How to Properly Evict a Tenant (and Avoid a Legal Hot Mess!)

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No one wants to end up in the position where a property eviction becomes necessary. In fact, as real estate investors, this is one of a handful of scenarios that we never want to face! Evicting a tenant is not a desirable process for anyone: owner, property manager or tenants. Generally, evictions happen because something, somewhere, has not gone as you wanted it to.

Maybe your tenants aren’t paying rent, or maybe they broke the lease or otherwise damaged your rental property. They may be paying each month, yet they are habitually late, and you’ve reached the point where the trust is no longer there. The situation may simply have gotten to a point where continuing to rent to the tenant or tenants is no longer wise.

While this article may be helpful for landlords and investors considering starting a management company, there is no way it can replace a conversation with a local attorney who specializes in tenant law. Each state — and often local municipalities — have their own tenancy laws, and it is vitally important that you pay attention and learn those local laws. Keep that in mind as we go through these general steps!

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Reasons for Evicting a Tenant

The first step to the eviction process is to legally terminate the tenancy. If the tenant doesn’t shape up or move, an eviction lawsuit can then be filed. The laws regarding the requirements to end tenancy are very detailed, though the procedures may vary between states. What are just causes to serve a tenant and eviction notice?

Violation of the Lease or Rental Agreement

Violation of either the lease or rental agreements, as they are legal documents, is grounds for an eviction. If you have a no-pet policy for your rental property, for example, and find that your tenants are keeping Fido anyway, that could be grounds for an eviction. Remember that before you act on a tenant’s breach of their legal agreements, be sure that you’re keeping up your end of the bargain with paying certain utilities and responding to maintenance requests.

Related: Your Complete Guide to Effectively Handling Tenant Evictions

Rent Not Paid or Habitually Late

While a missed rent accidentally here or there is not usually a big deal (some states do have a buffer in place for payments), a tenant who is late month after month can be served an eviction notice. If they’re just plain not paying rent? Absolutely move toward an eviction. Remember to send notices about late rent and keep copies for yourself in case you have to prove in court that you gave proper notice.

Damages to the Rental Property

Damages go beyond regular wear and tear. Not all property damages are grounds for eviction, either. If the tenant collaborates with you to make repairs themselves (as accidents do happen), an eviction is not necessary. If, however, the tenants damage the property and make no effort to rectify their error or are making renovations behind your back, you have legal grounds to evict.

Using the Rental Property for Illegal Purposes

This one should be obvious. If a tenant is doing any kind of illegal activity out of your property, an eviction is absolutely necessary. It would also be illegal if they turned the property into their own business, such as running a social club out of it.

Writing a Termination Notice

An eviction notice contains the following:

  • Reason for eviction (the offense)

  • Time period given to rectify the offense (if necessary)

  • Date that the notice is served

  • The signature of the landlord

In most cases, an eviction notice can only be served with just cause. For some month-to-month leases, 30 or 90-day Notices to Vacate can be served when a tenant may not have done anything wrong; however, not all cities allow this. Be sure to know the local laws of your area.

Avoiding An Eviction

Now, there is a misconception that evictions are simply a part of the process and that they are going to happen no matter how good your property, the tenant or the management on the property performs. I would say that is most definitely not the case.

As an example that full evictions do not have to happen, take our property management company. Even though we manage over 2,200 properties in one city and another 450 in a separate city, we only executed 24 evictions in 2014. That is slightly less than .01% of the properties we manage. With that being said, there are a lot of techniques you can use as a landlord or property manager to reduce the number of evictions you have to execute in a year, if not prevent them entirely.

You really, really need to know your local laws before trying to remove a tenant without having to go through the full eviction process. You may be successful in persuading a tenant to vacate, but you want to make sure you are not violating any of their rights in the process or setting yourself up for a lawsuit the other direction based on not following the rules. It defeats the whole purpose to gain the property back only to be served with a lawsuit for the way you went about it.


We have found that communication is the best tool when it comes to working with a tenant. Even when the tenant is behind on payments or violating the lease in some other manner, communication could be the difference in a tenant leaving happy and a tenant being forcibly put-out and costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Related: 6 Common Mistakes Landlords Make During Rent Collection & Evictions

The key is to remember that there may be circumstances going on in their life that you are not aware of, and showing a little respect may go a long way in them vacating your property. Be sure to listen to your tenant and offer solutions if they are facing a struggle. If you listen and communicate in an effective and respectful manner, you just might be able to help your tenant find a solution that benefits both of you.

Moving From One Property to Another

This only works if you have multiple properties available and properties in different price points. As a management company, we have multiple price points and a solution for a struggling tenant is often a simple move from one price point to another. Even if you only have limited properties, moving a tenant to another rental property is always an option, and you can be the hero instead of the evictor if you help that tenant find another property they can afford and help them get to it.

