How to Evict a Tenant: What to Do When the Tenant Stops Paying

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It is every real estate investor’s worst nightmare: your tenants have stopped paying rent . . . now what? If you own enough properties or are involved in real estate long enough it’s bound to happen and knowing how to handle it will make the entire process less stressful. As my readers know, I recently purchased a triplex that the owners were short selling and the first floor tenants, knowing that the previous owner was not paying his mortgage, decided to stop paying rent 10 months ago. I knew ahead of time that this was going to be an issue so before filing for an eviction I tried to work out a deal with them.

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Is Your Tenant Not Paying Rent? First Negotiate, Bargain, Explain

The first thing I did was to reach out to the new tenants and let them know that I had purchased the property and that rent would be due on the first of the month as stipulated in the lease agreement. When the tenant promptly tried to renegotiate the rent I told him that if he couldn’t afford the rent, then I would give him $1,000 to vacate and he could leave any personal property he no longer wanted behind and I would dispose of it for him. I thought it sounded like a good deal for him but he decided to stop answering or returning phone calls, so that really only left me one option, eviction.

How to Evict a Tenant

Evictions seem scary and all of the horror stories you hear usually are from people who didn’t follow the proper protocols or had leases that were not high quality leases.  Here’s a brief outline of the eviction process.  The process will vary slightly from state to state or city to city but if you follow these general steps evictions are a breeze.

Step 1: Get Your Documents In Order

Make sure all licenses and legal documents are in order – Before attempting to evict a tenant you have to find out what licenses, inspections or legal documents are needed and make sure you have them and they are up to date.  Where I live you are required to have a valid commercial activity license and a valid housing inspection license.  Every city and town will vary so contact your local landlord/tenant court and find out what exactly is needed and get it.

Step 2: Pay or Quit Notice

The first step in almost every case will be to submit a pay or quit notice to the tenants.  This is a legally valid way of telling them their rent is late and they must either pay the rent or forfeit the property back to you.  Make sure that when you deliver the pay or quit notice you mail it via certified mail, return receipt requested so you will have evidence they received it to show at your eviction hearing.

Step 3: Wait Out Notice Period

Once the pay or quit notice is delivered there is usually a legally mandated or lease mandated notice period that must expire before you can file an eviction complaint.  Some leases actually waive the notice requirement and if this is the case you can file for the eviction right away.

Step 4: File Eviction Complaint

Save yourself time again by calling your local landlord/tenant court and asking what documents are needed to file an eviction complaint.  Usually you will need some sort of housing license, the lease if a written lease exists, proof that they pay or quit notice was delivered, and either a cash or check to pay the fees.  Once you have all of the necessary documents you can appear in person at the local landlord/tenant court and file for the eviction.

Step 5: Obtain Judgment

After your complaint is filed the tenants will be served notice of the scheduled eviction hearing date but they probably won’t show up in all likelihood in which case you will win a default judgment against them. Once you have a default judgment the local sheriff will remove the tenants and seize their belongings. After the tenants are out the landlord is entitled to possession of the property.

If you own enough real estate eventually you will face the issue of a tenant who doesn’t pay rent. Try to get them out by negotiating but if they resist or are unreasonable then obtain an accurate and up to date list of the eviction process steps in you locality and file for eviction. Evictions seem intimidating but if you know the process and follow the steps you’ll have your property re-rented to paying tenants in no time.

Photo: Aaron Stidwell

About Author

Frank L. DeFazio sells Philadelphia Real Estate and Philadelphia Condos for Prudential Fox & Roach in Center City Philadelphia. Frank is a real estate agent, investor, developer, and founder of the CenterCityTeam. Read more from Frank at his Philadelphia Real Estate Blog


  1. Jason Grote

    Frank, Thanks for nicely laying this out for us. Our family is officially re-entering the landlord business and I appreciate the refresher. What I learned from past experience is that the tenants know this system better than we do… and they use it to their advantage!

  2. Jeff Brown

    We tell our tenants during the application period what our policy is. Rent is due on the first of the month, and late on the third. On the fifth you’ll get a pay/quit notice. If they end up paying, they’re noticed in writing they now have two strikes. The next time the rent shows up later than the third of the month, they’ll immediately be asked to leave. This policy has worked well on a couple counts.

    First, it acts as a superb filter. Tenants who realize they may be over their head have avoided us like the plague. We still get the rare problem, but far less than normal. Second, we tend to get very transparent answers when tenants are late and explain why. It sounds like a harsh policy, and I’m not sure I’d argue the point. But my rollover rate is higher than the market, generally speaking, and the referrals we get from existing tenants are first rate.

  3. Jeff,

    Don’t try that in Frank’s area, I am also a Philly landlord. We have the Landlord Tenant Act of 1951 in PA. The law requires notice before filing eviction, but it also allows the tenant the ability to wave notification which every decent lease includes a waiver by the tenant to notice.

