The Eviction Process in 7 Steps (Plus, How to Save $3,500 and a Ton of Time)
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The biggest fear most new investors have when starting out in rental real estate (other than broken toilets, termites, and trash) is what happens if you have to evict a tenant.
An eviction is a legal process in which a landlord removes a tenant from a rental property for some violation of the lease terms and takes back control of the property. In many states, you can pass the cost of eviction on to the tenant, as well.
Seems simple enough, right? Not so fast. It’s more complicated (and costly) than that.
And just because you can file an eviction doesn't mean you (as the landlord) will win the eviction process. Evicting a tenant is no joke and should never be taken lightly.
Why Eviction Should Be a Last Resort
When you sign a lease as a landlord, you sign over control of the property to a tenant. But what happens if the tenant stops paying rent, causes extensive damage, or violates the lease terms in some egregious way? How can you as a landlord take back control of the property?
Even if you win the eviction, the average eviction costs a landlord $3,500 plus three to four weeks of time.
Before you pursue an eviction, consider the additional costs not figured in above:
- Loss of future rents due to the tenant turn
- Cost of repairs and cleaning due to tenant damage
- Unforeseen cost if tenant contests the eviction
This is why having great tenant qualification criteria and a tenant screening process is vitally important (not to mention cost-effective!) in helping you avoid eviction in the first place.
Even then, as they say in rental real estate, it’s not a matter of “if” you will have an eviction, it’s a matter of “when.” So let’s demystify the eviction process should it come down to it.
Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide
Before You Start the Eviction Process
Even with great tenant screening and solid property management, evictions still happen. Over my 18 years of investing in real estate, I’ve gone through various steps of the eviction process three times (unfortunately). Let’s cover the dos and don’ts.
Do get professional help with the eviction process by working with a lawyer either directly or through your property management company. You want someone who knows the local laws on your side driving the process for you to help you have a better chance of success.
Don’t get upset and take drastic measures like changing locks, shutting off utilities, harassing the tenant, removing the tenant’s personal property, or even threatening the tenant. Your tenant is a person and basic politeness still applies. The tenant has rights to the property, and you need to take the proper steps to terminate those rights through legal channels.
Try to Avoid the Eviction Process Altogether
The first step of the eviction process is to actually see if you can avoid the eviction entirely and get the tenant to move out willingly, increasing your chances of getting your property back quickly and in good condition. Solutions might be:
- Offering payment arrangements to a tenant (provided you want to keep them in the property).
- Using mediation to see if you can resolve the issues in a fair and equitable way.
- Offering cash for keys for the tenant to leave the property in a quick manner should you want to part ways.
- You can sweeten the deal a little by paying for the tenant’s moving expenses, portable storage unit, or first month’s rent on a new place.
But there are times where even those solutions don’t work and you have to proceed forward with the legal process in order to regain possession of the property.
How to Evict a Tenant: A Step-by-Step Guide
Know that with each step further down the eviction “rabbit hole,” the process incurs more costs, some of which you might recover from the tenant should you win. Keep in mind, the tenant might be able to “cure” the eviction prior to lock-out and maintain control of the property, so it’s worthwhile to use neutral third parties to execute the process on your behalf.
Here are the general steps (check local laws for exact steps and proper timing of notices).
1. The landlord needs to serve the pay or quit notice (refer to local laws regarding the timing of this notice).
2. Should the tenant not cure the pay or quit notice, the landlord needs to serve the eviction notice (or “Notice to Quit” or “Demand for Possession”). This can include situations like:
- Non-payment of rent
- Breach of lease (e.g., keeping an unauthorized pet, letting someone move in without permission)
- Illegal actions (e.g., drugs, noise violations)
- Intentionally damaging the property
- Expired lease if the tenant hasn’t moved out
3. At the same time, the landlord needs to file in court for the actual eviction. Make sure to supply your legal team with the following:
- Leases with all addendums
- Additional disclosures
- Copies of any notices that were served, along with when they were served
- Rent ledgers
- Any other relevant such as tenant communications, such as emails or texts
4. Once the eviction is filed, the court will assign a hearing date. Both the landlord and tenant will receive notice of when and where the court date is. In most states, the landlord or a representative is the only party that has to appear. The judge will offer a personal opinion and could force a second hearing should more information or time be needed
5. Should the landlord “win” the decision, the courts will provide a “Writ of Possession.” This is the court’s ruling and demand that possession be turned over to the landlord. Up until this point, the tenant can still cure the eviction. As you can see, quite a bit of money, time, and stress have already been incurred (but things aren’t over yet!).
6. In most states, a sheriff will deliver the Writ of Possession to the tenant between 10-40 days after the decision. The tenant should already know that they have to exit the property by an appointed date or they will be physically removed.
7. Schedule the lock-out day. Hopefully, the tenant has moved willingly, but if needed the sheriff can move the tenant by force. Have a locksmith there on lock-out day to change the locks.
By this point in the process, you have physical possession of your property. But what about the tenant’s possessions? Don’t touch their possessions until you know your state’s laws on what to do with them; after all, they still belong to the tenant.
Once you have possession back, it’s now time to complete any repairs and re-tenant your property.
Now that I’ve probably scared the pants off of you, not all evictions are lengthy, horribly expensive, or a terrible emotional drain. For context, my first eviction was in 2006, and the tenant moved peacefully out after being served the eviction notice. It cost $500 since I paid to have the tenant’s possessions moved and took two weeks.
My second eviction was in 2018, and after refusing cash for keys and assistance with their move, the tenant moved peacefully after being served the Writ of Possession. It cost $1,800 for legal fees and tenant turn over six weeks.
Just know if you are getting into rental real estate, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if,” you will go through an eviction.
Evictions are not to be taken lightly. Remember, there is another person on the other end of the process.
Have you ever evicted a tenant?
Tell us how it went and what you’d do differently next time in the comments.