Cash for Keys

This is a common term used by landlords and managers when a tenant is offered part of their deposit back in return for vacating the property and returning the keys. It is a an easy solution and one that often is at a minimum considered by the tenant. It can also be used in conjunction with moving them to another property, as the returned deposit helps them place a deposit on a new property. When you have good communication, an alternative like this one to eviction can absolutely be accomplished.

Evictions, while part of the management process, do not have to be scary nor do they have to rule your world. There are rules in place to protect owners and tenants alike, and although those rules differ from state to state and city to city, landlords and managers can still manage property without having to worry about what happens when a tenant goes sideways.

Have you suffered through the frustration of evicting a tenant?

Tell us about it in the comments — and leave any tips you’ve found useful!

About Author

Chris Clothier

In 2005, Chris Clothier (G+) began working with passive real estate investors and has since helped more than 1,100 investors purchase over 3,400 investment properties in Memphis, Dallas and Houston through the Memphis Invest family of companies.


  1. Grace Ng

    Thank you Chris for the insightful post. Can one evict a tenant based on how they live? Ie, I have a tenant who is a hoarder, I have been called to the house countless of times for repairs, the latest one being last week. i could not get into the basement because things were just piled high and the entrances to most rooms in the house were blocked by stuff. We had a flood in the basement and I can’t even get a contractor down there to assess the damage.

    • Lee Richter

      @grace ng you might consider the fire department and or health department. I sure in your city they have standards for condition of the house. The tenant has already violated your lease if in it the lease says they have to maintain it in livable or habitable conditions. Good luck

  2. Stephen S.

    Grace: I own rental houses. The houses belong to me and so I hold the position that I get to dictate how they are used. Although I am a very reasonable guy and am most prone to first go in person, put out my hand, and ask how I can help them remedy any undesirable situation. Which to me includes property maintenance / cleaning / accumulation of crap / etc.

    But if my velvet-glove approach doesn’t work I have found that an eviction is best performed by an eviction service, preferably one who is not a lawyer. That ‘use a service’ approach takes any emotion out of it.

    If you have to evict, my best advice is to file for eviction the day you are first able to do it. Sure; I might make a hand-shake exception at first, and do whatever I can to help them pay me in full and on time – but at least 90% of the time that has bitten me right on my financial butt.

    That being said; the very best time to work out “how to handle the eviction problem” is during the tenant screening process. The only evictions I have had to do in probably the last ten years resulted from buying a property which came with a tenant. Wow; I sure hope saying that doesn’t jinx me now!


  3. Kyle Hipp

    You have evicted slightly less than 1% of the units you manage (.9%) not slightly less than .01%. Sorry that caught me as off right away. I have been lucky to not have to go through and eviction with my 20 units and 10 years but the involved management style you promote is the reason. Great post.

    • Hi, I would be interested to know your process and techniques for vetting your tenants and if you have found any key variables that allow you to spot a good or bad tenant right away. Also do you manage them yourself or use a company? 25 rentals with no evictions or late rents is fantastic and would love any advice.

      I currently have 5 rentals and manage them myself for now (also a licensed agent so I am not unaware of the laws ect). I have been doing this for 5 years acquiring 1 property every year or so and I am going through/experiencing my first eviction right now (its absolutely horrible and way worse than I even thought) so I would like to never have to go through it again if possible. I am trying to research what more experienced owners do in regards to finding better tenants and avoiding that whole mess now.

      What I struggle with is becoming too strict and not being able to find a tenant at all, my properties are in low income but high rental areas. So for example I just purchased the 5th property for 48k and it is renting at $1050 per month. Most people living in those areas are typically “blue collar” workers. I am fortunate enough to have fantastic long term tenants in my other properties that even improved on the houses but the areas do not typically attract the best tenants (i.e., lots of evictions, vacant property – although now not as much as a few years ago, more run down properties ect). References I feel like are pretty useless overall. How strict are you with background checks and credit reports? Going forward what I want to set as priorities are: 1) monthly debt to income ratio 2) no felonies 3) no prior evictions

      Tenant screen company recommendations would be great too since I know they vary in quality and competence.

  4. Roberto Andrade

    Great post Chris, thanks.

    Quick tip: Be very precise with your “Giving Notice Method”, because if you made a false step here, the process could start over. Check you State code first, for example in TX:
    1. By regular mail, send it Certified in order to have the USPS receipt
    2. By Certified mail + Return receipt
    3. Hand delivery or left inside the main door. Bonus tip: take a picture and/or call a witness

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