How to Evict a Tenant (Infographic)

Eviction Process Step 1: Written Notice

Every state requires landlords to serve their tenants with a written eviction warning notice before they can file in court for eviction. (Psst: we offer eviction notices for all 50 states through our online landlord software, free of charge. Just saying.)

These eviction warning notices must include state-specific language. It also gives the tenant a set amount of time to cure the violation and avoid eviction; the exact number of days varies by state. Not sending the right notice at the right time only adds time and aggravation to this already stressful process.

It is these tiny little details that can often make or break an eviction case. Most district judges will hold you accountable to the letter of these minutiae.

Here are a few examples of how state laws vary:

North Carolina: When a North Carolina tenant is behind on the rent, the landlord must give them a written notice demanding payment within ten days. If the tenant fails to pay, the landlord must then go to the local courthouse and file a Complaint in Summary Ejectment (more on that in Step 2: Filing).

Illinois: Illinois requires a five-day notice of eviction for nonpayment of rent. Other wrong-doings and lease breaches require a different form, a ten-day notice. Then there are the major cities! Chicago imposes its own set of processes for eviction. Be sure that you always check your local notice requirements as well!


How Do You Serve the Eviction Notice?

Again, without sounding like a broken record, different states (and some municipalities) have different protocols. Below find the various ways to deliver that notice to the offending tenant.

    1. First-class and/or certified mail. Some states allow regular mail, while others require certified mail. I always send one certified, return receipt required, even when not required. Having that little green signed card in court can go a long way.
    2. Post. This is when you tape the notice to an obvious place such as the front door. Tip: Mail it as well!
    3. Hand-deliver. Each state has their own ways to do this. With some, you can just hand it to whomever answers the door and run! And other states require a signature (tip: it’s always better to get it signed). There are rules as to who may receive the notice and their minimum age; delivering it to a toddler is never allowed.
    4. Process server. Few states require this, but it has its advantages. First, it’s hard proof that the eviction notice was delivered. It’s also less confrontational and dangerous than hand delivery by you, as irate tenants can be unpredictable. Still, it’s expensive, and an extra step to have to take.

Bear in mind that some states require a combination of these service options before filing in court for eviction.

Eviction Step 2: File in Court

How many days did your state require in the eviction warning notice?

That’s how long you must wait before filing in court.

For instance, in Iowa, once your notice period expires, you go to your county court and file an Iowa Forcible Entry and Detainer or F.E.D. Alabama landlords also file the form in the County courthouse; it’s referred to as the Statement of Claim Eviction, Unlawful Detainer. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, these forms are filed at the district court level and termed Summons and Complaint for Eviction.

As each of them has different names, they also have distinctive information required as well as the methods to file them. Some municipalities have joined this millennium and allow online filing for the eviction process. Others remain stubbornly low tech, and require an in-person visit to the courthouse with paperwork and paper check in hand.

The nuances do not end there. Each court has a decree on what constitutes “proper waiting time”. That five-day grace period in your proper notice may mean “any” five days in a row in one state, and five business days in another state and a whole different counting interval somewhere else.

Rule of thumb: Contact the clerk of court where your property is located. Do this before you ever need it. Find out what constitutes a day in a notice period? How can a form be filed; in person or online?  What is the service of notice requirement?

eviction hearing judgeEviction Step 3: The Hearing

The document is filed, your tenant receives notice from the court that they must appear for a hearing. Most states will assign a court date for all parties to appear and duke it out, presenting evidence and making a case before a judge.

However, some states such as Nevada require the tenant to contest the complaint first (usually via mail). If they do so within the time window, a court date is scheduled for all parties to appear. However, if the tenant fails to answer in the time allotted, the eviction order is automatically granted. There are a few states that have similar procedures.

“What do I bring to the eviction hearing?

The rental agreement, if you have one, is important to bring along. Any notices, copies of checks, pictures, unpaid utility bills and your rental ledger should be in your case file. If you have made any phone calls, make sure you have the specific dates and times.

TIP: Always bring an extra copy of the lease agreement with you. Often the Judge does not have it. Make notes as to which section of the lease was violated. The more organized and the easier it is for the Judge to find the necessary information, the better it is for you.

“Do I need an attorney?”

You can’t expect us to answer that! While we would never tell anyone not to hire an attorney, our experience has been that landlords don’t need one for the eviction process. But if there is confusion, complications, worries, snags or you have never been in a court before; perhaps it is worth the money to hire an attorney. However, a cut-and-dry non-payment case is usually straightforward. And often the tenant doesn’t bother to show up.

What if your tenant appeals? In some courts, in order for the tenant to do this, a specific portion or allotment of the rent “allegedly” owed must be paid into the court along with paperwork to initiate the appeal. In other courts, the tenant must simply pay rent, current. The appeal process can be lengthy and complicated. Therefore, at this point unless you have been there, done that; time to call your lawyer.

Unfortunately, there exist professional tenants that can literally drown a landlord in litigation for months, or worse, years. Tenants in the midst of bankruptcy could hold you stagnant as well. Without sounding repetitive, get good, professional, legal counsel if this happens!


Eviction Step 4: Lockout

Each state has their own procedure for formal eviction lockouts as well, surprise!

Many courts offer a period of appeal. (See how long this process is getting?) In Pennsylvania, the appeal time after a judge renders his decision is ten days. This means that either party may file an appeal to a higher court at any time within the ten-day period.

And remember, each court counts days differently!

Once the judge approves the eviction court order, and any appeal period has been exhausted, the procedure for a sheriff or other law enforcement agent to perform a lockout may begin. Important note: YOU may be the one required to schedule the eviction with the sheriff’s office! Be sure to ask the court.

Almost there…

Some states such as Colorado have a process for Writ of Restitution. This is a form that the property owner will get from the courts, and then take to the sheriff’s office.

Once the sheriff assigns an eviction date, the landlord has to post or serve it on the tenant. Basically, it tells the tenant to get out or be locked out. That means everyone in the household must vacate and all personal items must be removed.

In some tenant-friendly states, the landlord is required to store the tenant’s abandoned property. For instance, in Nevada, the landlord not only must store the junk for 30 days but also even after the 30 days are up, must make sure and take all “reasonable” efforts to locate the owner of this abandoned stuff! And in Oregon, not only must you store the renter’s belongings, but you must also ensure that no damage is done to it.

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