’s important to note that specific laws vary from state to state so it is worth checking your state's specific tenancy and eviction lawsbefore stepping into the landlording ring.

United States Tenant Laws

How the US Eviction Process Works

First and Foremost: Never Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

It may seem easier, quicker and more straight forward to simply kick your bad tenant out yourself, however, it is illegal to do so in all states. You must follow the legal process. The process is there to protect all parties and make sure that a fair verdict is reached.

Some examples of things you cannot do without going through the necessary legal steps include:

  • Removing the tenant from the property by force.
  • Removing the belongings of your tenants from the property.
  • Changing the locks on the home, essentially locking them out of the property.
  • Turning off any of the essential utilities to the property, for example, water or gas.
  • Harass or mistreat the tenants as a way to make them leave the property.

You must go through the legal process step by step. This can take weeks but if you don’t you will find yourself liable to a lawsuit from the tenant.

Step 1. The Lease Agreement

The first step of getting new tenants is to make them sign the lease agreement. This lays down the rules and serves as a form of protection for both you and the tenant.

You should customize each of your leases specific for each property that you rent out as each property has its own idiosyncrasies.

This is also a great chance to outline exactly what you expect from the tenant. For example, if you want them to trim the hedges in the yard routinely or mow the lawn, specify such in the lease.

If you don’t get them to sign a legally binding lease, you will find it much much harder to evict them should the need arise.

How the US Eviction Process Works

Step 2. A Valid Reason

If you decide you need to evict your tenant then you need a valid and legal reason. This can’t just be they’re rude or disrespectful. They need to have been obviously in breach of your lease.

Common reasons for eviction include:

  • Failing to pay rent on time or at all,
  • Violating the terms of the lease such as having unapproved pets,
  • Causing extensive damage to the property,
  • Breaking occupancy, noise, or health ordinances,
  • Causing health or safety hazards in the property,
  • Engaged in serious illegal activity, such as prostitution on the premises.

You will want to check with your local state laws to determine what counts a being in breach of the terms of a lease.

Step 3. Give them a Formal Eviction Notice

So, you have a bad tenant that you want rid of. You have a valid reason and can prove they are in breach of your lease (that they signed at the beginning of their tenancy).

The first part of the legal eviction procedure, in most states, is giving them a formal eviction notice.

The eviction notice should include:

  • A specific date for them to either remedy the situation or vacate the property before you file for an eviction.
  • The detail in what way they are in breach of their lease.
  • If the issue is a failure to pay rent, detail the total amount that they owe you including any fees involved.
Remember when posting the eviction notice:
  • Allow enough time for the tenant to respond to the ultimatum date. You don't want to take them to court if you don't have to.
  • Pin the notice on their front door.
  • Also, send it to them through certified mail with a return receipt requested through USPS so you can verify that it was received by them.
You may even want to check with your state laws to see if a specialized service company is required for this step. If so, you will have to pay them a small fee to deliver the notice.

    The eviction procedure varies in each state, in terms of how termination notices and eviction papers must be written and served, but the basic principles are similar. A landlord may start court proceedings to evict a tenant after giving one of these three notices:

    • Pay Rent or Quitnotices: used when the tenant has not paid the rent. They give the tenant a few days (around five in most states) to pay or move out.
    • Cure or Quit notices: given after a violation of a term or condition of the lease or rental agreement, such as a "no pets" clause. Once again the tenant has a set amount of time to correct the issue. If they fail to do so, then you will have to take them to court.
    • Unconditional Quit notices orders the tenant to vacate the premises with no chance to pay the rent or correct the lease or rental agreement violation. This may happen if they continuously violate the terms of the lease, or they are breaking the law using your property.

    Once you have sent the eviction notice, the ball is in their court. There are many evictions that never have to move past this point because they are fixed by the tenant after the notice has been delivered.

    However, this is not always the case. If nothing has changed since the eviction notice was sent and the deadline provided to the tenants has come and gone, then your next step is to file the eviction with your local courts.

    Step 4. Formally File for Eviction

    If the tenant has not fixed the issue at hand within the specified time after being given the eviction notice then you will want to go to your local courthouse to formally file for eviction.

    Typically you will pay a fee to file the paperwork which will depend on the courthouse. Once filed you will be given a court date - either whilst you are there by the clerk or informed later by post.

    The court is also responsible for notifying the tenant for you in the form of a summons.

    One thing to note is that when you go to file the with you local courthouse you may be asked to prove that you have given the tenant ample time to respond to their eviction notice in accordance with your state laws. This is where the USPS mail receipt comes in handy - you should also have a copy of the eviction notice on you.

    Step 5. Get Ready for The Hearing

    The court hearing could be weeks away or days away. Either way you want to make sure that when you attend you are fully prepared.

    Make sure you have all the documentation you will need.

    Going to court can be stressful, time-consuming and unnerving. The more prepared you are the better. Let your documentation do the talking for you.

    At the very least you will need to bring:

    • The lease agreement.
    • Any bounced checks from the tenant.
    • Records of all payments, if any, no matter the kind.
    • Records of all communication between you and the tenant, which includes emails or phone calls.
    • A copy of the eviction notice that was provided to the tenant.
    • Proof of when they received the notice, which is the receipt from USPS.

    How the US Eviction Process Works

    Step 6.Tenant Leaves

    If the court rules in your favor the tenant will be ordered to leave the premises in a set amount of time (again the number of days varies from state to state), depending on your local laws from 48 hours to 7 full days.

    The court will provide both you and the tenant with a copy of the ruling.

    Note: If the tenant doesn’t turn up to the court hearing, the judge may automatically rule in your favor - so it’s always a good idea to attend even if you think they may be a no-show.

    Step 7. What to Do if They Refuse to Leave?

    If they still refuse to leave after the court-ordered period then you still cannot legally evict them yourself. You will need to get someone from your Sheriffs department to escort them out and remove their possessions from the building.

    This is not the most favorable outcome and can add even more time to the process. But it does happen, whatever you do, make sure you abide by the law.

    Step 8. What if They Still Owe Rent?

    The main reason for evicting a tenant is because they haven’t been paying their rent.

    There are a few recourses you can take to ensure that you get the full amount of owed rent repaid.

    If this was the main reason for eviction then hopefully they would have been given a court-ordered judgment on how they were to repay the debt owed and a timeline. If not you can do one of the following.

    1) File in Small Claims Court. 

    This may come with another court filing fee.

    2) Talk to Their Employer and Organize a Wage Garnishment.

    If the court ruling determines that the tenant does in fact owe you rent still, but doesn't specify how they are to pay, you will receive a judgment in your favor. You can take this to their employer and arrange with them a wage garnishment. Meaning that you will get paid from the tenant's wages.

    3) Hire a Private Debt Collector. 

    This will cost money, but they will also report the debt collection to one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) which will show up on their credit report and help future landlords avoid these tenants.

    If you are unsure about how or what you need to do to properly comply with your local state laws we advise you seek legal advice from a professional.

    We hope you found this blog interesting! However, do note that it should not be used as a substitute for competent legal and/or other advice from a licensed professional.

    View US Tenancy Laws by State here 

    Ben Luxon

    "Ben is a co-founder, author and real estate enthusiast. His interest in all things entrepreneurial has led him to work with real estate professionals all over the world, distilling their knowledge into articles and Ebooks. His love of travelling has taken him to over 10 countries in the last year, where he has sampled the craft beer of them all."

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