Evicting a Residential Tenant for Breach of Lease

Perhaps a tenant has failed to pay rent on time for several months, continually broken the terms of the lease agreement, or intentionally damaged your property. Whatever the reason, there may come a time as a landlord when you will need to terminate the lease agreement on your rental property and evict the tenant.

This can be difficult for many landlords, particularly those with problem tenants. To ensure that you will not be accused of discrimination or held hostage by an unruly tenant, there are specific steps you’ll need to take to protect your interests.

Terminating the lease for failure to pay rent. Your priority as a landlord should be to make it very clear in your lease agreement what will happen if the tenant fails to pay rent in a timely manner. If a tenant is habitually late with his or her rent payments, or if they have failed to pay rent, you should keep a log on all that has transpired. Make sure you document when the rent notices were sent to the tenant and when the late payments were made, if there were payments. You should have a file on each of your tenants. This will help you, should the tenant contest the eviction.

First, warn your tenant that he or she is in danger of being evicted due to their late payments or lack of payments. If they do not comply, you can serve an eviction notice. You should set some limit between the warning and the notice, such as 15 days to make payment. You will need to stick to this time limit, or your warning will lose credibility. State housing law determines how long the tenant has to vacate the property, so make sure you adhere to such laws.

Breaking the lease for failure to follow the lease agreement. This is a gray area for many landlords, and one that usually causes the most problems. Every landlord should include rules and prohibited conduct within the rental agreement. Your lease should state what behaviors are and are not acceptable, and what consequences will follow for tenants who do not respect the lease.

For example, if you do not allow pets or require that your tenants remove their own trash, include these items within your agreement. After a problem occurs, document what happened, when it happened, and how you responded. You should provide at least one warning before taking action to terminate the lease.

After you have documented the problems and issued one or more warnings, if your tenant persists in breaching the lease, you will then be able to serve an eviction notice based on these problems. Your documentation of the violations will protect you if a tenant does not want to leave or tries to fight your decision.

Terminating the lease for property damage. If your tenant is destroying your rental property and not fixing damage that occurs, start documenting it right away. Write down when damage occurred or when you first noticed the damage. Note any police action that may have been taken, and take pictures of the property to prove the extent of the damage. “Before” pictures of your rental property can help improve your claim, so you should make it a habit of photographing property prior to renting it to a tenant. Once you have your documentation, you can serve an eviction notice to terminate the lease.

Terminating the lease amicably. You may choose to termintae the lease with your tenant if they need to move. In this case, you can request that the current tenant find a replacement tenant to fulfill their term of the lease agreement, or you may withhold their security deposit to cover the rent they will not be able to provide.

By taking the time to prepare a lease agreement that covers these eventualities, and by thoroughly documenting any problems that occur, you can help minimize tenant problems.