Evicting Tenants: A Step by Step Process For Dealing With Delinquent Tenants

by | BiggerPockets.com

Since there have been quite a number of questions lately on the BiggerPockets Forums asking about evicting tenants…

Handling tenants can be quite simple (not necessarily easy) if you set up procedures and always follow them. Tenants need to know that you’re in charge and that what you say goes. Like children, they will sometimes push back to see if you mean what you say. If you do, life will be easier for everyone.

We have a process for handling evictions and everyone, our office staff as well as all of our tenants, knows what it is. How do they all know? It’s in writing, and we go over it in detail with each new tenant as we’re signing their contract. It’s spelled out in the rental contract and in a tenant manual that we give to each responsible party as they sign with us.

Make Sure Your Eviction Policy is in Writing.

Why is it in writing and initialed by each tenant? So they know what our policy is, and we know that they know, and they know that we know that they know.

If they have a question later, we refer them to the proper spot in their rental agreement as well as in their Tenant Manual, and we have a printed form that we can mail to them as a “reminder” should they forget and not know where their paperwork is… All in writing, well laid out, simple for everyone to understand.

When I started real estate investing, this was not the case. I worked pretty much on a case by case basis and tried to make each unique situation work for each individual tenant:

  • My paycheck didn’t arrive on time.
  • I had a flat tire.
  • I will be able to pay in full by the middle of next week.
  • Can you change my due date?
  • etc., etc.

You’ve heard the stories.

If you have more than one tenant, and you’ve had them for very long at all, you know that making a special case for each tenant for each situation is time consuming and emotionally draining. Then, after all your efforts, it’s really upsetting when the tenant still doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

One For All – All for One!

So, after much pain and suffering on my part as the landlord, I decided to make it easy for everyone. Now we have a policy. Spelled out. Same for everyone. Same every time. Interestingly, this works much better and is much easier for everyone. Those who need an exception from you this month are the ones who are probably going to need an exception every month, so why not nip it in the bud right away by making them follow the same rules everyone else follows?

When a tenant wants an exception I tell them that, if I do it for one, I have to do it for all or else I’m guilty of discrimination. Tenants understand this and actually feel better knowing that everyone is held to the same standard.

Evicting Tenants: How We Do It

To give you an idea of how and where my process evolved, and because some of you have asked, I’m going to lay it out here. I hope this is helpful. I promise, it will save tons of time and aggravation.

**Note: Laws vary in every state – some vary dramatically. Check the laws in your state to see which items you need to tweak in your paperwork. For example, North Carolina allows five (5) days for a tenant to pay, so we can’t call them “late” until the sixth (6) day of the month. Many states give the tenant longer before allowing fees.

  1. Late rent fee – All paperworks states that the tenant has until 5pm on the due date (we use the first) to pay without penalty. After 5pm on the due date, they will be accessed a five percent (5%) late fee, the maximum allowed in our state. These late fees are entered into our system automatically at 5pm. If a tenant goes into our online system at 5:01pm and attempts to enter their standard payment, the system will not accept it.
  2. NO CHECKS are accepted for late payments. ALL payments and late fees made after 5pm the 5th (fifth) day of ANY month MUST be paid in certified funds ONLY. Any checks received after the 5th (fifth) of the month are returned and eviction proceedings continue. (You DO NOT want to find out, 10 days later, that their late payment check bounced.)
  3. Court Filing Fee – If we have not received payment by the seventh (7th), eviction proceedings commence. At that time, an additional five percent (5%) court filing fee is also added to their outstanding balance as allowed by law. And, they are charged what we pay to the courts for filing – $96 for the clerk of court and $30 per person to the sheriff for serving the eviction papers.
  4. Stopping the eviction – Once eviction proceedings have commenced, they may be stopped any where in the process with payment in-full including past due rent, late fees, court costs, and all unpaid balances on their account. Again, all such monies must be presented to us in CERTIFIED FUNDS ONLY. No checks or cash are accepted.
  5. Court appearance fee – Once we show up in court, an additional five percent (5%) is added to their balance by the courts for the court appearance fee.
  6. In court, we are awarded possession of the property (they are in breach of contract for non-payment).
  7. We send a letter telling them we have court awarded possession of the property and they have ten (10) days to vacate the property.
  8. Writ – If they are not out of the property in ten (10) days, we go back to the court for a writ and they are charged $30 for the sheriff to serve their writ as well as $25 to the clerk of court.
  9. Within 5-7 days, the sheriff shows up at their house and the locks are changed. They are no longer allowed access to the property.

