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How to Evict Someone From Your Property or Home

Sophia Merton
July 3, 2022

When a person, whether they are a guest or a tenant, won’t leave your property when they have been asked to, it can be incredibly distressing. Learning how to evict someone from your property or home as it is outlined in your state laws is essential to ensure that you are following the law.

If you are a landlord that is evicting a tenant with cause, there are specific procedures you need to follow. If you don’t follow these procedures, a tenant can mount a defense against the eviction and you might not win the suit.

In cases where a house guest has overstayed their welcome, you will need to follow a different course of action.

Let’s take a look at how to evict someone from a property, whether they are a house guest that has overstayed their welcome or a tenant that refuses to move out by the deadline outlined on the notice of termination.

What Is an Eviction?

illustration of someone being evicted from property
An eviction is the court-ordered removal of a person from a property.

An eviction is a legal process through which a tenant can be removed from a property by a landlord. Evictions can happen for a number of reasons, but one of the most common causes of eviction is lease violations.

The laws guiding eviction tend to be fairly similar, but the specifics vary depending on which state you’re in.

Landlords aren’t allowed to evict a tenant without a reason that is considered valid. The state where the property is located much legally recognize the reason as valid in order for the eviction to be legal.

The reasons a tenant can be evicted should be outlined in the lease paperwork. Some reasons that could be listed include:

  • Repeatedly paying rent late
  • Failing to pay rent
  • Behaving in a way that inconveniences or interferes with other tenants
  • Using a commercial property as a personal residence
  • Having too many people living in the residence
  • Causing damage to the property
  • Refusing a legal and reasonable change to the terms of the lease or rent
  • Using the property for purposes that are illegal

Sometimes, a tenant will be evicted for reasons that don’t have anything to do with their behavior. A landlord can sometimes evict a tenant if they want to renovate it in a way that means the tenant can’t occupy it or if they want to live in it themselves.

If a landlord wants to convert a building into a condo or another type of cooperative, or if they want to demolish it, they will typically need to get approval from the government.

The reasoning behind an eviction can vary depending on the eviction laws in the state the property is in, how the landlord is allowing a tenant to use a property, and the type of property the tenant is renting.

What Makes a Person a Tenant?

for rent sign on property with recent eviction
Understanding the difference between a tenant and a guest is important when you are working to determine the legal path you must take to remove someone from your property.

When you rent an apartment from a landlord to live in, it’s quite clear that you are a tenant. However, sometimes it isn’t as straightforward whether or not a person is considered a tenant. This is important because the proper legal process of evicting or removing someone from your property will depend on whether they are a tenant or not.

A person is generally considered a tenant if they have agreed to pay rent to live somewhere, whether or not the payment has actually been made.

This means that even if a person only sleeping on a couch or using a part of a home, they are considered a tenant if they pay rent or have agreed to pay rent.

While most people pay rent in the form of money, people might also pay in work or trade.

A person that hasn’t ever paid money, given you anything of value, performed work for you, and never agreed to do any of those things in exchange for a place to stay is most likely not legally considered a tenant.

However, if they have agreed to pay or otherwise compensate you for spending time in the property, even if they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, they are considered a tenant in most cases.

While landlord-tenant laws are commonly similar between places, there can be variations in the details so it’s important to become familiar with any laws on the books in your state and your city.

Can a Person Be a Tenant Even If You Don’t Have a Written Lease?

person staying on couch that won't leave rental property
A written lease isn't necessary for a person to be legally considered a tenant. If you're trying to remove someone from your home and they are technically a tenant, you'll have to go through a formal eviction process even if you never signed a rental agreement.

Even if there isn’t a written lease, a person can become a tenant. A written contract isn’t necessary to create an agreement to rent a property.

A verbal agreement is enough to create a landlord-tenant agreement. The way two people behave can also create a landlord-tenant relationship. For instance, if one individual gives the owner of a property money regularly, and the property owner receives and accepts this money, this could be legally understood to be a landlord-tenant relationship.

If you have a written agreement with someone that’s living in your home that says that they are not a tenant, it’s worth understanding that they still might be considered a tenant legally regardless of what is written in the contract if they are paying rent.

How to Evict a Tenant From Your Property

You can find the requirements to end a tenancy within the laws of your state. The precise procedure varies by state in terms of how termination notices and eviction papers are written as well as served.

Notices For Termination With Cause

In general, there are three different types of termination notices you can use when you want a tenant out of your property.

The first is known as pay rent or quit notices, which are usually given by landlords to tenants when they have failed to pay the rent. In most states, the landlord will give the tenant somewhere between three and five days to either pay the rent they owe or “quit,” i.e., move out.

The second is known as cure or quit notices. These are commonly given to tenants by landlords when the tenant violated a condition or term of the rental agreement. For example, if someone kept a pet even though there was a no-pet clause in the lease or they broke the rules repeatedly about excessive noise.

A tenant typically has a specific amount of time in order to “cure” (i.e., fix) the violation. If they don’t correct the lease violation, they need to move out, or else they could be at the receiving end of an eviction lawsuit.

Unconditional quit notices are the third type of notice for termination with cause. These are the harshest of these notices, as they order tenants to move out without any opportunity to correct a lease violation or pay the rent. A tenant usually has to have behaved in certain ways in order to receive this type of notice, such as:

  • Causing serious damage to the property
  • Paying the rent late on a number of occasions
  • Violating a significant rental agreement clause repeatedly
  • Engaged in serious illegal activity on the property

Landlords aren’t always required to let tenants fix their lease violations or pay the rent. Whether or not landlords have to give tenants this opportunity depends on the state. In states where landlords don’t have to give tenants this chance, landlords have the choice to use unconditional quit notices immediately in the eviction process.

