Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.
There are times when a landlord or property manager might compel a tenant to leave before their lease ends. The tenant might have failed to pay their rent, or perhaps they obtained an animal in violation of the lease. The landlord may decide to proceed with evicting the tenant. An eviction is the legal term for removing a tenant from a rental property.
Let's look at some typical eviction processes.
Pay Rent or Quit
Sally has been a problem tenant for Bill, the landlord. This is the second month in a row that her rent has been late. Bill is willing to give her a chance to pay. However, if she doesn't, Bill wants to make it clear that she must leave. Each state sets specific laws and procedures that landlords must follow to get someone out of a residential unit.
On the first day the rent is late, Bill sends a pay rent or quit notice. Pay rent or quit means that the tenant is given a written deadline to either move out or pay the rent. Most states require a length of time between three and five days. Therefore, Bill should check his state's law before setting the deadline.
Sally decides that her place is too expensive. So, she packs up her things and leaves. Bill collects the keys and then returns her security deposit.
Cure or Quit
Let's assume that Sally just didn't read her lease carefully. She got a pet dog, unaware that the lease explicitly prohibits animals. Bill is vehemently against having animals in his buildings, so he hands Sally a cure or quit notice . This warns Sally that she will need to leave within a few days if she does not remove the animal permanently from the premises. Not wanting to give up her dog, Sally moves out.
Bill is furious. When he enters Sally's apartment to fix a thermostat, he sees unmistakable evidence of illegal drugs in the living room. There is sufficient evidence for a reasonable person to believe that Sally is dealing illegal drugs. Bill soon sends Sally an unconditional quit notice. Unconditional quit notices give the tenant no opportunity to fix the situation and they have no choice but to leave. These are used in cases such as repeated lease violations, criminal activity, or if the tenant has seriously damaged the property.
Let's assume that after this last episode Sally refuses to leave. Bill's remaining option is to sue. He files an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the court, and serves Sally with a court summons and complaint for eviction. Unlawful detainer refers to the fact that Sally is staying on the property in violation of the lease and is tying up Bill's investment. A court summons is an order to appear in court for a hearing at a specific place and time.
At the hearing, a judge hears arguments and evidence from both sides and makes a ruling. Assuming the judge finds in favor of the landlord, a judgement for possession is issued. The judgment states the findings of the court and gives the tenant a deadline to move out. If Sally still refuses to leave, Bill can give the judgment to local law enforcement and a sheriff or marshal will remove Sally from the property. Bill cannot remove Sally or her belongings from the premises himself and must follow the instructions of law enforcement.
Bill just had a thought. Why bother going to court when he could just make things miserable for Sally so she would happily leave on her own? After all, no one wants to live in a home where the water and electricity are turned off. That will work, right?
It won't work. This is called constructive eviction and it is illegal. Landlords cannot stop providing services they are legally obligated to provide. The landlord cannot shut off utilities or deny repairs that affect habitability just because the tenant isn't keeping up their obligations. If Bill attempts constructive eviction he could be sued. This might sabotage his efforts at getting a court ordered and enforced eviction.
Landlords have options and a progressive system for evicting tenants. In some cases a tenant will fix the situation by getting current on their rent or fixing a problem instead of leaving. A landlord can also simply tell the tenant to leave (in more extreme cases with property damage or documented lease violations). If a tenant won't leave, the landlord can sue in court and have the tenant removed via a court order and assistance from law enforcement. Constructive eviction is a method of persuading a tenant to leave by either withholding services or making the property less habitable. However, this last method is illegal.
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