Evicting tenants is part of being a landlord, and the need for evictions happens even with the best tenant screening.
Whether you’re a terrific landlord, and your tenants meet all your qualifications, people are imperfect, and problems occur.
In this article, we look at how to deal with tenant evictions, so you do it lawfully and with a minimum amount of stress and struggle.
Know the Law
Eviction laws are different across the United States, so you want to be clear you understand your role in the eviction process.
In addition, when you put your lease agreement together, you want to ensure it specifies exactly what happens if you need to evict your tenants.
It’s always a good idea to have your lawyer look over your lease agreements and make sure your eviction process is legal.
Spell Out Appropriate Reasons
You can’t just evict a tenant because you don’t like him/her. You must have a valid reason to do so, and one that is specified in your rental agreement, oral or written.
To help you deal with tenant evictions and know what you can do, here are a few valid reasons you can evict someone:
- They don’t pay their rent.
- If a tenant does not pay their rent, the landlord may evict the tenant after a three-day grace period or after the time specified in the notice to quit. If the tenant pays the rent during the grace period, he or she cannot be evicted for nonpayment.
- Their lease expired.
- Generally, once a lease expires, the landlord is under no obligation to renew it. This is true whether the lease is written or oral, year-to-year, or month-to-month. But the law prohibits aged (62 years of age or older), blind, or disabled tenants who reside in buildings with five or more separate dwelling units from being evicted for this reason. These tenants may be evicted only “for cause” (e.g., failure to pay rent, material noncompliance with the lease) . The law also specifies when tenants of foreclosed homes may be evicted before the end of the lease.
- They damage your property or violate health and safety regulations.
- Tenants have certain duties imposed on them by statute. Basically, these are to refrain from creating a nuisance or defacing the premises, obey the health and fire codes, and keep the premises clean and safe. Failure to perform these duties is a ground for eviction. If the tenant corrects the problem within 15 days, he or she cannot be evicted on this ground. But the tenant can be evicted for committing a similar breach within the following six months.
- They’ve violated your lease in some way.
- A landlord may impose lease terms beyond just rental payments. Breach of these terms is a ground for eviction. The terms must, however, be rational, apply to everyone, and pertain to such things as the welfare of others or property damage prevention. As with a breach of statutory duties, if the tenant cures the breach within 15 days, it nullifies the breach, unless a similar breach occurs within six months.
- They are doing something illegal on your property.
- An assault on a landlord or other tenant; use of the leased premises for gambling, prostitution, or to sell drugs; or other illegal conduct is a ground for eviction. Unlike a breach of lease terms or statutory duties, tenants cannot cure an eviction based on illegal conduct or serious nuisance.
You will need to document any of these infractions to the best of your ability in case the eviction ends up in a court of law.
Start with Diplomacy
It’s a good idea to start with a conversation before you begin the eviction process. Often times, you can work together to solve the problems.
Schedule a meeting with your tenant and keep it professional. Discuss the issues you are having. Try to emphasize with your tenant but do remember they must follow your lease agreement.
Some states require you to give your tenant notice of minor infractions. You are expected to give them time to correct the issue before you evict them. This is why an initial warning is vital.
Sometimes issues can be resolved without evicting your tenant. In times where you simply can’t allow the tenant to stay, you can proceed with the eviction.
Don’t Do This
There are some things you can’t do because of the legality of the issue. No matter how bad things get, you generally can’t do any of the following without a court order.
- Don’t take your renter’s possessions out of the property.
- Don’t change the locks.
- Don’t physically remove your tenant.
- Don’t turn off the electric, gas, or water utilities.
If you do any of these things, a judge isn’t going to look kindly on you and they are illegal.
Give a Formal Notice
If all else fails, you need to give a formal notice to quit possession. The landlord must serve the notice to quit at least three days before a rental agreement is terminated or before the time specified in the notice to quit (in other words, the landlord must give the tenant at least three full days to move out). The notice may be served on any day of the week.
This generally happens with an uncooperative tenant and certainly with one breaking the law.
You must provide an adequate time frame here that also lets them know what they can do to avoid an eviction. If the tenant does not move out by the end of the three-day period, any commissioner of the Superior Court may issue a summons and complaint to be served upon the tenant. The complaint may be served on any day of the week and may be made returnable six days after service upon the tenant and must be returned to the court at least three days before the return date.
Visit the Courthouse
Now it’s time to visit your local courthouse to file the eviction documents. To contest the eviction, a tenant must respond to the summons and complaint by filing an appearance with the court within two days after the return date. If the tenant does not file an appearance, the landlord may file (a) a motion for judgment for failure to appear and (b) an endorsed copy of the notice to quit with the court clerk. The court must then, within the first court day after the landlord filed the motion, enter a judgment against the tenant and issue an order to vacate.
A court clerk will schedule your hearing, and the eviction can move forward .In addition to filing an appearance, the tenant should file a summary process answer within two days after the return date. If the tenant does not, a landlord can file a motion for judgment based on failure to plead. And if the tenant fails to plead within three days after receipt of the motion by the clerk, the court must enter judgment against the tenant
When it’s time for your court hearing, you want to take all of your documents with you including your lease agreement, bounced checks, records of infractions, copies of your communications with the tenant, and a dated copy of your eviction notice. A trial is scheduled after pleadings are closed (after the complaint has been answered and any special defenses have been raised and countered). Trials are typically scheduled for one week to 10 days after all pleadings have been filed, according to the Judicial Branch publication, A Tenant‘s Guide to Summary Process. In practice, landlords and tenants often agree to settlements before trial, after meeting with a housing mediator at the court.
Once the court approves your tenant’s eviction, they must leave your property. A judgment is entered after the trial. If judgment is entered for the landlord (and after any stay has expired), he or she must ask the court for an order requiring the tenant to move. The landlord gives the order of execution to a state marshal for proper service. The marshal uses reasonable efforts to locate the tenant and serve him or her with notice of the eviction date and time. The execution tells the tenant that he or she has 24 hours to vacate the premises. It’s a good idea to have someone on hand to witness them leaving and to ensure nothing else happens to your rental property.
If your tenant doesn’t leave in the time specified by the court, you may contact your local authorities who will assist in removing the tenant and his/her belongings. Only the marshal can physically remove the tenant’s possessions to a town-designated storage facility, at the tenant’s expense (the law sets time frames and procedures for tenants to reclaim their possessions, or if they fail to do so, to reclaim the net proceeds if their possessions are sold at public auction).
The law generally provides for an automatic five-day stay of execution (Sundays or legal holidays are excluded from the five-day period). The tenant must file any appeal within this period. If the tenant appeals, eviction is stayed until the appeal is decided, unless the judge determines that the appeal was taken solely for the purpose of delay or the tenant fails to provide the required bond. The court may also grant an additional stay of up to six months, or three months if eviction was for nonpayment of rent. If the additional stay is granted, the tenant must abide by conditions the court sets, including paying unpaid past rent and rent for the length of the stay. Tenants requesting a discretionary stay who were evicted for nonpayment of rent must, within five days of the judgment, pay to the court in full the past rent due, with the court distributing the money to the landlord
A landlord can file a motion for use and occupancy once a tenant files an appearance. Once the motion is filed, the court can order a tenant to pay the last agreed-upon rent to the court during the pendency of the summary process action.
Finally, take photos of the state of your property in case there is damage, and you need to recoup your costs in small claims court.
At PMI East Lyme Property Management, we are your full-service residential and commercial property management company. We are here to protect your investments every day and make investing in property easier.
We cannot give legal advice, for CT specific eviction guidelines, visit: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/rpt/2011-R-0350.htm