Steps to Evicting a Tenant for Nonpayment of Rent:
It’s time to collect rent again, and you know which tenants will pay on time, which won’t, and who will try to make a partial payment instead of paying the full term’s rent. It’s often difficult to figure out what to do when you run into rent payment issues.
Read on to find out how to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, and how landlords could avoid this issue entirely in the future.
Step 1: Set Up a Good Screening Process
Landlords need to find out whether a tenant will be able to pay rent in-full and on time before signing a rental agreement with them. Having a good screening process can prevent nonpayment of rent issues before they happen by helping you choose reliable tenants to start with.
Elements of a good screening process include:
- A thorough rental application that asks about the tenant’s payment/rental history
- Performing credit checks on all prospective tenants
- Talking to prior landlords/property managers about the tenant’s rental history
These items are crucial to determining whether the prospective tenant has the ability to pay for the rental unit, and if there are any warning signs in their financial history.
Payment / Rental History
A good rental application form will include questions about the prospective tenant’s credit/income and their employment history.
The application should also ask about the tenant’s prior rental history, including whether they’ve been evicted before. This can give the potential landlord insight into the tenant’s ability to abide by a lease/rental agreement and whether they’ve paid rent on time in the past.
It’s always a good idea to perform a credit check on potential tenants—just be sure you get the tenant’s permission prior to running the credit check since that’s required by federal law.
A credit check will give you an idea of the tenant’s past payment history, and help you identify potential red flags when it comes to a tenant’s ability to pay rent.
Financial red flags for landlords typically include things like bankruptcies, financial judgments, accounts sent to collections, foreclosures, and repossessions.
Talk to the Prior Landlord
If this is something that’s allowed in your state, contact the tenant’s former or current landlord and ask about their experiences with the tenant.
This should give you an idea of whether they’ve paid rent on time to their current/former landlord or if they struggled to make timely rent payments.
Just be sure you stick to the tenant’s payment history and other questions directly related to the screening process so you don’t accidentally up being discriminatory toward the tenant.
Discriminatory Screening Practices
While every landlord wants to ensure they get the best possible tenant, there are some things you shouldn’t do when screening potential tenants. The following financial screening practices are prohibited under the Federal Fair Housing Act:
- Creating different credit score requirements for different applicants
- Using different income or employment requirements for different applicants
- Using a different application form for different applicants
The screening process must be the same for all applicants, regardless of who they are. Otherwise, it may appear that the landlord is discriminating against certain tenants.
Step 2: Talk to Your Tenant
Once you realize the tenant isn’t paying rent, or is making late or only partial payments, start by talking with your tenant before filing an eviction case, especially if the tenant’s never had issues paying rent before.
If a normally reliable tenant is suddenly late on their rent, ask why they’ve missed the payment. Maybe the primary earner lost their job, is on leave due to health issues, or has had to care for a sick family member and been unable to work.
A few options to avoid evicting an otherwise good tenant could include:
- Setting up a temporary payment plan
- Temporarily reducing rent
- Accepting a partial payment for the current period
- Pushing back the rent due date by a few days or a week
Be sure that any agreement you reach with your tenant is in writing, and be clear about compliance deadlines. This way, the tenant can’t make false claims about what any agreement may or may not have said in court if you end up filing an eviction case after all.
Step 3: Deliver the Eviction Notice
If the tenant still isn’t able to pay the rent in full, even after trying to work out a solution with them, then the next step is to deliver a written eviction notice to your tenant—but only if this is required in your state. You’ll need to know:
- How much written notice (if any) is required in your state
- What to include on the eviction notice
- The correct way to give the eviction notice to your tenant
In some states, this is same process you’d follow to remove a squatter.
State-by-State Notice Period Requirements
The chart below indicates how much time landlords are required to give their tenants on a written eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. Click the link for your state to get state-specific information about eviction requirements for nonpayment of rent.
|New Hampshire||7 days|
|New Mexico||3 days|
|New York||14 days|
|North Carolina||10 days|
|North Dakota||3 days|
|Rhode Island||5 days|
|South Carolina||5 days|
|South Dakota||3 days|
Contents of the Eviction Notice
An eviction notice for nonpayment of rent should include:
- The reason for the eviction
- What the tenant needs to do (pay past-due rent and/or move out)
- How long the tenant has to pay rent/move out (per your state’s law)
- What will happen if the tenant doesn’t comply
You may be required to include a statement that the tenant has the right to pay past due rent at any time prior to the hearing in order to avoid eviction, depending on the state.
Serving the Notice
If you fail to properly serve an eviction notice on your tenant, the eviction case could be dismissed.