The Process is Worth It.

As you can see, this can be quite an involved process for everyone. And, quite expensive for the tenant!

Typically, tenants who have grown up thinking late payments are no big deal are SHOCKED the first time they are served eviction papers after only a week! The second time they pay late, they are not shocked. Twice is usually all it takes to make them realize they will be penalized for paying late.

For most tenants, this is enough to train on-time payments. We have one who has lived in a property for 6 years and has paid on-time no more than 10 times. Yup, they pay the late fees every single month. Sometimes court costs. Once they made it all the way to being notified that the sheriff was going to change the locks. Yup, they paid up including all the fees.

Related: How to Be a Landlord: Top Ten Tips for Success

Surprisingly, most pay up, including all the fees. We are quick to let them know that we don’t want to collect late fees, it takes productive time away from the office. We want every tenant to pay on-time and avoid ALL fees. We take every from of payment – online and offline, except cash. We make it as easy as possible for every tenant.

Some just pay late. And seem ok with that. I don’t get it, but so it goes. The latest anyone paid was after the sheriff had locked them out. The tenant showed up at our office with a money order for all monies owed and said he didn’t want to move.

It appears to actually give the tenants some piece of mind knowing the rules are the same for everyone. We let them know that our system is what it is in an effort to keep our costs down, which keeps rent as low as possible, plus on-time payments help train them to one day be homeowners.

When you have enough tenants and you’ve been a landlord long enough, I think you’ll find that a same-for-all approach is easiest for everyone. Because our system is so streamlined, we rarely miss more than one month’s rent before we have a non-pay out, and the place cleaned and back on the market. If they’re not going to pay, better to know quickly.

Find out what your state allows and set up your system. Better to train your tenants than to have them train you.

Photo: Rob

About Author

karen rittenhouse

Karen Rittenhouse has been investing in real estate full time since January 2005. In that time, she has purchased hundreds of single family properties, opened a full-service real estate company, a property management company, a coaching/training business, and written three books on real estate.


  1. Brandon Turner

    Awesome post today, Karen. You know what I love about this – is that you show that when you run your business like a business, it’s really not all that bad. It takes so much of the emotion out of the process. I found myself nodding my head throughout your whole article cause we do almost everything identical. In the beginning, we also tried to be a little lenient, but it became SO much easier when we put everyone on the same rules, created a written policy, and stopped deviating from it.

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing – this will help a lot of people!

    • karen rittenhouse

      Great, Michelle.

      Just incorporate it right into your lease agreement. It’s one added paragraph with the policy spelled out. Put a line beside it and have them initial that they’ve read and understood your policy.

      To your success!

  2. Jan Whitney on

    Thank you for this information Karen. I’m getting ready to buy my first rental property – a triplex – and I’m trying to get all my processes in place, mostly through blogs here on Bigger Pockets. As Brandon said, I like that by having a process that is standard for everyone, you can take the emotion out of it.

  3. Being accused of discrimination is an excellent reason for not giving in to excuses. All tenants should be held to the same standards – not only because this is only fair to all of the good rent-paying tenants, but also because landlords should treat all tenants equally under the law.

  4. john milliken on

    since i love the reference about renters in today’s podcast about if you give a mouse a cookie, i got one for landlords:

    if you give a renter an exception, they’re gonna want free rent.

  5. Great Article. It took a long time to accept the fact if you dont have a system to handle tenants, then they will control YOU! I know I want to help sometimes but when you interfere with your systems, you can create EVEN more problems later on. For example, friends in one house talk to friends in another house and both are rented by you and YOU let them slide on payments because YOU feel sorry for them and then, the other tenant that you dont know they are friends with, says WHY NOT HELP ME? So on and so on…. Oops! There are millions of stories but, there is only one way to handle them and that is with YOUR system! Don’t EVER forget it!

  6. This was a great post.
    I am new to the game and implemented a similar procedure
    but I didnt have the hand out and the ability to direct them to the pertinent paragraphs.

    I also never framed it like it is an all things being equal deal.

    I portrayed it like I needed the money and needed to do it to keep from going in the red

    this way seems much better and the tenants never feel like they have you over a barrel.

    • Steven:
      You’re absolutely right about changing the approach of your conversation. Always try to make it about them, never about you. Remember, clients always want to know what you can do for them/ what’s in it for them/ how will this benefit them/ etc. They don’t really care so much about you or your needs, naturally. So phrase as many of your conversations as you can around them.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  7. Brandon Gavett on

    Great article! It took me 2 years before I figured out that tenants are easily trained that you are in charge and evictions will happen for non payment. A written policy will also hold you accountable and make your life a whole lot easier.

