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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 process 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 process 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.

It is essential for landlords to familiarize themselves with the specific terminology and legal procedures related to the eviction process in their jurisdiction.

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. These steps of eviction or steps in this process include:
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, often signaling the initiation of the eviction process. 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 initiating the eviction process 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, as part of the eviction process, 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

The fourth step of the eviction process is “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 actual eviction?

Actual eviction refers to the physical removal of a tenant from a rental property by the landlord or law enforcement. This often happens through legal processes, like an eviction lawsuit, where a court orders the tenant to vacate the property. The tenant faces significant repercussions from eviction, such as challenges in securing future housing and adverse credit effects.

How long does an eviction take?

Eviction process might take weeks in addition to being expensive. The duration of an eviction varies depending on your state’s rules, the specific eviction case, and other circumstances. Typically, it requires around three to four weeks for completion. 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 laws control what happens when a tenant needs to leave a property, also known as the “eviction process.” In most states, landlords must provide tenants with a 30-day notice to move out. However, the duration of this notice period can differ depending on the state. A tenant’s lease violation, such as non-payment, could result in immediate eviction without notice.

When to start an eviction process?

Once you realize the tenant cannot pay rent, promptly initiate the eviction procedure. 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 refuse to leave, filing an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit initiates the process of eviction.

Why is eviction bad?

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

Evicting a tenant can cost landlords hundreds to thousands of dollars, varying by state and locality. And in some cases, landlords are not successful in evicting tenants, even after spending all that money. This occurs if the landlord makes eviction process errors or the tenant contests it legally.

In addition to being costly and risky, eviction is also very time-consuming. Evicting a tenant can span weeks or months, leaving the landlord without rent payments. 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: When a tenant is required to leave their home, the eviction process is used and it’s a really bad thing. Evicted individuals often face homelessness and the loss of all their belongings. This is particularly hard for families with kids, who might have to live on the streets or in shelters.

Evictions also hurt the community. When many people are homeless, it can make crime and violence go up. Social services like emergency housing and food aid face increased pressure due to the heightened need in these challenging times.

Is it possible to stop the eviction process?

Tenant’s prompt action on eviction notice, by paying rent or fixing breach, prevents further eviction.

Is it possible to reverse the eviction notice?

To halt the eviction, tenants must submit their appeal before the landlord removes them from the rental property or apartment. Once evicted, individuals do not have a straightforward method to “reverse” the process and regain access to the property.

Can the landlord change the locks when evicting a tenant?

During a physical eviction, changing locks is typically a standard 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 procedure 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 example, in Kansas, landlords must provide a 14-day notice for eviction. If the issue remains unresolved, you must vacate your home within 30 days of receiving the notice. If the tenant does not fix the problem within 14 days, the landlord will terminate the lease. The termination will occur after 30 days from the notice date.

What are the different types of eviction?

When it comes to eviction, there are various types that landlords and tenants should be aware of. Some common types include “pay or quit” eviction, “cure or quit” eviction, and “unconditional quit” eviction. Each type serves a specific purpose and follows a particular legal process.

How does an actual eviction occur?

An actual eviction occurs when a landlord legally removes a tenant from the rental property. The process typically involves providing the tenant with a notice to vacate, followed by filing a lawsuit if the tenant fails to comply. If successful, the landlord may obtain a court order and involve law enforcement to enforce the eviction.

Is forcible entry and detainer an eviction?

Yes, forcible entry and detainer (FED) is a form of eviction. FED is a legal process used to regain possession of a property when a tenant violates the lease. In simple terms, it’s the formal procedure landlords follow to remove tenants who breach lease agreements, making it a crucial aspect of eviction.

What is the first step in the eviction process?

The first step in the eviction process is typically serving the tenant with a formal eviction notice. This legal document outlines the violation and provides a specified period for rectification. It’s a crucial initial step that initiates the formal proceedings required for eviction, setting the process in motion.

What is the shortest eviction?

If a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time, landlords usually start the eviction process with a Three-Day Notice. This notice gives the tenant three days to pay up or leave. Most evictions happen because tenants haven’t paid rent, and these cases are called Unlawful Detainer cases.

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 procedure as well. Also, check how eviction works here!
Eviction Process Overview

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Hating this place
Hating this place
5 years ago

I have been at an apartment complex for 2.5 years. In February new management came in. My rent has not been the same since being there. I have to ask each month. The new management does not return calls inquiring about breakdown of charges. There has been confusion since day one. I have a memory issue and took the check in on the 6th not thinking about the date that day or previous. They would not take it. I received a three-day notice of non payment for rent totally $893.88. My rent has increased to $798.00. They are counting Saturday and Sunday toward the three days. I have already made arrangements to vacate. Poor service of the property and additional charges to help maintain the property. I can not believe that they have issued the non payment of rent. I have never had issues, yet I always knew what my rent amount was and who to make the check out to.

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