Landlords who wish to remove tenants don't always have to resort to court proceedings. Legitimate reasons for ending a relationship with a tenant can be because the landlord wishes to sell the property or get out of the rental business altogether. Eviction isn't always necessary and can take a toll on both parties, but landlords can remove a tenant in other ways.
Rights of a Landlord
Before a landlord or property manager can begin to address how to ask a tenant to leave without going through the eviction process, they should have a full understanding of their rights and the rights of their tenants. The federal government and individual states have laws outlining these rights that protect both parties and regulate what they can and cannot do. A landlord can remove tenants if they sell or renovate the property, evict them if they break the terms of the lease or otherwise end the lease early.
However, a landlord cannot remove a month-to-month tenant for retaliatory reasons or act in a way that attempts to get them to break their lease agreement, if they have one. For example, they cannot harass them or cause their living situation to deteriorate so much that they feel as though they must move.
Tenancy "At Will"
A landlord or tenant can terminate a tenancy "at-will" at any time. It usually exists without a lease or other rental agreement, its time is not fixed and it does not specify the payment exchange between the parties. State law governs tenancy at will and its terms vary from state to state. This agreement can benefit both tenants and landlords, who may prefer the flexibility of changing their relationship and not breaking a contract. These tenancies are also known as month-to-month.
This type of tenancy defines the landlord/tenant relationship when there are no fixed terms between the landlord and tenant or they have already expired. Both parties may also create a tenancy-at-will agreement at the beginning of their relationship.
"Just Cause" Reasons for Tenant Removal
In some states and cities, a landlord must have a specific reason for evicting a tenant, also known as "just cause." The landlord or property owner must notify the tenant as to the reason for their removal. If they do not, they may face penalties for not following the specific processes as required by law.
Not all jurisdictions have the same reasons for just cause eviction. Some include:
- Failure to pay rent.
- Consistently late rent payments.
- Damage to the unit.
- Property damage to the common areas.
- Conducting illegal activity on the property.
- Harassing or otherwise disturbing other tenants.
- Domestic violence.
- Allowing others to move into the unit without the landlord's permission
Giving the Tenant Money to Move
One way to remove a tenant is via the "cash for keys" method. This means that the landlord gives the tenant money to move out. While this may seem counterintuitive, mainly if the tenant has been a problem tenant or owes the landlord money for unpaid rent, it may be the quickest way for landlords to cut their losses and avoid a costly eviction process with a difficult tenant. Often, tenants will agree to this method and take the money.
When a landlord offers cash for keys, they should first tell the tenant why they want them to move. If there are any damages to the unit, the landlord should mention these as well. Next, the landlord should let them know how much they'll get to leave.
If both parties reach an agreement, it should be in writing and signed. The landlord can then take the keys and change the locks, and if there is no damage to the unit, they will return the tenant's security deposit.
Advantages of the Cash for Keys Method
The cash for keys method is beneficial to both the landlord and tenant. The tenant will likely leave quickly and while this may cost the landlord money, it won't cost them time or energy in the way a court-ordered eviction would. This allows the landlord to immediately gain control of their property and begin whatever next steps they wish to take.
Tenants will not only walk away with money, but they can also avoid the eviction process, which is not something they'll want on their record when trying to rent in the future. If the reason for their moving has to do with rent delinquency, they can also avoid a poor credit report. This method allows the tenant to start fresh.
Asking the Tenant to Leave
If the landlord wishes to change their business model, they can ask the tenant to leave voluntarily, and an eviction process or cash for keys arrangement may not be necessary. For example, according to California's Ellis Act, a landlord wishing to get out of the rental business altogether can remove tenants, but they must remove all the renters in the building and not single out any one tenant. When using the Ellis Act, they cannot rent the units again for 10 years. While they cannot re-rent the units, they can convert them into condos or tenancy-in-common units.
The landlord can offer to help the tenant with their move, and if they have resources that they can share with the tenant, they can do so. These include a reference for a new apartment, moving discounts or trucks, and connections to other rentals in the area. A positive attitude allows the tenant to have both comfort and an understanding of the landlord's request. Assisting them in their move will make the change more appealing and give both parties the opportunity for a smooth transition.
