The Eviction Process: What Real Estate Investors Need to Know

Navigating the eviction process involves understanding legal steps, from issuing notices to courtroom appearances, and adhering to state-specific laws. This article offers landlords a thorough guide on legally removing tenants, highlighting costs, timelines, and strategies to avoid common pitfalls.

Vivian Tejada
Last Updated
March 14, 2024
The Eviction Process: What Real Estate Investors Need to Know

In the world of real estate, the term eviction is loaded with significant implications for landlords. It's a legal recourse not just for removing a tenant but involves a detailed process governed by specific laws and regulations. This process can range from a straightforward issuance of a notice to a complex legal proceeding lasting months or even over a year.

Understanding the nuances of eviction laws, which vary from state to state, is crucial for landlords. This knowledge ensures that they navigate these proceedings legally and efficiently, avoiding potential pitfalls that can arise from non-compliance.

This article dives deep into the eviction process, elucidating the steps for legally removing a tenant, from issuing notices to the final eviction. It also explores the varying degrees of difficulty in evicting tenants across states, highlighting the fastest and most lenient states versus those with the most stringent eviction laws. Understanding these nuances is key for landlords navigating the complexities of eviction.

What is an eviction?

The first thing landlords should note about eviction is that it’s not a one-off event. An eviction is a process landlords initiate in order to lawfully remove a tenant from their property. Although most people associate evictions with the physical act of a tenant being expelled from a rental, evictions are actually legal processes lasting anywhere from two weeks to a year. 

The eviction process starts with an eviction notice presented by the property owner in the form of a “pay or quit notice,” which notifies the tenant they are facing eviction. If necessary, the eviction will escalate to an “unlawful detainer,” which involves local law enforcement removing the tenant from the property.

As a landlord, especially one with multiple properties across different states, it's important to note that every state has its own eviction laws. An eviction for a property in Massachusetts won’t be the same as for a property in New York. Make sure you’re aware of local eviction laws and act accordingly throughout the process to avoid delays or dismissals at the eviction hearing.

The easiest states to evict tenants

Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina have some of the fastest and most lenient eviction processes in the country. In Louisiana, the average eviction can be completed in as little as two to five weeks. Landlords only need to give renters a five-day notice before filing an eviction suit. 

The same is true in South Carolina, with evictions lasting only four to nine weeks. In Alabama, landlords need to provide tenants with a “notice to pay rent” or “vacate the premises notice” seven days before filing an eviction lawsuit. A tenant eviction in Alabama can be completed in as little as 30 days. 

The hardest states to evict tenants

New York, Vermont, and Nebraska have some of the most restrictive eviction laws. In 2019, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act was signed into law, granting New York residents several protections against evictions. 

In the state of Vermont, landlords need to provide a 14-day written notice to tenants who have not paid rent before trying to evict them. Vermont renters also have a 60-day window to vacate the premises after their lease has expired. As a result, evicting a tenant in Vermont can take up to seven months, and even longer if the tenant requests a jury trial.  

In Nebraska, landlords need to provide their tenants with a 30-day notice when a lease agreement has been violated. After that notice is given, the tenant has 14 days to amend the violation or face termination of the lease at the end of the 30 days. An eviction suit can then be filed on behalf of the landlord. 

Navigating the eviction process

With a basic knowledge of eviction in hand, let's walk through the steps to legally remove a tenant:

1. Make sure you have grounds for an eviction

Once you sign a lease with a tenant, you can’t break it unless they fail to comply with the rental agreement in some way. Make sure you have a valid reason for evicting your tenant before starting the eviction process. Otherwise, you may end up wasting your time.

