How to Evict a Tenant Who Won't Leave

A tenant problem could end up in court.

A tenant problem could end up in court.

Anyone who owns rental property may at some time be forced to evict a tenant. The tenant may have stopped paying rent or may be violating the terms of the lease agreement. He may be creating problems affecting the health or safety of his neighbors, or he may simply refuse to leave after the lease has expired. The rights of landlords and tenants are covered by federal and state laws as well as by housing codes and municipal ordinances.

Don’t lock him out. You can’t simply change the locks on the property to keep the tenant out. To do so would put you at risk of being fined by the court, and it would not get rid of the tenant. You must learn and follow the legal procedures that apply in your jurisdiction.

Send the tenant a notice in writing. Depending the laws where you live, you must clearly state the reason why you are demanding that the tenant leave the property. For example, if back rent is the issue, send him a “pay or quit” notice, giving him a deadline by which to pay the delinquent amount and any late fees as itemized in the lease agreement.

File an eviction notice. If the written notice expires without remedial action by the tenant, you can begin the eviction process by going to court to file an "unlawful detainer action." The unlawful detainer is a legal complaint seeking eviction of your tenant. You must prove to the court that you have given your tenant warning in the form of the written notices to quit but the notices have failed to produce the desired results.

Wait for the court to issue a summons to the tenant to appear in court. The tenant must respond by appearing in court on the appointed day and explaining his side. The tenant may move out after getting the court summons, in which case the eviction action is dropped.

Go to court. Bring documentation including copies of your notice to quit, records of the tenant’s non-payments, repair bills for any damages caused by the tenant and any police reports that may have been filed against the tenant.

Wait it out. If you win the lawsuit, the court can issue a “writ of execution” ordering the tenant to leave. Should the tenant still refuse to move, the local sheriff can execute the writ by forcibly moving the tenant and his belongings out of your property.


  • Other reasons for eviction call for a “notice to perform or quit” that sets a deadline by which the tenant must fix the lease violation or move out. Typical violations include a pet forbidden by the lease or more people living in the residence than allowed. In the case of a serious violation such as selling drugs from the property, the tenant can be given a notice to move without allowing him time to correct the violation.
  • If the tenant fails to show up for the court hearing, he loses the case by default, and local law enforcement officials can remove him from your property.
  • If the tenant wins the suit, he can stay until the lease expires. If you were seeking to remove him because he caused damage to the property, you could initiate a separate lawsuit to recover the cost of repairing the damage.


  • Because eviction can become a complicated process, and laws vary by jurisdiction, you might consider hiring a real estate attorney if you must appear in court.

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About the Author

As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.

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