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Overview of the Eviction Process: A Step-by-Step Guide to Eviction

by Emily Koelsch
Eviction process

Table of Contents

Eviction Process: Overview

The eviction process can be time-consuming and expensive, and a source of confusion for many landlords. Being (and staying) informed about the eviction procedure for your individual state is not only proactive but crucial to successful property management. Each state has its own set of eviction laws and regulations, and in many cases, eviction procedures may also be set by each jurisdiction as well. To make matters worse, the eviction terminology varies by location as well, known by phrases such as unlawful detainer, forcible entry and detainer, summary possession, summary dispossess, forcible detainer, ejectment, and repossession.

WARNING: Before understanding the legal process for evicting a tenant, it’s important that landlords understand that there is no other legal way to remove a tenant. Self-help or illegal eviction is when a landlord decides to take matters in his/her own hands without following the procedures prescribed by state and local law. To reiterate, it is ILLEGAL for a landlord to try and remove a tenant without the use of the court system, and it should never be attempted, no matter how dire a situation may be. Landlords should never do anything like:

  1. Changing a lock.
  2. Shutting off utilities or permitting a utility to be shut off.
  3. Removing any of the tenant’s personal property from the premises.
  4. Threatening or using force to make a tenant leave.
  5. Harassing a tenant.

Eviction Procedure: The Legal Process for Evicting

While the details of the eviction process vary as mentioned above, generally speaking, there are five steps to take in order to evict or have your tenant physically removed from the premises. There may be more or less depending upon your state and local laws.
Eviction Process Overview

STEP 1: Proper Notice

Once you become aware that your tenant is violating the rental- or lease agreement, you must then serve that tenant with, in most cases, written notification. Although the most common tenant violation is non-payment of rent, the lease violation could be anything, such as keeping an unauthorized pet, permitting an extra person to move in without permission, noise problems, and many, many more. The type of notice largely depends on the violation that has occurred and the specific state landlord-tenant law.

Notices are labeled differently depending on the state, such as “Notice To Quit” or “Demand for Possession”, and each state has specific criteria and timeframes for eviction notices (see our library of state-specific eviction notices for information about your state’s notices). In most cases, the notice gives the tenant the right to cure or fix the violation (i.e. pay the amount due when non-payment is the cited issue) before an eviction filing will occur while others just ask the tenant to vacate without the opportunity to fix or cure the problem. The most common periods of time for notices are five, seven, and ten days for non-payment of rent; ten, fourteen, and thirty for other violations. Every state is different!

Providing and serving your tenant with proper notice is required before filing for eviction in court. If you are not comfortable or experienced in eviction then using a qualified attorney or eviction specialist can save time, money, and aggravation.

STEP 2: Filing in Court

If the tenant cures the lease violation or vacates the leased premises within the prescribed period, then the eviction process ends there. If the tenant fails to do either, the landlord must then file an official “Complaint” or “Summons” with their local rent court. The appropriate court depends on the location of the leased premises. While ezLandlordForms offers some states’ official court filing forms on the Eviction Notices page, landlords are advised to inquire with their local court to confirm the filing form required. With technology booming, more courts have online filing available, but a visit to the courthouse is often necessary to file for your eviction. It is wise to bring along copies of any leases, addendums, disclosures, notices, rent ledger or any other information you may have.

Once the landlord has submitted the required paperwork to their local court, the court will process it and schedule a hearing date. The time between filing in court to getting a court date varies greatly between different court jurisdictions. In a small rural town, it may be only a week or so whereas in larger cities or counties, it could be months. It is critical that you file your complaint as soon as the notice period expires and to make sure all procedures are followed to avoid unnecessary delays.

STEP 3: Court Hearing

On the date of the eviction hearing, the landlord and/or their attorney or agent (such as a property manager or eviction specialist) must appear in court to explain the reason(s) for the eviction. The court has sent the tenant a notice to appear for the eviction hearing, so the tenant will often appear in court to contest the eviction and share their side of the story, or they may simply decide not to appear. At the hearing, it’s important that the landlord provide as much supporting documentation as possible, to show that they have just cause to evict. For example, if the landlord has photos or other evidence that the tenant is keeping a dog in a leased property that forbids pets, they should bring that evidence to court.

It’s also worth noting that the outcome of the eviction hearing is determined solely by the judge’s personal discretion. Even if the landlord is technically within their legal rights to evict, the judge may decide that the landlord must undergo additional steps, and file a second time for another eviction hearing. It’s critical that the landlord be courteous, professional, and well-organized for the eviction hearing, and that they persuade the judge to rule in their favor. The optimal outcome of the eviction hearing is that the judge rules in favor of the eviction to proceed.