Not only should you have grounds for eviction, but also documentation to report it. This strengthens your chances of a judge ruling in your favor should the eviction case go to court. Some common reasons for eviction are:

  • Failing to pay rent in full, on time, or at all
  • Violating terms of the lease (ex: unapproved pets, extra roommates)
  • Causing major or consistent property damage to the rental
  • Breaking occupancy, noise, or health ordinances 
  • Generating safety hazards on the property

There are generally three ways to go about an eviction. Depending on the reason for the eviction, you will present one of the following documents to your tenant before filing an eviction lawsuit and requesting a court date:

  • Pay or quit notices: “Pay or quit notices” are given to the tenant when they have failed to make rental payments on one or more occasions. These notices let the tenant know they have a few days to pay or move out of the rental unit.
  • Cure or quit notices: Landlords can provide a “cure or quit notice” when a tenant violates a significant lease term such as having a pet, excessively hosting a third party, or making noise past a certain time. The tenant is given a set amount of time to correct the violation or face eviction.
  • Unconditional quit notices: Sometimes landlords are allowed to present tenants with “unconditional quit notices” which do not allow the tenant to pay rent or correct a lease violation in any amount of time. Instead, tenants need to move out or face eviction.

Landlords can use unconditional quit notices right away, without having to present a prior notice. In most states, unconditional quit notices are allowed when the tenant has engaged in one of the following activities:

  • Repeated and significant lease violations 
  • Paid rent late on more than one occasion
  • Caused significant damage to the property
  • Committed a crime on the premises

2. Present the tenant with an eviction notice

Once you’ve established grounds for an eviction, the next step would be to present your tenant with a written notice. A formal eviction notice lets your tenant know how many days they have to either pay past-due rent or correct a violation. In most states, this is the first part of the legal eviction procedure.

If your state does not allow for unconditional quit notices, make sure to provide the tenant with either a “pay or quit notice,” or “cure or quit notice,” first. This will help avoid any delays or dismissals in court.

A formal eviction letter is a fairly simple document detailing how much the tenant owes, what they need to do to continue living in the rental, and the date by which they need to remedy the situation. Landlords should post the eviction notice on the front door and send it to their tenant through certified mail with a return receipt requested through USPS to verify it has been received. 

In many cases, this is enough to get the tenant to make amends. However, if a tenant does not meet the deadline provided in the formal eviction notice, then the next step is to file the eviction in civil court. 

3. Prepare for the eviction court hearing

Once you file an eviction in civil court, you’ll need to prepare for the hearing. To increase your chances of winning, you’ll need to provide proper documentation to prove your case. At the very least you’ll need:

  • A signed lease agreement between you and the tenant
  • Any bounced checks from the tenant
  • Records of all payments made
  • Records of all communication between you and the tenant via phone calls, emails, and physical mail
  • A copy of the eviction notice provided to the tenant
  • Proof of when the notice was received from USPS

You may need additional court papers depending on the grounds for your eviction. It’s best to bring everything you can think of that might support your case. You won’t know your tenant’s defense until you get to court. 

Potential defense arguments for eviction Tenants 

If a renter chooses to fight the eviction in court, the eviction process could potentially last several weeks or even months. In an effort to stall or dismiss the case, a tenant may argue that there were errors in the formal eviction notice, errors in the eviction suit, or that the delivery of either was not presented fairly. 

This is why it’s important for landlords to follow through with the eviction process in a lawful manner from start to finish. You don’t want to get your case thrown out or have to start eviction proceedings all over again because you failed to provide proper notice.

Tenants can also call upon historical actions or inactions on behalf of the landlord to be taken into consideration. Examples of this would be the failure to maintain the rental property in a safe and livable condition or housing discrimination

4. Evict the tenant

If the judge rules in your favor, a court order will be issued for the tenant to vacate the property within a certain timeframe. Tenants are usually given between two to seven days. Both you and the tenant will have a copy of the ruling with the final decision. If the tenant fails to leave, you can request an unlawful detainer and call local law enforcement to have them removed. 

It can be uncomfortable to call the cops on your tenant, but it is sometimes necessary. You may also have to call a moving crew to remove their belongings or change the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the property at a later time. In both situations, you’ll probably have to cough up the cost. But after this, the eviction process is complete and you can rent out the unit to a brand new tenant. 

How much does an eviction cost?

