A landlord may evict a tenant for not paying the rent, for violating a lease, or for refusing to leave when an existing lease ends. In all of these cases, a landlord must follow the legal process to evict a tenant based on the laws of the state the rental property is located in.
Depending on the jurisdiction, an eviction may be fast or slow depending on why a tenant is being evicted, backlog in the court, and whether or not a tenant challenges an eviction. In this article, we’ll discuss the process for evicting a tenant, explain how long an eviction takes, and cover some possible alternatives to consider before evicting a tenant.
- A tenant may be evicted without cause, such as giving notice to end a month-to-month lease, or with cause, such as not paying the rent.
- An eviction may take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on factors such as local and state landlord-tenant laws and backlog on a housing court’s docket.
- A landlord may be able to collect from an evicted tenant by requesting a money judgment in the initial eviction complaint.
- Alternatives to evicting a tenant include arranging a repayment plan, explaining to a tenant the possible consequences of an eviction, and offering a tenant cash for keys.
Main reasons for evicting a tenant
Tenant evictions fall into two main categories – without cause and with cause. The process for evicting or removing a tenant varies, depending on the reason a tenant is being evicted
Without cause tenant eviction
An example of a tenant being evicted without cause is when a landlord chooses not to renew a lease. For instance, if a tenant is on a month-to-month lease, either a landlord or tenant may provide notice to the other party that the lease agreement is not being renewed.
Generally speaking, a 30-day written notice must be provided to the other party in order to end the lease. However, some cities such as Portland have landlord-tenant laws that prohibit without cause or no-cause evictions.
With cause tenant eviction
A tenant may be evicted before a lease ends for violating one or more terms and conditions of a lease, such as not paying the rent, having an unauthorized pet, or destroying the property:
- Pay or Quit Notice is sent to a tenant who has not paid the rent by the due date, notifying a tenant to pay the rent (usually within 3-5 days) or quit the premises by moving out.
- Cure or Quit Notice is used when a tenant violates a lease term, such as having an unauthorized pet. The notice allows a tenant a specific amount of time to fix or cure the violation, or quit the premises.
- Unconditional Quit Notice requires a tenant to immediately vacate the premises with no option for staying. Generally speaking, most states allow an unconditional quit notice to be used in limited circumstances, such as when a tenant is using the property for illegal activity or has been repeatedly late with the rent.
How long does an eviction usually take?
In most states, a landlord must wait several days after serving a tenant with an eviction notice before the actual eviction process can begin. States such as California and Arkansas require a tenant to wait 3 days before filing for an eviction for non-payment of rent, while other states require a landlord to wait 10 days or more, according to the legal resource website Nolo.com.
The entire eviction process may take between a few weeks and a few months from start to finish, depending on factors such as:
- Terms and conditions of the lease.
- Local and state landlord-tenant laws.
- Backlog on a housing court’s docket.
- Whether or not a tenant contests an eviction by arguing in court that the eviction is illegal.
Steps to evict a tenant
A landlord must follow the exact legal process in the state the rental property is located in when evicting a tenant. Landlords are prohibited from “self-help evictions,”, such as changing the locks, turning off utilities that are paid for by the owner, or retaliating against a tenant for reporting housing code violations or discriminatory renting practices.
The Legal Information Institute (LII) funded by the Cornell Law School describes the steps to follow to evict a tenant:
Tenant must be given a Notice to Quit that describes why a tenant is being evicted, what a tenant can do to avoid being evicted, and how many days a tenant has to cure a violation, such as paying all of the back rent due.
The process for serving a tenant a Notice to Quit varies from state to state. Some jurisdictions allow a landlord to post a proper notice on a tenant’s door, while others require a certified notice or delivery by a process server.
2. Court proceedings
After waiting the required amount of time, a landlord may then obtain a court order to remove a tenant if the parties have not come to an agreement, such as a tenant agreeing to leave voluntarily in lieu of being evicted.
Most jurisdictions have special housing courts that process evictions, which allows an eviction to be resolved in a few weeks or months. During the court hearing, a tenant has an opportunity to respond to and challenge an eviction. For example, a tenant may claim that a landlord is not maintaining the home in a habitable condition, or treating the tenant unfairly.
That’s why a landlord should keep detailed records and copies of tenant correspondence to help disprove ambiguous claims made by a tenant.
In some situations a tenant will still refuse to leave, even when a landlord has won an eviction lawsuit. A court will issue a “Writ of Possession” to a landlord indicating that the landlord has the right to possess the property.
A landlord must then hire a law enforcement official, such as a sheriff, to physically remove a tenant from the property. Depending on the jurisdiction, it could take the sheriff up to 14 days to post a notice, followed by a waiting period of another 14 days before the tenant can be physically removed.
Once the tenant is out of the property, the sheriff will stand by while a landlord and movers remove any property belonging to the tenant and store it in a safe and secure place until the tenant pays for the cost of moving and storage.
How much does a residential eviction cost?
According to a recent report by the tenant screening service SmartMove, total eviction-related expenses average $3,500. Residential eviction costs may include:
- Legal fees paid to an attorney to represent a landlord in court.
- Court costs such as filing fees and serving notices.
- Lost rent from the time the current tenant stops paying the rent up until the time the property can be rented to a new tenant.
- Costs to turnover the property and make it ready to show, including repairs and detail cleaning, marketing the home for rent, screening prospective tenants, signing a lease and paying a leasing fee.
- Repairing excess damage caused by an evicted tenant, such as missing plumbing fixtures, holes in doors and ceilings, or a missing electrical panel.
Collecting from a tenant after an eviction
A landlord may be able to collect unpaid rent, legal fees, and other damages from an evicted tenant, depending on the terms and conditions of the lease and local and state landlord-tenant laws.
As the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA) explains in this blog post, a landlord typically must request a money judgment in the initial eviction complaint. If a landlord is awarded a money judgment, a tenant is required to pay any money owed plus interest.
To collect, a landlord may submit the judgment to a collection agency to report on a tenant’s credit, and file to have wages or bank accounts garnished until the money judgment is paid in full. A landlord can expect to pay a collections agency to collect from an evicted tenant, and there is also the risk of a tenant filing for bankruptcy to impede a landlord’s collection efforts.
Alternatives to evicting a tenant
There are several potential options a landlord may have as an alternative to evicting a tenant.
Repayment plan to catch up on the rent
Sometimes a good tenant will fall behind on the rent through no fault of their own, such as a change in family status or losing a job.
In cases like these, a landlord may decide to work with a tenant by putting together a repayment plan to catch up on the back rent. A landlord may wish to consult with a real estate lawyer for assistance drawing up the paperwork, to make sure that a repayment document is legal and enforceable.
Mutual agreement to end a lease
In other cases, a tenant may simply be unable to pay the rent but isn’t aware of the potential ramifications of being evicted. Sometimes a tenant will agree to an early termination of a lease when they understand the possible impact an eviction will have on their credit score and rental history report.
Cash for keys instead of eviction
A landlord may also offer a tenant a small amount of cash in exchange for returning the keys and giving the property back. Paying a tenant who already owes rent cash to leave may sound silly at first. However, cash for keys may be more pragmatic than potentially spending thousands of dollars by going to court and evicting a tenant.
The length of time it takes to evict a tenant can be several weeks to several months, depending on the specific situation and the state a rental property is located in. An eviction begins with giving a tenant notice, followed by going to court to legally remove a tenant. In some cases, a landlord may be able to collect money from an evicted tenant by obtaining a money judgment from the court.