There's a saying in commercial real estate that "the law follows the lease." This means that the courts will construe every word of the lease precisely, so if the lease says you can evict the tenant for painting the walls red or attempting to sell its business, then that's what you can do. You can't just throw the tenant out onto the street, however. It's essential to follow the state of Illinois' commercial eviction rules, otherwise the judge will throw your case out of court.
Start by serving a five-day eviction notice, then follow this up by filing a petition for "forcible entry and detainer" in your local county court.
Overview of Commercial Eviction in Illinois
The lease will spell out the circumstances when you can evict a commercial tenant. Common reasons include not paying the rent or violating the commercial lease terms, but you might also be able to evict if the tenant gets into financial difficulties or is a nuisance to neighbors, among other things. In Illinois, the courts will follow the wording of the lease. In other words, you can only evict the tenant if there is a specific clause in the lease enabling you to do so.
Illinois Five-Day Notice to Pay Rent
Before you can start the eviction process, you must make a formal demand for payment of the past-due rent, or to cure the defect that is leading to the eviction. In Illinois, you have to give the tenant at least five days' notice before taking eviction action. You can serve the five-day eviction notice in Illinois by handing it directly to the tenant or by posting a copy of the notice at the commercial premises. If the tenant pays up or cures the problem within five days, that's the end of the matter. You no longer have any grounds for eviction.
Actions in Unlawful Detainer
Once the notice has run, your next step is to petition your local civil court for an eviction order, known as a "forcible entry and detainer" action. Have a sheriff or a licensed Illinois process server serve the court papers on the tenant, and both sides will have their day in court. You'll have to prove that you're entitled to an eviction by a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, you'll need some paperwork to show that the tenant did something wrong in violation of the lease. If the tenant ignores the court summons – and many do – the court automatically will enter a judgment in your favor.
Evicting the Tenant
Assuming the judge agrees with your side of the story, you'll get an order of possession that requires the tenant to vacate the premises. You'll need to file this with the sheriff, who will then schedule a date to physically remove the tenant. The exact date will depend on the Sheriff's availability – you may have to wait a couple of weeks. If the commercial tenant has not vacated by the time eviction day comes around, the sheriff will put the tenant and its possessions out on the street. The building is now yours to occupy or lease.
Things to Watch Out For
As a commercial landlord, the main thing to watch out for is not accepting partial payment of the rent. You might unintentionally forgive a lease violation and be precluded from evicting the tenant if you accept some or all of the rent payment. Similarly, beware of accepting the keys back from the tenant before the judge has signed an eviction order. The courts may construe this as a voluntary surrender of the lease, and you may not be able to collect any future rent that is due.