Creating a Move-Out Letter
The law requires a property owner to write a formal written eviction notice when they want to terminate a tenancy. In the majority of states, a month-to-month tenant usually gets 30 days' notice to vacate the premises. However, some states give considerable more or less time to tenants. For example, Delaware gives tenants 60 days to vacate, while Florida property owners need to give tenants 15 days and Connecticut landlords just three days.
In some cities, like Los Angeles, tenants get relocation assistance if they are in a rent-controlled building. The landlord should check with their city and state laws on how much time they must give their renter to move and if a relocation package is part of their removal.
A landlord does not have to list the reasons on the notice for asking a tenant to leave, but should include certain information:
- Notice date.
- Landlord's name and contact information.
- Tenant's name and contact information.
- Number of days until the tenant has to move and the date they must leave by.
- Statement detailing the removal of their possessions by the move-out date.
- Security deposit, cleaning fee and inspection information.
- Instructions to return the keys to the landlord. If it is on the day they vacate, the landlord should detail this in the letter.
- Landlord's signature.
When the Tenant Still Won't Move
Even after trying everything, sometimes a tenant will remain in a unit. This may happen because they don't have a place to go or can't afford to move. Perhaps they need more money to move, need help with their possessions or need to get a security deposit together. Landlords who wish to avoid the eviction process can try working with their tenant to try to reach a compromise or perhaps even help with the move itself.
If they still don't leave, a formal eviction may be the landlord's last result. Even if it is something a landlord still hopes to avoid, they cannot legally remove a tenant on their own.
What Landlords Should Not Do
Landlords who attempt to remove a tenant on their own cannot only find themselves in physical danger, but they can also become the focus of a lawsuit by the tenant. It is illegal for landlords to change the locks on a tenant's premises without proper notice, remove their possessions from the property, physically remove the tenant from the property, turn off utilities or otherwise harass them.
It is also against the law for a landlord to blackmail a tenant into leaving. Attempting to unlawfully evict a tenant from a rental property may also hurt their chances of winning an eviction case in court.
COVID-19 Coronavirus and Eviction Proceedings
Due to COVID-19, landlords may not yet have the opportunity to sever ties with a tenant. The federal eviction moratorium that began in September 2020 as a result of the pandemic ended on July 30, 2021. However, with the event far from over, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) extended it at the request of the Biden administration in early August 2021, according to CNN.
The moratorium focuses on locations with the most "substantial" transmission rates, which include more than 80 percent of the country as of August 1, 2021. The White House said the moratorium will cover up to 90 percent of the renters in the United States and will expire on October 3, 2021. Renters facing eviction will receive protection if they can provide a CDC declaration to their landlord stating that they have to stay in their rental due to COVID-19 in their area.
Choosing the Right Tenants
Choosing a great tenant sometimes allows a landlord to avoid eviction issues down the road. When renting out real estate, they should meet the potential tenant in person to gain an understanding of what kind of individual they are.
The landlord should note if the person interested in renting the unit shows up on time to see it and their demeanor. They should also discern if the person's lifestyle matches what they're looking for in a renter. The more they learn about applicants while showing the property, the less likely they'll run into problems later on.
While screening a potential tenant can be complex or time consuming, it is necessary to choose the right person. The landlord should call the applicant's references, contact their employer to confirm their wages, research their rental history by talking to their previous landlords, check their credit and perform a thorough background check. If the landlord doesn't want to do this themselves, they can hire a tenant screening service.
- Housing Link: Housing Tips – Avoiding Eviction
- Bay Property Management Group: How to Ask a Tenant to Move Out
- Tenant Screening Center: How to Legally Remove a Bad Tenant Without an Eviction
- Rent Prep: How To Get Rid of Tenants Without Eviction: Best 2 Methods
- Investopedia: Retaliatory Eviction
- LA County Consumer & Business Affairs: Relocation Assistance FAQs
- Ellis Act: Ellis Act Evictions
- Local Housing Solutions: Just cause eviction policies
- Investopedia: Tenancy-at-Will
- CDC: Temporary Protection from Eviction
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Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.