Starting an eviction procedure is one of the most challenging aspects of being a landlord. Usually, if you have to serve a tenant an eviction notice, your relationship has probably already hit rock bottom. Most likely, you have tried various resolutions and maybe even offered them a “cash for keys” deal—but to no avail. They’re still not paying—or can’t pay—rent. Or maybe they’ve even trashed the place. You now have to start the eviction process to get them out of your rental property.
But before you take the law into your own hands, you need to be sure you’ve got a sound legal basis to start eviction proceedings. Of course, defaulting on rent or destroying property gives you grounds for evicting them. However, there are many more reasons to evict a tenant legally. Some other reasons for a legal eviction include:
- Your noisy tenants consistently disturb the neighbors.
- You find the tenant has subleased the unit.
- The tenants are selling drugs or doing something else illegal in the dwelling.
- They have lease violations and refuse to resolve the issue.
In this article, you will find seven legal reasons for evicting a bad tenant. You will also find out how to avoid eviction mistakes and make sure you don’t end up in court for breaking the landlord-tenant law.
What the Law Says on a Tenant Eviction Process
Each state has laws on valid reasons to evict tenants and how the process must take place. States base most of their eviction regulations on the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (URLTA). Landlords have responsibilities to tenants, such as keeping the rental unit safe, habitable, and supplying all necessary utilities.
On the other hand, tenants also have legal responsibilities. They can’t deliberately damage the property, they should comply with the terms of the rental agreement and have to ensure the property is kept clean and safe.
If you find yourself in a position of having to evict a bad tenant, it’s crucial to have a legal reason for doing so. For example, the law says that landlords can’t evict tenants in retaliation for the “tenant reporting housing violations or other conditions of the property.”
In most states, it’s against the law to carry out a self-help eviction—even if the tenant is in breach of the rental agreement. Self-help eviction is where the landlord changes the locks or enters a rental unit to remove the tenant without a court order.
7 Reasons to Evict a Tenant Legally
Before you start filing for eviction to get your delinquent tenant out, you should check your state’s landlord-tenant law. A lawful reason for eviction in one part of the country may not be valid in another region. Of course, the unpaid rent is always a legitimate reason to evict someone.
1. Eviction for defaulting on rent payments
The most common legal reason to file for a tenant eviction is because of owed rent money. Even if the non-payment is not the tenant’s fault—for example, they got laid off—they still need to pay. Usually, the lease agreement states when the monthly rent payment is due and how much the back-due rent fees are.
Many states require that, before starting the eviction process, you send the tenant a Pay or Quit Notice. Also called a “Notice to Pay Rent or Quit,” this document informs the tenant to come up with the past-due rent money or move out. If the tenant pays, you have no legal right to try and evict them. However, if they still can’t pay, you can legally start a formal eviction process.
What can you do if your tenant habitually pays rent late? In many states, this is a valid reason to evict the tenant. Usually, you need to send a Pay or Quit Notice. If they continue to pay rent late, you can file an eviction order at the local court.
There is one important thing to remember—in some cases, tenants can legally withhold rent. For example, in Florida, landlord-tenant law says that a tenant can withhold rent if the landlord is in breach of the lease agreement. However, the tenant has to state in writing their intention to withhold rent and on what grounds.
2. Serious lease violations
Another reason why you can evict a tenant legally is if they violate the terms of the lease. Usually, the best thing landlords can do is give a tenant time to rectify the issue—called a “Cure or Quit Notice.” But if the problematic tenant refuses to do that in the time period, then it’s time to vacate them from the premises. You now have a good and lawful reason to start eviction proceedings.
Here are some common lease violations that can result in a legal eviction:
- Unauthorized pets—If the lease terms of the lease forbid pets, then the occupants can’t have their furry four-legged friends live there.
- Unapproved occupants—Most lease terms state the number of occupants allowed to live in the rental unit. Of course, good sense says that having a friend stay for a few days is reasonable. But having a partner move in or staying for extended periods, is usually a reason to file an eviction order at the local court.
- Subletting the unit—Under the lease terms, tenants have exclusive right to live in the dwelling. But the tenant can’t advertise the place on Airbnb while they go backpacking around the world.
- Noise complaints—Regular complaints about excessive noise against your tenants give you a good reason to evict them. Of course, there must be a clause in the lease terms to prohibit causing any undue disturbance. In the end, the police can also fine you for your tenant’s actions.
Related reading: What is a cash for keys eviction?
3. Illegal use of the property
Lease violations on the unauthorized use of rented dwellings are common when a tenant starts running a business from the property. It doesn’t matter if the business is legitimate or involved in illegal activity.
In many cases, it’s probably fine for someone to work from home if they’re telecommuting or have a computer-based business. For example, it’s usually okay for a web designer, copywriter, or programmer to work from home. But it’s a different matter if they set up a hair salon, woodworking studio, repair shop, or pet day spa. The increase in footfall in the building could violate local zoning ordinances. Also, a tenant who has customers in the place increases their—and your—liability if someone injures themselves.
It goes without saying that someone involved in drug dealing, illegal substances, or prescription drugs is in breach of the law. You should serve a proper notice to quit. If the tenants ignore that, you are legally entitled to start the eviction process.
4. Property damage
There is nothing wrong with normal wear and tear in a rented apartment or house. However, if the damage is more than a few stains on the carpet or scuffs on the baseboards, you may have grounds to evict your tenant. From a legal perspective, tenants can’t cause intentional damage or let the property fall into disrepair due to their negligence.
Before starting the eviction process, you have to give the tenant a “Notice to Cure to Quit.” In other words, they either pay for the repairs and get the property fixed up, or they move out. If they refuse to do either, you can take steps to evict them legally.
5. Taking the unit off the market
Deciding to take the property off the rental market is another reason to evict someone legally. Of course, in this case, they are not in breach of the terms of the lease. However, you can force them out with a termination notice if you decide to live there yourself or will no longer rent out the place
Before you think about evicting someone because you will change the property’s rental status, you need to check with state laws. For example, you may not be able to evict someone in the following circumstances:
- If the tenant is over a certain age, you can’t try to evict them unless you give at least one-year’s fair notice.
- If parents have children attending school, you can’t force them out until the school year has ended.
- You might not be able to evict a tenant who has lived in a unit for a certain number of years.
- State laws also regulate how long you have to wait until you rent out the property again. Also, you might have to dig deep into your pockets to come up with cash to help relocate them.
Filing an eviction order for a holdover can be tricky for landlords. Holdover is when the lease has ended, but the tenant refuses to move out. The problem arises because, in many states, when a term-lease ends, it automatically switches to a month-to-month lease. If the tenant continues to pay rent on time, you won’t be able to evict them so easily.
7. Health and safety concerns
There are three reasons why you could legally evict a tenant based on safety concerns. These are:
- The tenant has caused a severe health hazard in the property.
- Inspectors discover a healthy and safety issue, and the tenants need to vacate the property so repairs can take place.
- You decide to carry out extensive renovations, and it’s not safe for anyone to reside there while remodeling is going on.
If you decide to evict someone based on health and safety concerns, local state laws say the termination notice period that you have to give.
Legal Reasons for a Tenant Eviction: A Takeaway
Going through an eviction process with a tenant is never an easy thing to do. However, as a responsible landlord, it’s crucial to stay on the right side of the law. When you evict a tenant, you must have a legal basis for doing so. Otherwise, the former tenant could file a claim against you for an illegal eviction.