Landlording & Rental Properties

The Eviction Process in 7 Steps (Plus, How to Save $3,500 and a Ton of Time)

Expertise: Mortgages & Creative Financing, Buying & Selling Houses, Personal Finance, Real Estate Investing Basics
49 Articles Written
Eviction notice letter pasted on front door of house

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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

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

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.

Related: Cash for Keys: The Controversial Process That Could Save You Major Eviction Headaches

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.

Wrapping Up

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.

Whitney is a real estate investor and personal finance trainer. After purchasing her first rental in 2002 and hitting a home run, she nearly lost it all on her second deal. So she took control and figured out how to invest in real estate the right way. In 2018, she founded ASH Wealth and the Investor Accelerator Mastermind. In the Accelerator, she'll show you exactly how she built her portfolio: $500M+ in real estate assets, including 5,000+ residential units (MF, MHP, SFR, and assisted living), 1,430+ self-storage units across seven states, and over $3M in residential fix and flip real estate. (Though don’t tell anyone, BRRRR investing is still one of her favorite ways to invest!) She has been featured on BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast episode #340, BiggerPockets Rookie Show episode #29, BestEver Podcast, The InvestHer Show, Investing for Good Podcast, and more!
    Troy Erickson
    Replied 3 months ago
    Great article Whitney. Like you said, the most important thing is to try and avoid the eviction process altogether. However, if you are stuck in a situation where an eviction is inevitable, it is best to seek out an expert on evictions, such as a lawyer that deals with local evictions and knows the laws for your area. You must understand the steps it takes for an eviction in your area, as they certainly vary by state. If you miss a step along the process, your eviction may not have any validation, and sometimes you have to make sure and adhere to specific time frames in order to complete the eviction process. Lastly, like you said Whitney, the best way to avoid an eviction is to screen and vet any applicants thoroughly before you ever invite them to sign a lease and move in.
    Steve Porte
    Replied 2 months ago
    It is hard to screen a tenant who, instead of being evicted, was just offered cash-for-keys from their previous landlord!
    Houston Porter
    Replied 2 months ago
    Is this relevant right now? Isn't there a federal moratorium on evictions? And if it is renewed in January, we may be looking a lot longer before we can evict people for not paying rent. And I wish evictions were that cheap. California evictions take months, in large part because there are tons of resources to help the "tenant" drag the process out. Plus, California attorney fees are quite high. But even in the Midwest, with lower attorney fees, I am currently dealing with an eviction where we are easily into the thousands of dollars and still haven't gotten them out due to the moratorium.
    Steve Porte
    Replied 2 months ago
    I applaud you for doing the right thing! You are sending a message to tenants that they have to abide by the rules and you are helping out the next landlord. And sending a message to any current and future tenants not to mess around. I hope you never have to deal with it again.
    Allen Tracy from Chatsworth, CA
    Replied 2 months ago
    In some states you can evict even during the moratorium as long as you don't have a government backed loan Freddie/Fannie. The California problem is exactly why I live in California but invest out of state.
    Steve Porte
    Replied 2 months ago
    It was a good article until I read CASH FOR KEYS! That strategy is a disaster and only rewards negative behavior. I think it is reckless and a disgrace that landlords who have worked so hard to get where we are use that to save a few bucks. Guaranteed, it will cost all landlords more money! The next landlord gets lied to about these bad tenants because you used incentivized their negative tenant behavior and showed them how to continue it on the next landlord! This strategy is cultivating bad tenants. As more and more tenants learn about this, more and more will use it. Sure, there will still be some good tenants, but a self-inflicting wound to yourself and all landlords is absolutely selfish and ignorant! You will sow what you reap and this will come around to bite you and all of us. Very sad!
    Allen Tracy from Chatsworth, CA
    Replied 2 months ago
    This is exactly why I didn't offer cash for keys on a current problematic tenant. It'd be one thing if they fell on hard times and tried paying rent but couldn't cover all of it and really are a good tenant other than lack of full pay. It's a different story if they're just refusing to pay rent or causing problems/damage to the property. It sucks to have to pay the extra legal/holding fees but at least they'll have an eviction on their record and a warning for other landlords.
    Kem Sing
    Replied 2 months ago
    One of the best strategy I found in my years of renting apts to tenants is to have a good method to screen upfront so that you can reduce the amount of deadbeats you get in. It may still not be a fool proof method but when I was new to the business and did not use it I have to evict a few of them. The other issue I ran into in my first Multi Fam was buying a building with existing tenants who were not very slow in paying and some owed rents. This was a big mistake and I was forced to evict 2 of them in the first year. Here is boroughs of NYC it is horrible in the courts as tenants are given months of time to find a new place and use any excuse to prolong an eviction. With this pandemic they are only going to ride the system more. I am not sure what we are going to be in for with this.
    Jerry W. Investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied 2 months ago
    Whitney. Thank you for taking the time to write the article. I am going to disagree with you on many parts unfortunately. First there is no average cost of an eviction. The cost varies so much from state to state that there is no average. Evictions in California are thousands of dollars, yet one in WY is rarely over $1K. They often only take a week or 2 in WY and can be months in CA. Next some states have simple rules some have massive landmines again like CA. Next with the eviction moratoriums on the federal and local levels this article never even mentions them. They are of massive importance and pretty much change the nature of the game for most landlords and should at least be mentioned, if not emphasized. In my state the court normally issues a Writ of Restitution the day of the hearing and it is often served that day or the next. You do NOT get to cure the rental issue once the case is filed in WY, or several other states I am aware of. The rules are VERY state specific. Still it was a nice try, but I hope no one uses this as a roadmap on how the eviction will go. I agree with most advice on here. Good screening goes a long way.
    Whitney Hutten Rental Property Investor from Boulder, CO
    Replied 2 months ago
    Agreed! This article was never meant to address COVID/eviction moratoriums just a general overview of the process (experience unfortunately in 3 states now with the process). And hence why I mention several times you have to work with a professional (property manager, lawyer, etc) to execute the process according to your state and local laws.
    Andrew W. Rental Property Investor from Albany, NY
    Replied 2 months ago
    Great article. I’m in the process of purchasing an 8-Unit building with a laundromat on the first floor. The numbers make sense but the tenants I’d be inheriting haven’t been paying rent for months because of “reasons due to Covid”. I have been skeptical for that reason because I’ve never had to fully evict anyone or take on bad tenants, but this helped educate me. Thanks.