The cost of an eviction can vary widely depending on several factors, including the location of the property, legal fees, court costs, and the length of the eviction process. Generally, landlords can expect the eviction process to cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Here's a breakdown of potential costs:

  1. Court costs: Filing fees for eviction cases can range from $50 to $500, depending on your jurisdiction.
  2. Legal fees: If you hire an attorney, legal fees can significantly increase the cost. Attorneys may charge a flat fee or hourly rates, which can range from $200 to $500 per hour. Some cases may require more extensive legal work, leading to higher costs.
  3. Loss of rent: During the eviction process, tenants may not pay rent. This loss of income should be considered a cost of eviction.
  4. Repair costs: After evicting a tenant, you might need to repair damages to the property, which can add to the overall cost.
  5. Other costs: Other potential costs include serving eviction notices, costs for changing locks, and storage of the tenant's belongings, if applicable.

How to get past due rent from an evicted tenant

If things end on a bad note with your tenant, they may not feel compelled to pay past-due rent. But there are a few ways you can try to get your money. The court order will include a judgment, detailing how much money the tenant owes the landlord and the date by which it should be repaid. If the tenant fails to pay, there are three actions you can take:

  • File a claim in small claims court: Some local courts allow you to file a small claims suit at the same time you file an eviction suit. If your local court doesn’t allow for this, you can file a small claims suit after the payment deadline included in the court order has passed. Keep in mind that there is a filing fee associated with small claims court.
  • Garnish their wages: You could also take the court order to your tenant’s employer and request that their wages be garnished. Some courts require wage garnishment to go through them, so check local eviction laws before moving forward. 
  • Use a private debt collector: Lastly, you could hire a debt collector to collect the debt on your behalf. Tenants don’t want this to happen because debt collectors report the debt to the three major credit bureaus, making it more difficult to apply for leases in the future. You’ll have to pay for the debt collector’s services, but it may be the best option if you’ve exhausted your resources through the courts. 

Understanding the ins and outs of the eviction process

the eviction process is a multifaceted legal procedure that requires careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of state-specific laws. For landlords, the journey from issuing an eviction notice to successfully reclaiming their property can be daunting, encompassing a range of steps including legal filings, court hearings, and potentially, law enforcement involvement. While the process can be time-consuming and financially taxing, being well-informed and prepared can significantly ease the burden.

It's essential for landlords to approach evictions with a clear strategy, ensuring they have legitimate grounds for eviction and that they follow the legal process meticulously to avoid any pitfalls. Additionally, leveraging resources like Azibo can assist landlords in managing rent collection more effectively, potentially reducing the need for evictions in the first place.

Remember, evictions are not only about removing a tenant but also about understanding your responsibilities and rights as a landlord. By staying informed and prepared, you can navigate the eviction process more smoothly and maintain the integrity of your rental business. Ultimately, the goal is to resolve disputes amicably when possible and to proceed with eviction only as a last resort, ensuring a fair and legal process for all parties involved.

Eviction process FAQs

Can I evict my tenant without cause?

Landlords generally cannot evict their tenants on a fixed-term lease without reason. However, a month-to-month or short-term rental agreement allows for more discretion. Landlords can end a short-term tenancy without a specific reason, as long as they give the tenant the required notice as per state law. It's important to keep in mind that in some areas with rent control laws, even month-to-month or short-term rental agreements cannot be terminated without cause by landlords.

How much does an eviction cost?

Unfortunately, the process of evicting a tenant can be expensive. Landlords should account for court costs, legal fees, rent loss, property damage, and turnover costs. TransUnion estimates the typical cost incurred by landlords due to evictions is about $3,500.

How long does it take to evict someone from a rental property?

Aside from being expensive, the eviction process can also be time-consuming. Eviction timelines ultimately depend on state laws and the specifics of the eviction case, but they can last between two weeks to a few months.

Seeking detailed eviction regulations for a specific state? Explore our expanding collection of insightful articles that delve deep into the nuances of the legal proceedings.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Vivian Tejada

Vivian is a freelance real estate writer based in Brooklyn, NYC providing SEO blogging services to real estate companies. Her work focuses on educating first-time real estate investors on investment strategy and explaining proptech tools to new customers.

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