  8. Great post! Our state allows 4% after 15 days late. We DO bill for legal fees and also impose a $20 “service fee” for our 7 day notices but it’s not really enforceable and it’s also something for me to “waive” to give a concession or “courtesy one time” waiver so they feel like they’ve received something. Other than that, our lawyer helped us create a great lease that has some unusual twists.

    1. 30 day automatically renewing lease so that even though we have a lease, we can give a “30 day no reason” termination. Advantage: we are not subject to the ravages of some of the sillier tenancy at will laws in Maine but still have the “30 day no reason” capability.

    2. both our notices and leases have an absence of “right to cure” language (actually it specifically states that there is NO right cure.) – this means that once we serve notice (for non payment for instance) they could give us 3 months rent and all legal fees and we could still evict IF WE wanted to (if they were undesirable for other reasons like pet damage, smoking in unit, etc.) This is a big deal for us for one reason: Occasionally a tenant will come through at the 11th hour for May’s rent for example, but then be late for June’s. With our lease, we can get the writ for May, hold onto it, then have it served the minute they’re late for June!

    • Hi, Ken.
      I’m glad you’re working with an attorney. Is he the one who would defend your contracts in court if the need arises?

      Omitting the “right to cure” may be a good thing if your state allows it. Be aware, just because it’s in a contract does not mean it will hold up in a court of law. A thirty day contract is, however, one of the easiest ways for either party to end the agreement at any time.

      Thanks for sharing these examples.

  9. @Ken LAvole
    I may be Naive but is seems to me you have a lot of clauses in your lease that make it seem like unfair business practices.

    Especially the part where a person pays all their money then you still evict them.

    I myself would rather not take their money and evict them. I may be out a months rent By the original posters method. However i can sleep at night.

    I can tell you if you did something like this where I am from originally. someone is liable to take matters into their own hands and deal with you according to the laws of the streets.

    fair is fair and right is right and although tenants can be pretty bad two wrongs don’t make a right true you are skating on the side of the law. But if a person gives you their last money and then you evict them

    They probably have nowhere to go now
    they could have used that money to secure another place.
    a move like that could cost them all their posessions, possibly a job. and if they have children.
    yeah I dont like that at all.

    The original posters flow where it works according to the state law is fine.
    to get tricky with the lease like that screams foul to me.

    • Hi Steven:

      By law, you can’t take future payments and still evict. You can, however, collect monies owed (naturally) and evict for any breach of contract. The hope is, of course, that your paperwork is written correctly.

      I don’t believe Ken meant that they take future payments yet still evict. I believe his point was that, even if they bring that money, it does not automatically cure the breach of contract. The landlord is not required to take the money and keep the tenant. We have the same thing. If we are done, done, done, with a tenant and they show up with funds, we don’t have to accept the money from them but can refuse it and continue the eviction.

      If a tenant breaks their lease early, however, they may be required to pay for the months they still owe in the contract. In our state, you cannot be paid more than once for any month so, if a tenant pays us for three extra months but we lease the unit out after only one month, we must reimburse the tenant for the two months that we have a tenant in place. Once a tenant breaks their lease and moves out early, by law they are only responsible for the months it is vacant under their terms of contract.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Great post Karen. The emphasis on having a written policy/plan for evictions is so important for new landlords. Once you have one in place, there are also some alternatives to accomplish “helping a tenant find another housing situation”. Evictions (for non-payment of rent) can be very costly in some states.
    It’s not just the filing and attorney fees but the lost rent on the unit. For example, in Cook County, Illinois, the process can last over 120 days. Even when you obtain a judgement for any recoverable money, collecting the judgement is not always easy.
    So, to mitigate your potential losses, think a bit out of the box. I have paid tenants to move out. I have paid for a rental truck and I have paid them fees from $100-400. I convince them that this option is in their best interests and it will also save them from any additional negative credit reporting. All of a sudden I am no longer the money hungry landlord but someone who is trying to help them. All of this sounds crazy? Not really. No filing fees, no minimum attorney fees ($1,000) and maybe 1 months rent. This is simply a negotiation to cut your losses. Yes, there will be times when a formal legal process is necessary and you need a comprehensive plan for that. Other times, this a workable option that can help you cut your losses and get that unit rented out to another “paying” customer asap.

    • Oh, my gosh, Jim. That is so helpful for landlords in states that are more “tenant friendly”. If you live in a state where it takes time and money to evict, negotiate!

