As a landlord, you can evict a tenant before the lease or rental agreement ends, but you must have legal cause to do so. Eviction procedures vary from state to state, but every state allows you to evict a tenant who fails to pay rent. Most states allow you to evict a tenant who has violated terms of the lease or who has committed an illegal act (such as dealing drugs) on the premises of the rental unit. The reason for the eviction will determine the steps you must take.
You cannot evict a tenant simply because you don't like the tenant. In fact, you could be sued for discrimination if you do. If you don’t have legal cause to evict a tenant, you have to wait until the end of the lease or rental agreement before asking the tenant to move. In the case of a month-to-month rental agreement, this may simply be a matter of days. (Most states require landlords to give tenants 30 days' notice to end a month-to-month tenancy, although rules vary, especially in communities with rent control.)
Every state has slightly different rules and procedures regarding evictions, but the overall idea is the same in each state.
Almost every state requires you to give notice to the tenant before filing the eviction lawsuit, although the length of notice required may vary depending on the reason for the eviction. For example, in Illinois, you must give the tenant five days’ notice to pay the rent before filing the eviction lawsuit. However, if the tenant has violated the terms of the lease or rental agreement, you must give the tenant ten days’ notice before filing the lawsuit.
The details of the notice and how you must deliver it to the tenant also vary by state.
Some states require you to allow the tenant to come into compliance with the lease or rental agreement by either paying rent or stopping errant behavior. If the tenant complies, then you can’t file the eviction lawsuit. However, not every state requires this. In some states, it does not matter if the tenant fixes the problem, you can still file the eviction lawsuit at the end of the notice period.
Going to Court
After you file the initial paperwork to begin the eviction lawsuit (also called an unlawful detainer, dispossessory proceeding, or forcible entry and detainer suit), the tenant will have an opportunity to respond (with a form called an answer) and the court will set a date for a hearing or trial before a judge. At the hearing or trial, both you and the tenant will get an opportunity to talk to the judge and present any evidence you may have. The tenant may have a defense against the eviction, in which case, the judge could rule in the tenant’s favor. If this happens, then you just have to wait until the end of the lease or rental agreement to ask the tenant to move.
Removing the Tenant
If you win the eviction lawsuit, then the court will ask the tenant to move out of the rental unit by a certain date. If the tenant does not move, then the court will issue an order (sometimes called a writ of execution, judgment for possession, or warrant for removal) that gives you the authority to ask a law enforcement officer to remove the tenant by a certain date.
You must follow the laws and rules set forth by your state when evicting a tenant. The eviction will only occur after you have won an eviction lawsuit against the tenant, and the only person authorized to actually remove the tenant from the rental unit at that point will be an officer of the law. Every state has made it illegal for you to force the tenant to move out through any other means, such as changing the locks on the doors or shutting off the utilities to the rental unit. If you try, the tenant can sue you and you could end up owing the tenant money damages.
More Information on State Eviction Laws
The Evicting a Tenant or Ending a Lease section on Nolo.com includes details on state eviction laws, such as the rules for ending a tenancy for nonpayment of rent.
Contacting a Lawyer
Because the eviction laws are different in every state, it is a good idea for you to contact an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer if you are unfamiliar with the laws in your state. A lawyer can help you prepare the necessary paperwork, from the notice to the court documents. Some lawyers will provide free initial consultations or initial consultations at a reduced rate.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I signed a lease with three tenants, one of whom has turned out to be a real troublemaker. He has a dog, even though my lease prohibits pets. The three other tenants want me to evict the tenant with the dog, but I'd like to get rid of the bunch. What are my options?
- My tenant is constantly late with rent each month. I've been pretty understanding, but enough is enough. Will there be a problem evicting this tenant next time she's late with her rent?
- I'd like my daughter's family to move into the rental house I own, but the current tenants' lease doesn't end for six months. Do I have the legal right to end the lease early?