Eviction Process Step 1: Written Notice
Every state requires landlords to serve their tenants with a written eviction warning before they can file a deportation request with the court. (Psst: We provide eviction notices for all 50 states through our online rental software, for free. just say it.)
These eviction warnings must contain state-specific language. It also gives the tenant a certain amount of time to rectify the violation and avoid eviction; the exact number of days varies by state. Not sending the right notification at the right time only adds time and aggravation to this already stressful process.
It’s these little details that can often make or break an eviction case. Most district judges will hold you accountable to the letter of these details.
Here are a few examples of how state laws vary:
North Carolina: When a tenant in North Carolina is behind on rent, the landlord must send them a written notice demanding payment within ten days. If the tenant does not pay, the landlord must go to the local court and file a complaint Complaint in summary Expulsion (more on that in Step 2: Submit).
Illinois: Illinois requires five days’ notice for non-payment of rent. Other abuses and rental violations require a different form, a notice period of ten days. Then there are the big cities! Chicago imposes its own set of eviction procedures. Make sure to always check your local notification requirements too!
How do you file the eviction notice?
Again, without sounding like a broken record, different states (and some municipalities) have different protocols. Below are the different ways to deliver that notice to the offending tenant.
- First class and/or certified mail. Some states allow regular mail while others require certified mail. I always send a certified receipt, even if it is not necessary. Having that little green signed card in court can go a long way.
- After. This is when you paste the message in an obvious place like the front door. Tip: Mail it too!
- Hand-delivery. Each state has its own ways of doing this. With some, you can just hand it to whoever answers the door and run! And other states require a signature (tip: it’s always better to have it signed). There are rules about who may receive the notice and their minimum age; delivery to a toddler is never allowed.
- Process server. Few states require this, but it has its advantages. The first is hard evidence that the eviction notice has been issued. It’s also less confrontational and dangerous than hand-delivery by you, as enraged tenants can be unpredictable. Yet it is expensive, and an extra step that must be taken.
Keep in mind that some states require a combination of these service options before filing an eviction in court.
Eviction Step 2: Filing with the Court
How many days did your state need in the eviction warning notice?
That’s how long you have to wait before going to court.
In Iowa, for example, once your notice expires, you go to your county court and file a lawsuit Iowa Forced Entry and Arrested or FED Alabama landlords also file the form at the county courthouse; it is called the Statement of Claim Eviction, Unlawful Detainer. In Michigan and Pennsylvania, these forms are filed at the district court level and are called subpoena and eviction notice.
Since each of them has different names, they also have distinctive information that is needed as well as the methods of submitting them. Some municipalities have joined this millennium and allow online filing of the eviction process. Others remain stubbornly low-tech and require a personal visit to the courthouse with paperwork and paper check in hand.
The nuances don’t end there. Every court has a decree on what “proper waiting time” is. That five day grace period in your proper notice could mean “every” five consecutive days in one state, and five business days in another state, and a very different counting interval elsewhere.
Rule of thumb: Contact the registry where your property is located. Do this before you ever need it. What is a day in a notice period? How can a form be submitted; in person or online? What is the cancellation obligation?
Eviction Step 3: The Hearing
The document is submitted, your tenant is notified by the court that he must appear for a hearing. Most states will assign a court date for all parties to appear and fight it out, with evidence and a case before a judge.
However, some states, such as Nevada, require the tenant to dispute the complaint first (usually by mail). If they do so within the time window, a court date will be scheduled for all parties to appear. However, if the tenant does not answer within the stipulated time, the eviction order is automatically granted. There are a few states that have similar procedures.
“What do I bring to the eviction hearing?”
The rental agreement, if you have one, is important to take with you. All notices, copies of checks, photos, unpaid utility bills, and your rental book must be in your file. If you called, make sure you have the specific dates and times.
TIP: Always take an extra copy of the lease agreement with you. Often the judge does not. Make notes about which part of the lease has been violated. The clearer and easier it is for the judge to find the necessary information, the better it is for you.
“Do I need a lawyer?”
You can’t expect that from us! While we wouldn’t tell anyone not to hire a lawyer, our experience is that landlords don’t need one for the eviction process. But if there are confusion, complications, concerns, snags or you have never been to a court of law; maybe it’s worth the money to hire a lawyer. However, a clear case of default is usually simple. And often the tenant does not show up.
What if your tenant appeals? In some courts, in order to do this, the tenant must be paid a specific portion or allotment of the rent that is “supposedly” owed, along with paperwork, to the court to file the appeal. In other courts, the tenant must simply pay rent, current. The objection procedure can be long and complicated. Therefore, at this point, unless you’ve been there, you have; time to call your lawyer.
Unfortunately, there exist professional tenants that can literally drown a landlord in lawsuits for months, or worse, years. Tenants in the midst of bankruptcy can also stagnate you. Without sounding repetitive, get good, professional, legal advice if this happens!
Eviction Step 4: Expulsion
Each state also has its own procedure for formal eviction exclusions, surprise!
Many courts offer an appeal period. (See how long this process takes?) In Pennsylvania, the time limit for appeals after a judge makes his decision is ten days. This means that both parties can appeal to a higher court at any time within the ten-day period.
And remember, every court counts the days differently!
Once the judge approves the court’s eviction order and the appeal period has passed, proceedings can begin for a sheriff or other law enforcement officer to execute a lockout. Important Note: It could be YOU who should schedule the eviction with the Sheriff’s Office! Be sure to ask the court.
Some states such as Colorado have a Write or Refund process. This is a form that the property owner gets from the courts and then takes to the sheriff’s office.
Once the sheriff assigns an eviction date, the landlord must post or serve it on the tenant. Basically, it tells the tenant to get out or get locked out. That means everyone in the household must leave and all personal items removed.
In some tenant-friendly states, the landlord is required to save the tenant’s vacated property. In Nevada, for example, the landlord must not only store the junk for 30 days, but after the 30 days have expired, take care of it and make all “reasonable” efforts to locate the owner of these abandoned items! And in Oregon, you not only have to store the tenant’s belongings, but you also have to make sure no damage is done.