      We are very fortunate to live in a landlord friendly state. We can have someone through the eviction process in less than a month – and we do. Often, from the time we file for eviction until the property is vacant and back on the market, is only 4 weeks AND we need no attorney for the process.

      I’ve heard that both California and New York (and apparently Illinois) are more tenant friendly and evictions can take months and be very costly for landlords. In those cases, ABSOLUTELY use “cash for keys”. Paying a tenant to move can be brilliant. Covering their cost to move or first month somewhere else is a wonderful negotiating option.

      Thank you for pointing this out and taking the time to share your experience. Perfect!

  11. Great post Karen. I totally agree with Brandon. Most of us started out the way you described; believing the best would come from tenants and we were OK giving them a break now and then. But as you said, it simply doesn’t work over the long haul.

    Running your business “like a business” even if you only have a couple of properties is essential. It’s not a hobby. It’s a business. I would go so far as to say it is even more important if you only have a couple of propertes since your cash flow is even less in that case and chances are you don’t have as much in reserves. You will save yourself a lot of grief if you put procedures in place and follow them for everyone right from the start.


  12. Great article! Karen can you detail your method if collecting rent? You mentioned that they go online to pay their rent. I’m curious if you give the tenant different options to pay (cash, auto draft from their bank acct, certified check mailed to your office, etc).

    Also, you probably have a good reason for it, when the tenant is late, why do you require certified funds only? They can’t pay on cash and you give them a dated receipt?

    Thanks for all the informative articles and sharing your knowledge! 🙂

    • Thai:
      We offer pretty much every option for paying rent including all the ones you mentioned above, except cash.
      NEVER cash – ever, from anyone. There must be a paper trail of all payments and cash does not allow for that. When we have had tenants eventually get a bank loan and buy the property they are renting from us, banks take photo copies of all forms of payment as proof of on-time pay, except cash. Receipts can be altered; photo copies of cash is worthless as “proof”.

      Also, I never want anyone to assume our office or any of our employees have cash. There is no need to increase the chance of theft. None of us ever have cash – period. Plus, for the tenant’s safety, I don’t want anyone thinking that they walk around town and enter our building on rent day with a pocket full of cash. Never accept cash.

  13. Dan Rountree on

    Karen, thank you for this post. This is really excellent material. Are you able to start eviction proceedings on the seventh day due to an automatic forfeiture clause in your lease? If so, have you encountered any NC magistrates who don’t fully understand this concept, and if so, would you mind sharing how you handled it? I’m also in NC, and have an automatic forfeiture clause in my lease, but find most magistrates only understand the ten-day grace period concept. I’m reluctant to push for an earlier date for fear of creating an unfair bias against the victim (me!).
    Thanks again.

    • Dan:
      We file for breach of contract. Rent is due on the first day of the month so, if they haven’t paid, they have breached the contract.

      We do not file eviction for the money, but based on breach of contract. Yes, you need a breach of contract clause in your contract. We state that rent is due on the first and, if not paid on the first, you are in breach of contract.

      When you go to court for breach of contract and possession of the property, you are awarded monies owed.

      If you file for monies owed, you must wait 10 days to file. Not so for breach.

      Thanks for asking.

      • Also from NC and I’ve had the 10 day grace period problem, just like Dan. I’ll be looking into your advice about breach of contract. What do you do about “served by posting”? No money damages are awarded when “served by posting” and it seems as if that happens more and more. Do you get judgements and do you try to collect them?
        Any advice on a good reference for NC small claims procedures? Attorneys keep giving me differing advice, and of course it’s too costly for the money involved on a single case. Magistrates, we’ll I’ll quote one: “The law is like the Bible, we don’t all see it the same way. I know some do it different than me, but I been here longer. If you don’t like my ruling, you can appeal across the hall.” You deal with this sort of thing much?
        Thanks for your great article and advice!

        • Hi Stan:
          Breach of contract gives possession. The judge awards the money at the same time because that is part of the breach and part of the eviction process. If the tenant doesn’t pay after the money is awarded, you can have them served so that it goes against their credit and, at that time, go for a money judgement.

          Magistrates are not attorneys, they are employees of the court. They do not necessarily know the law. Yes, if you don’t like their finding, you must hire an attorney to enforce the law. Sometimes it is worth the expense, sometimes not.

          We are rarely concerned about the money judgement because of the hassle involved in trying to collect. We want the tenant out and our property back so we can, once again, put in a performing tenant.

