3 Common Eviction Mistakes

What Not to Do When Evicting a Tenant

African American police officer giving eviction notice to African American man and woman
An evicted renter (L) looks on as Alameda County Sheriff Deputy Ken Cammack (C) prepares to post a notice of eviction on the door of an apartment where tenants defaulted on rent payments June 4, 2009 in Oakland, California. Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

An eviction is the legal process by which a landlord is able to regain possession of a rental unit. Each state has specific rules for evicting a tenant and if you fail to follow these rules correctly, you may be forced to start the eviction process all over again. Understanding the eviction process and knowing what to avoid can help ensure a quick and relatively hassle-free eviction. Here are three mistakes you should avoid when trying to evict a tenant.

  • Mistake 1- Self-Help Eviction

    It is usually illegal for a landlord to attempt a self-help eviction. This type of eviction occurs when a landlord does not go through legal means to remove a tenant from the property. The landlord attempts to intimidate, coerce or make the tenant’s living conditions miserable to force the tenant out of the property.

    Examples of actions a landlord would take during a self-help eviction include:

    • Changing the locks on all of the tenant’s doors so they cannot enter their own home.
    • Removing all of the tenant’s possessions from the property.
    • Turning off a tenant’s utilities so they have no access to hot water, electricity or gas.
    • Harassing a tenant in the hopes that this intimidation will get the tenant to move-out.

    If you attempt to force a tenant out yourself, the tenant could actually pursue legal action against you. It is obviously frustrating if a tenant is not paying his or her rent or is otherwise breaching the lease, but you must understand that being a landlord is a business and there are specific rules that you must adhere to.

    Not only is it illegal to attempt a self-help eviction, it can also be dangerous. A tenant is not going to be too happy if you shut off their utilities or leave all of their belongings on the lawn. There have been many stories in the news about violence between landlords and tenants, some conflicts even resulting in death. Don’t risk your life. Follow the law and let a trained sheriff or constable lock the tenant out under court orders.

  • Mistake 2 - Not Giving the Proper Notice

    Before you can file for an eviction, you generally have to present the tenant with a Notice to Quit. This Notice informs the tenant that you will initiate eviction proceedings for the reason listed on the Notice.

    In some cases, this Notice is filed because a tenant is not paying their rent or is otherwise breaching their lease agreement. Other times, this Notice is given at no fault of the tenant. For example, a Notice to Quit can be presented if the rental property is being taken off the market for the foreseeable future. In this case, all tenants must leave the property or be evicted.

    The reason you are evicting the tenant will dictate how far in advance of filing for an eviction you must present the tenant with this Notice to Quit. Some reasons require a three-day advance notice, while others require more than a year.

    In order to evict a tenant make sure you:

    1. Present them with a Notice to Quit.
    2. Understand how far in advance you must present this notice before you can file for an eviction.

    If you do not give this Notice to Quit, or do not give the Notice far enough in advance, you may have difficulty evicting the tenant and may be forced to start the eviction process over.

  • Mistake 3 - Not Having Evidence

    Another common mistake landlords make is during the actual eviction proceedings. They do not have the proper evidence to support their claim for an eviction. For example, if you are trying to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, you must bring bank statements as well as any correspondence with the tenant that references this unpaid rent. If you are filing to evict a tenant for damages, you must bring pictures or any other proof that they have damaged the property.

    Documents you should consider bringing to the eviction proceedings:

    • Signed Lease Agreement
    • Copy of Notice to Cease
    • Copy of Notice to Quit
    • Bank Statements
    • All Correspondence Between Yourself and the Tenant
    • Pictures of Damage
    • Complaints From Other Tenants
    • Any Other Evidence That Will Support Your Motion to Evict

    If you do not come to court with the proper evidence, a tenant who should rightfully be evicted may be allowed to remain in the property due to this lack of evidence. Evictions can drag on for two or three months, so you do not want to spend all that time waiting for a court date only to discover that you have to initiate the process all over again.