Some of the most commonly allowed delivery methods include:
- Giving a copy of the notice to the tenant in person
- Posting a copy of the notice in a conspicuous place at the rental unit
- Leaving a copy of the notice with the tenant’s family member, another occupant of the rental unit, or someone at the tenant’s workplace
- Mailing a copy of the notice to the tenant
These methods vary slightly from state to state, so it’s necessary to ensure that you’ve delivered the notice to the tenant in the correct way.
Once the notice has been properly delivered to the tenant, you can file an eviction case with the court.
Step 4: File the Eviction Action
If the tenant is still in the rental unit after the compliance deadline in the nonpayment of rent eviction notice has passed, and they haven’t complied with the notice, then the landlord can file an eviction action with the court.
For the handful of states with no written notice requirement, landlords may file an eviction case with the court as soon the tenant has failed to pay their rent timely. Note that some states have built-in grace periods when it comes to late rent payments, however.
Serve a Summons and Complaint on the Tenant
Depending on the state, you may be required to serve a copy of the eviction complaint and a summons to attend the hearing on the tenant.
Common Rent Mistakes Landlords Make
There are a few things you may have done (intentionally or not) that could negatively impact a nonpayment of rent eviction. The list below covers some mistakes landlords make when attempting to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent.
Habitually accepting late rent payments.
If the tenant can show that the landlord had a habit of accepting late rent payments on a regular basis, the court could decide that even though the rent was late, the landlord altered the rental agreement by habitually accepting late rent payments, and the tenant may not be required to move.
Moving forward with the eviction even though the tenant paid all past-due rent within the deadline.
You cannot evict a tenant if they comply with everything on the eviction notice within the deadline given in the notice. The eviction notice should clearly state what tenants must do, and landlords should not attempt to evict a tenant if they’ve met the expectations set forth in the notice.
Not fulfilling your obligations under the law and/or under the rental agreement.
In several states, tenants may be allowed to stop paying rent, or to make only partial rent payments, if the landlord has failed to provide them with a safe and sanitary place to live.
This could take several forms, such as failing to make necessary repairs to the rental unit to make it livable, or failing to provide agreed-upon utility services as set forth in the lease/rental agreement.
Accepting a partial rent payment instead of the full amount.
In some states, if the landlord accepts even a partial rent payment from the tenant for the rental period (week/month/quarter), the court may allow the tenant to remain in the rental unit.
It may be tempting to accept anything from a tenant who hasn’t been consistently paying rent, but it could seem like you’ve agreed to accept a different rent amount than what’s in the written lease/rental agreement.
Step 5: Attend the Hearing
Landlords should never assume that the judicial officer will automatically rule in their favor based on court documents alone. You must attend the hearing in person, or the court could issue a default judgment in favor of the tenant or even dismiss the case.
Besides, this is your one chance to present all of your evidence to the court.
Presenting Your Evidence
Bring everything that could help your case to court with you. Evidence to support your claim that the tenant owes past-due rent can include:
- Payment logs/spreadsheets
- Bank statements
- The written rental agreement
- Any written temporary agreements
- Past-due notices sent to the tenant
- Written notes from prior discussions about late rent
Understand that the judicial officer will also ask the tenant (if they’ve appeared at the hearing) to share any evidence the tenant may have for why they shouldn’t be evicted.
Order for Eviction
If the tenant is ordered to move out of the rental unit for nonpayment of rent, an order for eviction will be issued. In some states, the landlord is required to request the order; in others, it’s issued automatically.
The order is often issued the same day as the hearing, but depending on the state, it may not issue for several days.
In a few states, tenants are allowed to pay the full amount of past-due rent even after the eviction hearing has been held and still avoid being evicted. Be sure you understand what the law says in your state when it comes to the final deadline your tenants have for paying past-due rent.
Step 6: Tenant is Removed
If the court rules in your favor, then the tenant must move out of the rental unit. But how this is accomplished varies by state. In some states, the landlord receives the eviction order and can remove the tenant themselves.
In other states, law enforcement officials receive a copy of the eviction order, and they’re responsible for removing the tenant and their belongings from the rental unit.
In a few states, court officials will remove the tenants.
Nonpayment of Rent Eviction Process
Below is a summary of how to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent.
- Set up a good screening process beforehand.
- Talk to your tenant about the issue.
- Give the tenant a written eviction notice (if required).
- File an eviction action with the appropriate court.
- Attend the nonpayment of rent eviction hearing.
- Order for eviction is executed (tenant is removed).
While it might seem impossible to remove a tenant who won’t pay the rent they owe you, don’t lose heart. Each state has an eviction process in place for how to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, and setting up a thorough screening process now can help you avoid this headache in the future.