June 20, 2023

The Eviction Process: What Real Estate Investors Need to Know

Before moving forward with an eviction, be sure to understand what the eviction process requires and how you can achieve the best outcome as a rental property owner.

The Eviction Process: What Real Estate Investors Need to Know

If you’re considering evicting a tenant, it’s important you know what to expect. Evictions differ depending on state laws, reasons for the eviction, and documentation presented in court. Before moving forward with an eviction, carefully read through this guide to understand what an eviction requires and how you can secure the most fair outcome as a property owner.

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 landlord 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

Now that you have a general understanding of how eviction proceedings work in different states, it’s important to understand the process of evicting a tenant. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to evict 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. 

For more information on tenant rights, read our blog post What Are Renters Rights and Why Do They Matter?

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. 

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.

Understanding the ins and outs of the eviction process

Dealing with an eviction can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a landlord. Even with a thorough screening process, there’s always the possibility that a tenant either breaches their contract or fails to pay rent, leaving you with no other option than to pursue eviction. By understanding the ins and outs of the eviction rules and making the right preparations, real estate investors can make this difficult process as smooth as possible. 

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.