The Procedure for Evicting Tenants

Tenants can be evicted for many reasons: nonpayment or partial payment of rent, giving false information on the rental application or lease, or lease violations such as unauthorized pets or tenants, subletting the apartment without permission, engaging in illegal activities, and altering the unit without permission. Each state has very strict rules and procedures that must be followed in order to evict a tenant.

The procedure for getting an eviction is similar in most states; landlords in all states are required to notify tenants first that the lease is being terminated and that they intend to go to court for an eviction. What varies from state to state is the amount of time you must give a tenant to comply with notices before appearing in court.

The content and appearance of a termination notice and how it is delivered may also be very tightly regulated. You must follow the instructions carefully. If you aren't precise, you may delay the eviction or lose your case in court.

There are three steps leading up to a court hearing. If you are evicting a tenant who fails to pay rent, they are to:

  1. Give the tenant a Pay Rent or Quit notice.

  2. Give the tenant an Unconditional Quit notice.

  3. Go to the courthouse to file the forms and pay the fee.

If you are evicting a tenant because of a lease violation, the process is mostly the same, but the first step will be to send a Cure or Quit notice.

Reminder Letter

If you have a tenant who usually pays rent on time, you may want to send a letter asking if she overlooked the fact that rent was due “yesterday” before you issue a Pay Rent or Quit notice. Point out that to avoid a late payment penalty, the rent should be paid immediately. You can give the tenant a couple of days. If the rent hasn't come in during that time period, then you should start the process of terminating the lease.

Pay Rent or Quit Notice

The first notice, called Pay Rent or Quit, or sometimes Pay Rent or Lease Terminates, gives the tenant three to seven days (depending upon state law) to pay the full amount of back rent owed or else leave the apartment. Most tenants are evicted for nonpayment of rent or continually paying it late. If the tenant then pays the rent, it nullifies the Pay Rent or Quit notice. (Find samples of this form and most of the others mentioned.)

Tenants who pay the money they owe usually get a second chance to establish a good, on-time payment record. If, however, they should fall behind on rent or pay late again within an established time frame, you can proceed with termination and eviction. In other words, you don't have to put up with late payments forever. In most states you can then deliver an Unconditional Quit notice and file for the eviction in court.

Unconditional Quit Notice

The Unconditional Quit notice (or Notice of Breach with No Right to Cure) tells the tenant that you will no longer accept money for back rent. She has to move out; you are starting a legal action for an eviction. These notices typically are issued after repeated violations of the lease and frequent late rent payments. An Unconditional Quit notice is the last step before you go to the courthouse and file eviction papers.

Cure or Quit Notice

The Cure or Quit notice, also called a Notice of Breach with Right to Cure, is similar to the first step in evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent. But this notice is for lease violations: extensive property damage, illegal activities in the unit, bringing in a prohibited animal, or creating disturbances with frequent loud parties or music.

The notice gives tenants a time frame in which they must “cure” the prohibited behavior. It can be up to 30 days. If the behavior doesn't change, then the landlord can proceed to the next steps toward eviction — the Unconditional Quit notice and filing papers in court. Those processes are similar to what is described for situations of nonpayment of rent.

Tenants with a month-to-month lease can be asked to leave after you give them a 30-day Notice to Quit. You don't have to give them a reason why you want them to leave or a second chance to correct their behavior. And in most cases, even if you do have a valid reason for their eviction and can prove it in court, it is much easier simply not to renew their 30-day lease.

Eviction Costs

Evictions are not cheap. A landlord has to pay fees for filing forms in court, possibly get a lawyer, pay the movers, and then add in rent lost for up to three months. There are a few ways to try to recover these costs. If you have a formal court trial, you can try to recover those costs, as well as the fees for serving the complaint, through a Money Judgment.

When your tenant doesn't have resources, you can hire a collections agency to recover the money, but then you'll only get a percentage of what money is recovered — you have to pay them to collect it for you.

If you got a Money Judgment and your tenant is employed, you can garnish her wages.

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