STEP 4: Writ of Possession

A “Writ of Possession” is a document distributed by the court when a judge rules to return possession of the rental property back to the landlord. The landlord should make sure there are no specific requirements to obtain or serve a Writ of Possession. Most often, a sheriff or constable will serve the tenant with the Writ of Possession, informing them that they are to leave the premises by a certain date and time or they will be forcibly removed. Writs of Possession are governed by state and local laws, which differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

STEP 5: Eviction Day

Once an actual eviction date (also known as a put-out or lock-out date) is scheduled, the tenant ideally vacates the leased premises before the scheduled date but doesn’t always. On the date of the eviction, the sheriff (or another authorized person, depending on the jurisdiction), will arrive at the scheduled time, and supervise the landlord’s forced entry into the leased property. It’s important to note that it’s the landlord’s responsibility to actually enter the property, whether with a key or a locksmith. If the tenant remains inside the leased premises, the sheriff will remove them, but it is the landlord’s responsibility to remove the tenant’s belongings. (Note: some states and counties have specific requirements for what the landlord must do with the tenant’s personal property, so be sure to inquire about local laws.) The landlord should arrive early to the eviction, with several contractors or other workers to help remove any possessions and a means of entering the property if they don’t have a working key. The locks should be changed on the spot, to prevent the tenant from regaining entry to the leased premises, and the contractors should immediately perform any necessary maintenance or repairs necessary for the premises to be leased to the next tenant. The landlord should start advertising for new tenants immediately, to minimize the vacancy period.

Prevention & Hedging

Prevention:  The easiest way to prevent evictions is through simple tenant screening.  Use a free rental application, call (and verify) prior landlords, call employers, and verify income.  Use our tenant screening service or the service of your choice to pull credit reports, criminal background checks, and verify identities.

Hedging:  Even paper-perfect tenants go rotten every once in a while and stop paying (albeit a lot less often than those with rough credit and criminal histories).  But landlords can protect themselves even from these scenarios, through surety bonds, higher security deposits, and other insurances against default.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an eviction?

Eviction is the removal of someone from the property by a court order. The term is most commonly used in relation to residential tenancies, where the eviction of a tenant is called an unlawful detainer. The process of evicting a person from their home can be lengthy and costly for the landlord, and often results in homelessness for the tenant.

How long does an eviction take?

The process of eviction might take weeks in addition to being expensive. The length of an eviction varies depending on your state’s rules, the particular eviction case, and other circumstances, but generally speaking, it takes three to four weeks to complete. Let us take an example of state rules here. If you live in Missouri or Kansas or Texas or any other state, the timeframe will depend on it. To know more about the eviction process, check the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas landlord-tenant laws here!

How much time in advance of the tenant’s move-out date must the landlord provide notice?

State law governs this question. In most states, a landlord must give a tenant 30 days’ notice to move out, though this may be shorter or longer depending on the state. However, if the tenant is in breach of the lease agreement (for example, by not paying rent), the landlord may be able to evict the tenant without giving any notice at all.

When to start an eviction process?

You should start the eviction process as soon as you know that the tenant is not going to be able to pay the rent. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to evict the tenant.

If the tenant has not paid the rent, you can give them a “notice to quit”. This notice gives the tenant a certain number of days (usually 3-5) to leave voluntarily. If they do not leave after this time, you can file for an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit, which is what starts the eviction process.

Why is eviction bad?

For Landlords: Eviction is bad for landlords because it’s costly and risky.

It can cost a landlord hundreds or even thousands of dollars to evict a tenant, depending on the state and municipality in which the property is located. And in some cases, landlords are not successful in evicting tenants, even after spending all that money. This can be due to errors made by the landlord during the eviction process, or because the tenant chooses to fight the eviction in court.

In addition to being costly and risky, eviction is also very time-consuming. It can take weeks or even months for a landlord to evict a tenant, during which time the landlord is not receiving any rent payments from the tenant. Moreover, eviction may also lead to diminished property values and increased liability risks. Additionally, bad publicity from evictions can tarnish a landlord’s reputation.

For Tenants: Eviction is bad because when a tenant is evicted, they are often left homeless and without any possessions. This can be especially difficult for families with children, who can end up living on the streets or in shelters.

Eviction also has negative consequences for the community as a whole. When large numbers of people are homeless, it can lead to increased rates of crime and violence. It also creates an increased demand for social services, such as emergency housing and food assistance.

Can the eviction process be stopped?

If the tenant responds to the eviction notice by making the required rent payments or fixing the lease breach, the landlord should not continue with the eviction. 

Can the eviction notice be reversed?

Tenants must file their appeal before they are evicted from the rental property or apartment if they wish to stop an eviction. There is no easy method to “reverse” being evicted (removed) and enter the property after that.

When a tenant is being evicted, can the landlord change the locks?

Locks are typically changed when there is a physical eviction as a regular procedure. The evicted tenant shouldn’t have access to the property, of course. This occurs during the eviction; you cannot lock out the tenant until it is permissible to do so.

How does an eviction process work?

Well, the rules are different for every state. Landlords must give you the notice to correct your fix the problems. So, if you don’t fix the problem, you need to leave the home. For instance, in Kansas, in order to evict you, the landlord must give you notice that you have 14 days to fix the issue or you will have to leave your home 30 days after receiving the notice. In other words, unless the issue is resolved within 14 days, the lease will end 30 days from the notice date.

Summary & Additional Resources

The two most important points a landlord should understand about evictions are that they must adhere to state and local laws and forms, and they must move immediately at every step of the eviction procedure because it is can be a very long and expensive process. In addition to acting legally and quickly when handling evictions, it’s critical that landlords practice prevention, by screening prospective tenants for credit, criminal, and eviction histories because these histories tend to repeat themselves. Visit our Move Out & Eviction Articles library for further reading on the topic of eviction, and feel free to ask and answer questions in our Eviction Forum, and you’ll find a more detailed flow chart of the eviction process as well. Also, check how eviction works here!
Eviction Process Overview

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