In nearly all cases, the eviction process begins with an eviction letter. This letter communicates to the tenant that she is to vacate the property within a specified period of time. It may contain actions the tenant can take to stop the eviction process, like repairing damage she caused.
Being a landlord is not an easy job. When you rent your property to tenants, you are tasked with maintaining safe premises and ensuring that your tenants’ needs are met. In return, they are required to comply with the rules in their lease. When a landlord needs a tenant to leave his property, he must evict the tenant.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The easiest way to write an eviction letter is to use an eviction notice template.
Reasons to Evict a Tenant
An eviction must comply with the terms of the tenant’s lease and with local law. In many states, there are restrictions on why and how to evict tenants that fall into certain categories, like elderly and disabled tenants who receive government assistance. Typically, valid reasons to evict tenants fall into the following categories:
- The tenant’s illegal activity.
- Damage to the property.
- Violations of the lease.
- Expiration of the lease.
- Failure to pay rent.
Understand the Eviction Process
The eviction process is not simple, nor is it inexpensive. Evicting a tenant from a rented unit can cost the landlord $5,000 or more in legal fees, court costs, lost rent and other expenses typically associated with the process, such as the cost of cleaning the unit after the tenant is gone. The eviction process typically begins with a letter from the landlord telling the tenant to leave, often in the form of a 30-day notice to vacate.
Under the best circumstances, the eviction process follows this pattern:
- The landlord serves the tenant with an eviction letter.
- The tenant vacates the premises within the time period allotted by the letter.
However, tenants can fight an eviction notice. Many do. When this happens, the eviction process can look like this:
- The landlord serves the tenant an eviction letter.
- The tenant does not leave.
- The landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the local court.
- Both landlord and tenant attend an eviction hearing.
At the hearing, both parties and their lawyers present their positions. The landlord may demonstrate to the court why she has the right to evict the tenant from her property, and the tenant may counter that the landlord does not have such a right. Both sides provide evidence to support their positions, like copies of the lease and photographs of the unit’s interior and exterior. After reviewing the evidence and testimonies, the court rules in favor of one party.
What Happens After the Court Decision?
If the court rules in favor of the tenant, the eviction process stops and the tenant may remain in the unit. The landlord may begin the eviction process again for a new infraction if he has a valid reason to do so.
If the court rules in favor of the landlord, the eviction process continues. Depending on the state where it occurs, the county sheriff may get involved with removing the tenant from the unit.
Information in an Eviction Letter
Writing the eviction letter can be one of the most difficult parts of the eviction process for the landlord. Many landlords have their lawyers write their eviction letters to ensure that all the letters include all the necessary information. Landlords can also write their own eviction letters.
An eviction has to include the following information:
- The tenant’s name as it appears in her lease.
- A clear statement that the tenant is to vacate the property.
- The date by which the tenant must move out.
- The reason for her eviction.
- If the eviction is conditional, the conditions she must meet to remain in the unit.
A landlord may state that the tenant can remain in the unit if the tenant rectifies the violation that spurred the eviction in the first place. For example, if the tenant is being evicted for non-payment of her rent, the eviction letter may give her a reasonable amount of time to catch up on her late payments.
The specific information that has to be included in an eviction letter varies from state to state. Landlords should always consult their state laws to ensure that they are in compliance with them. In some states, such as Washington, a landlord can require a tenant to move out within three days of receiving an eviction notice. In others, like California, the tenant must receive a 30-day notice to vacate if his lease is month-to-month, and a 60-day notice to vacate if he has lived in the unit for one year or longer.
Use an Eviction Notice Template
Typically, writing an eviction letter is easiest when you have an eviction notice template. Find an eviction notice template for evictions in your state and fill in the blanks with information relevant to your case. Even if your state does not require a 30-day notice to vacate, giving your tenants a reasonable amount of time to leave the property typically makes the process go more smoothly.
Your Alternatives to Eviction
Evicting your tenants is not the only way to get them to leave your property. Because eviction is a complicated, often expensive process, many landlords use alternative methods to have noncompliant tenants vacate their properties. Whether you choose one of these alternative options is a personal business choice; you might find yourself in a situation where pursuing one makes more sense than starting the eviction process, or you might be facing a situation where working with the court to evict your tenants legally is the way to go.
Always remember that when you choose an alternative to eviction, you do not have the legal support the court provides. It is always possible for one of the following options to lead to a situation in which you do have to enact the eviction process, tying the tenants up in your property longer and causing additional headaches for you.
Cash for keys: One alternative to eviction many landlords use is a process known as “cash for keys.” Basically, this is an arrangement in which the tenant agrees to break his lease and move out promptly in exchange for money. The landlord can choose to offer any specific amount of money, such as one month’s rent, a fixed amount like $500 or simply promising to return the tenant’s full security deposit regardless of the unit’s condition upon his move-out. Landlords who are considering cash for keys arrangements should work closely with their real estate lawyers to ensure that their agreements are properly documented.
DIY eviction: Another alternative is the “DIY eviction.” Generally, real estate lawyers do not recommend this type of eviction because, by attempting the process on her own, a landlord can inadvertently violate the tenants’ rights and make it much more difficult to achieve her goal of having them leave the property. In cases where there is no valid lease, landlords sometimes think a DIY eviction is their only option. This is not true.
When a tenant’s lease is close to its expiration, the landlord may simply choose not to renew the lease. If the tenant refuses to leave the unit despite not having a valid lease, the landlord may have to begin the eviction process.
Getting Legal Help
Although working with a lawyer can be expensive, it generally costs a landlord less to work with a lawyer to evict a tenant than it would to evict the tenant without a lawyer’s aid. This is because working with a lawyer can minimize costs by eliminating any “surprises” that can spring up during the eviction process.