    The final law is really what the judge in court decides, it is common practice in Philly to give at least 5 days notice some want to see 10 days. The court also likes to see the rent due on the 1st with only after the 5th as late. Here we want to see things go smoothly, if you take the attitude with the court that is opposed to smoothly your eviction will take quite a bit longer. Judgements in my low income rentals are noncollectable, thus you want everything to go very smoothly.

    I like to cut my loses and file as soon as legally allowed, I always use an attorney they for the most part work cheap. I pay about $410 soup to nuts which includes a visit from the sheriff to show the tenant the door. Lawyers in Philly courts get their cases heard first starting at
    8:45 am, landlords get to wait until 11am or even 1pm.

    My time is too valuable to waste negotiating with tenants in court.

    Don’t get me wrong I have personally evicted at least a dozen tenants, in one case I evicted the same tenant 3 times. Each time he found a new cave in the neighborhood the landlord decided rentals were a bad idea and became very motivated to sell. I bought 3 buildings this rodent took up residence in, he was always the reason the landlord sold so cheap. As a reward I sent him packing each time. Maybe I should have cut him in for a percentage? Naah!

    Some advice don’t ever buy a property until first finding out how one evicts a tenant. You are not really a landlord unless you know how to evict, and you will be evicting folks.

    My motto is “Move em in and Move em out!”
    I am filing papers with my attorney tomorrow to evict a fellow who was in residence for 5 years. He said (after many other lies) I have no where to go, well send me a post card when you get there.


    Ebenezer Scrooge

    P.S. my favorite new line when told about delayed payments so they can buy Christmas presents is; “Well that is nice, you and your children will be gathered around the Spruce tree in the park in a cardboard box”.

    • Jeff Brown

      Hey Dennis — It’s been a very long time since I’ve had an eviction. Why? I don’t have units anywhere I wouldn’t put my post-stroke, 81 year old mom — to live alone. Second, the story you tell about Philly courts is exactly why, among other reasons that I tell folks to put a fence around California. The judges, most of ’em anyway, have never met a tenant in the wrong. It’s a joke.

      Texas? Landlord, tenant, the judges there don’t care one way or the other. Their attention is focused on the contract. Why? Cuz in Texas the sanctity of the contract is sacred. What a concept. 🙂

  4. Another issue. Judges, esp. at the initial level, don’t necessarily follow the law. I had a terrible tenant a couple years ago (unpaid rent, extra roommate, pet not on lease, etc.) who I foolishly decided, since his lease had expired, to ask to move…then evicted. Eviction was for lease ending, don’t do that! Always evict for unpaid rent if you can, that’s cut and dried. My guy got a free atty (who offered to settle if I paid $500, he knew how to stick it to me), demanded a jury trial, dragged it for months, He won, based on undocumented complaints about his unit, his lack of a job (!?!) and his “learning disability.” At age 43 and after 20+ criminal counts, including 4 years in prison for felony DUI (usually judges don’t allow criminal issues to be brought in, but tenant’s atty made it part of his case), the jury found his “poverty defense” compelling. BUT…the judge, after allowing arguments that completely contradicted statutes, gave the sentence; we was to pay half the rent he owed (which I’d insisted by escrowed during trial) and he had to be out in two weeks. Though I spend $3000 on attorneys myself, it could’ve been worse. And it was deductible…

    I admit I was tricked by my regular attorney into using his newest hire, and it was her first time in court, much less before a jury. My point is, don’t expect any sympathy from judges or esp. juries as a landlord. Maybe this is for the better overall–we are the land-LORDS–but it can be a painful and expensive reminder that the little guy still commands some respect. So don’t be smug, just because you did everything right and can’t imagine you could lose. It happened to me.

  5. Anthony Sasso on

    Hi frank i have a question me and my wife have a legal 2 family home that we rented out the first floor to a family of 3(mother/father/son) they were find there lease was from feb2013 to feb2014.. well in july of last year we put the house on the market to sell we told them the house was on the market and that they may have to move but we would try to make sure they could stay… we got a offer in oct and the buyer wanted them to stay but during the home inspection the mother was curseing screaming and the buyer wants them out we told them they have to leave by feb1st as per buyer all the time they paided there rent sometimes late but paided now here comes jan (this month) my wife asked about the rent on jan 1st they said no problem we even told them they can pay monday because of the snow storm my wife went to get the rent and they told her they spoke to a lawyer and the lawyer said they dont have to pay rent?? we have asked our broker and lawyer about this and they both stated they have to pay the rent.. this is new york city we are talking about my question is is it legal for them not to pay the rent? ive tryed looking online for legal advice in this but cant find any.. now do i send them a pay or move order and state eviction procedings? please any help is welcome

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