The Eviction Process in 5 Steps

Eviction is the process that landlords go through to remove a tenant from their property when the tenant has violated the terms of their lease. The eviction process is composed of roughly five steps and, depending on where you live, can take anywhere between two and ten weeks to complete. 

Even thinking about eviction can be stressful. But, it’s important to remember that the process is a legal one, meant to protect the rights of both landlords and tenants.

The 5 Steps of the Eviction Legal Process

When a tenant violates the terms of their lease, there is a set process that landlords must follow in order to remove the tenant from the property. The process varies by state, but generally follows five basic steps, designed to protect both landlords and tenants.

While these are the steps that must be followed for landlords to forcibly evict tenants, not all evictions go through every step. Instead, renters who violate the terms of their lease often choose to move out on their own, effectively ending the process of eviction.

1. Tenant Defaults

Before a landlord can begin the process of evicting a tenant, there has to be some sort of triggering event, in which the tenant fails to uphold the terms of their lease agreement with the landlord. Most often, this means not paying their rent. If a tenant fails to pay their rent in full and on-time, a landlord can begin the eviction process.

It is worth noting that most leases include provisions for late payment of rent—in some cases several weeks late—that allow the tenant to come back into compliance with their lease. This often requires paying all past-due rent as well as a late fee. 

2. Notice to Quit

A notice to quit is a form that landlords are required to send to tenants when they are beginning the process of evicting a tenant. Most states have requirements about how and when landlords can provide notice to quit—typically tenants can’t be served with notice to quit until their rent is at least a certain number of days late, for example.

The notice to quit essentially notifies the tenant that they are in breach of their lease agreement and the landlord wants them to vacate the property unless they come back into compliance. If the tenant doesn’t come back into compliance (i.e., pay past-due rent) then the landlord will move forward with the eviction process.

3. Court Filing

In addition to being sent to tenants, a notice to quit is also filed with a local court. That way, if the tenant doesn’t remedy their violation of the lease or vacate the property, a hearing can be set for a judge to hear arguments from both the landlord and tenant.

While this hearing gives a tenant the opportunity to argue against their eviction, it also gives them more time to comply with the terms of their lease.

4. Court Ruling

If an eviction does move into the hearing phase, this hearing will result in a ruling in favor of either the landlord or the tenant. Quite often in eviction cases, tenants don’t show up, and the landlord is granted a summary judgment. Other times, tenants may show up to argue against their eviction. 

If the judge finds that the tenant has indeed violated terms of the lease and needs to vacate the residence, they will issue a court order requiring the tenant to vacate the property by a certain date.

5. Eviction

In the event that an eviction does move to a hearing and a judge issues an order requiring the tenant to vacate, this is the step where that order is enforced. Depending on where you live or whether you’re contesting the eviction, this may involve local sheriff deputies or other law enforcement. 

In most states, this can happen anywhere between two and ten weeks after the tenant is first served with a notice to quit. Quite often, though, the eviction process doesn’t actually make it this far. In many cases, tenants move out on their own and don’t need to be forcibly removed. 

Tips for Dealing With Eviction

Dealing with eviction is never easy. It’s a stressful time. The best thing you can do is stay calm and do your best to work with your landlord to either comply with your lease or move out in a timely fashion.

Here are a few tips for dealing with the various stages of an eviction:

Alert Landlord Before Violation

If you think you may violate the terms of your lease, it’s better to tell your landlord early. That way, they aren’t surprised, and you may be able to work something out with them. If you lose your job, for example, your landlord may be understanding and willing to work out a flexible payment plan for your rent, and you may be able to avoid the eviction process altogether.

Don’t Ignore a Notice to Quit

If you receive a notice to quit, contact your landlord to explain whether you hope to come back into compliance or plan to vacate. If you’re going to vacate, let them know when you’ll be out—and be sure to leave the property in good shape when you go.

If you feel that you shouldn’t be forced to leave for whatever reason, try to explain the situation to your landlord. See if you can come to some agreement that will allow you to stay. 

It’s also usually a good idea to check your lease before contacting your landlord. Know what your obligations are under the agreement, but also know your rights. That way, you’ll know what your options are and whether the landlord is acting under the terms of the lease.

Behave in Court

If you decide to fight your eviction in court, be calm and professional. Perhaps try to find some legal help beforehand. Some communities have legal aid resources that can help you understand your lease, the laws in your state regarding eviction, and maybe even help you present your case in court. This may not stop your eviction, but it may buy you more time before you have to vacate the property.

Watch Out for Illegal Landlord Actions

Most landlords are well-aware of the legal eviction process. But some landlords take matters into their own hands, resorting to so-called “self-help measures,” such as changing the locks or turning off utilities, to get tenants out of a rental unit. Keep an eye out for these illegal landlord actions. If your landlord oversteps their bounds, it may make sense to talk to a housing lawyer about your rights.

Respect a Judge’s Ruling

If you do go to court and the judge rules against you, be sure to move out in a timely fashion. Don’t resist the judge’s order—that can only get you in trouble. It can be hard having to move out—especially if you don’t know where to go—but this process doesn’t happen overnight. If you do ultimately get evicted, you’ll know beforehand that it’s happening, and you’ll have time to look for someplace to stay once you move out.