          Our focus is on the property as a performing asset. We do everything we can to evict any tenant who is non-performing within the shortest time frame allowed by law which is why we prefer to evict for breach of contract. Much faster. When we have our property back and on the market within 30 days, we have lost very little compared to the time, money, and emotional energy we could spend hiring an attorney and chasing someone who’s already proven they won’t/can’t pay.

          Hope this helps!

  14. Karen,

    This is great information and an incredible asset of knowledge for everyone; thank you for the perspective.

    What I will add to the conversation is that I was very impressed that you gave an example of how to handle the conversation with tenants. More often than not we gain an educational edge in investing but may not get the hard “script” on how to implement.

    I try to train employees, my kids, my pets :), ANYONE with real world examples of how things work and how to say the words to accomplish our goals and I can’t say thank you enough for “When a tenant wants an exception I tell them that, if I do it for one, I have to do it for all or else I’m guilty of discrimination.” I just added this to my management “toolbox” and can’t wait to use it!

    Thank you!

  15. I am very interested in whether or not a Breech of contract clause will fly in Georgia.

    I have a friend in New York who took 9 months to evict a tenant. at 1,700 a month he lost a lot of money New York is definitely tenant friendly.
    However, It would have taken longer but he also sues for possession not money.

    It also prevents the tenant from running in at the 11th hour with money in hand stopping the eviction process.

    • karen rittenhouse

      Hi Steven:
      That’s an important thing to investigate. My brother rented out his condo in Brooklyn for a time. As much as I love rental property, I was thrilled when it sold. New York is NOT landlord friendly.

      Hope this works for you in Georgia. It certainly streamlines the process.

      Let us know what you find out!

    • Steven,
      Breach of lease is grounds for eviction in GA, at least in the county where I am. You couldn’t pay me to landlord in NY or most Northeastern states. Not landlord friendly at all.
      Here in GA you can have an eviction in less than 35 days if you file on the 6th, especially if the tenants don’t answer the Summons of Dispossessory.

  16. Great article- wish I had been reading this blog before my 1st
    rental. A couple questions
    1. Is Florida considered tenant friendly?
    2. How are others able to negotiate pay for tenant to move? Do you pay the other landlord
    Directly? How much time do you allow them to locAte a place before you start eviction process?

    • Hi JoAnne:
      Check the local laws to determine if Florida is tenant friendly. You might call a real estate attorney to discuss the eviction process to help you make your determination.

      Our tenant negotiation goes something like this: “If you’re out by the 20th, we will pay you $500.”

      Pick a date that you want them out and an amount that you’re willing to pay. If they’re out by that date, they get a check. No matter what you negotiate, start and continue the eviction process with the courts until they are out. Never wait to start the eviction. That way, they know you’re serious and you won’t waste time if they say they will move but don’t.

      Thanks for your question!

  17. Thanks for the advice. My question is, judgment for eviction was awarded on June 30th and today 6/28, my property manager has not gotten the house back. They claim writ of possession was filed on 6/13 but the Sheriff is yet to come and padlock the house. Is this possible? Do I have any grounds of suing the property manager? This is Charlotte, NC.

  18. Hi George:
    The way it works here in Greensboro is that we can’t file for the Sheriff to padlock the house until after the tenant’s move-out time period is over. If the court gave them until the 30th to be out, the soonest you can file with the Sheriff (and pay) for them to go out and padlock the house is July 1st.

    Once paid, the Sheriff has 10 days to comply. At that time, the owner (or property manger) meets the Sheriff at the property to go through the house and change the locks.

    If the tenant’s property is still in the house, they have an additional 10 days from the time you change the locks to remove their property.

    If, at the end of those 10 days, their property is still in your house, you must remove it and store it (free of charge) for an additional 30 days and allow them to come and get it.

    Not the best process, but better than a lot of states.

    Hope this helps. Good luck to you!

  19. Karen great post!
    More landlords need to treat their property like an asset and landlording like a business. Many tenants have been used to landlords who won’t enforce due dates and late fees. Indeed they do find it shocking when they do run into one.

    I think some of these tenants can’t meet the criteria of an apartment complex. They find landlords with houses who are just content to get the rent when they can just to not have a vacant house. Some will accept part of the rent rather than none. Poor souls.

    Excellent suggestion to have the eviction process in the lease! Watch there body language when you have them initial that. One caveat on having tenants initial items on the lease, have them initial ALL or just sign at the very end.

    I’ve been advise if you have them initial only certain items, a judge could possibly interpret that which is initialed is the only thing you wanted addressed….dumb, but laws and those who are subject to interpret them can get like that..

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