If a tenant receives notice but doesn’t make the necessary changes, such as paying the rent or fixing the lease violation by the deadline listed in the notice, the landlord can begin the process of filing for an eviction lawsuit.

Notices For Termination Without Cause

When a landlord doesn’t have cause to evict a tenant, they usually aren’t able to legally terminate the tenancy for an individual that has a fixed-term lease.

For short-term rental agreements such as a month-to-month, however, landlords have the ability to terminate the agreement without cause. In these instances, the landlord just has to provide a specific amount of notice to the tenant, which is outlined in the state laws.

If your property is in a place that has rent control laws, however, you might not be able to terminate shorter-term rental agreements without cause.

Considering buying a foreclosed property as an investment? Before you do, take a look at our article about what makes buying foreclosed property risky.

Possible Tenant Defenses

If you’ve begun an eviction suit against a tenant, it’s worth understanding the possible defenses they might use and what this means.

The eviction process could be weeks or even months longer if a tenant decides they want to mount a defense against the suit. In an effort to dismiss or delay the case, the tenant can argue that there were mistakes made in either the eviction complaint or the notice. Additionally, they can point to improper delivery of either of these documents.

When a court is deciding on an eviction suit, they will often take the past action of a landlord into account. They will be less likely to find in favor of eviction if they find that a landlord evicted the tenant out of retaliation against the tenant or if the landlord failed to keep the property habitable and safe.

How to Remove a Tenant After an Eviction Suit

police car on their way to physically remove tenant from property
If you win an eviction suit and the tenant still won't leave on their own, it's important to follow the law regarding physically removing an evicted tenant from the property. This commonly entails enlisting the help of local law enforcement.

If you go through the eviction process and you win the suit, the court will issue a judgment for possession of the property. In some cases, the tenant will even be ordered to pay you any rent they have yet to pay.

Even if you win the eviction suit, though, you can’t simply turn off the utilities and lock a tenant out in order to get rid of them. There are state and local laws that outline how tenants can be physically removed from a property, and landlords need to follow these to stay within the bounds of the law.

In many cases, this will mean that you’ll need to enlist the help of a local law enforcement officer in order to physically remove an evicted tenant from your property.

What to Do With Abandoned Property After an Eviction

When you’ve evicted someone from your property and they’ve left behind personal property, you’ll want to turn to your state laws to understand how you can dispose of the property legally. In a handful of states, once the tenants move out you can freely dispose of any property that they leave behind. However, even in the states where it is legal to throw away a tenant's property after they have moved out, it’s still required that you only get rid of personal property belonging to a tenant when it is abundantly clear that the tenant intends to turn the place over to you and has left permanently.

Many state laws require that you follow specific procedures of storage and notification when you’re dealing with abandoned property.

Are you wondering how to figure out how much your property is worth based on the amount of income you receive in rent? Take a look at our post about how to calculate property value based on rental income.

When Does a Houseguest Become a Tenant?

Someone who was once a guest can become a tenant, technically, through both the actions of the property owner and the actions of the guest.

Let’s say, for example, that you have a friend that is in need of a place to stay for a period of time. If the individual offers to help with expenses while they’re staying there and gives you some money, they actually might legally be considered a tenant by your state laws. This can be the case even if you haven’t made a written agreement.

Guests can also become tenants through actions like:

  • Having their own key to a property
  • Not having another residence
  • Receiving mail at the property
  • Offering something (or promising to) in exchange for staying at the property
  • Moving in significant personal belongings or furniture

If you’re a landlord, you should also be concerned with how a guest becomes a tenant. For example, if someone is letting their romantic partner stay over for a few nights occasionally, they are most likely a guest. If they’ve moved over permanent items such as furniture, though, they are moving into the territory of being a tenant.

College students that are returning home for a weekend would be considered guests. However, if they return home to take a semester off or for the entire summer, they become tenants.

What Is the Difference Between a Guest and a Tenant?

It’s one thing to try and evict someone with whom you have a clear-cut relationship as landlord and tenant. However, things can get murkier when the line between guest and tenant is blurred.

As discussed above, a tenant will have agreed to pay rent and commonly has a written or verbal rental agreement. A house guest, on the other hand, is someone that is only temporarily staying at a property without paying rent.

Different states have varying laws in terms of how long a guest must be in a home before they are considered a tenant. If you have a friend, relative, or guest that has overstayed their welcome, it can be tricky to figure out how to get them out of your house. If you’ve asked them to leave and they won’t, they are technically trespassing on your property.

How to Evict a Guest From Your Home

If there is a guest in your home that won’t leave despite having been asked to leave, they are technically committing the crime known as trespassing. The situation can get even more complicated, unfortunately, if you involve the police and they understand the guest to be a tenant.

Different states have laws that outline the definition of trespassing. In most states, though, it refers to the action of entering or remaining on a property without the permission of a resident or the owner.

Even if you initially told someone that they could stay at your home, they are trespassing if they don’t leave when you ask.

There are often different levels or degrees of trespassing in a number of states. Depending on the situation and the type of property, there are usually increasing penalties.

Express Clearly That You Want Them to Leave

The first step, if you haven’t done so already, is to communicate clearly to the individual that they are no longer welcome. It can be tricky to tell relatives or friends that you don’t want them in your house anymore, but you will need to make it explicit that you want them to leave if you have previously given them permission to stay at your home. If you haven’t made it clear that they aren’t welcome anymore, and you told them at an earlier time they could stay, they might not be breaking any laws.

It’s important to be very clear when communicating to someone that you’d like them to leave your property. This is not the time for dropping hints and expecting that the other person should “know” that you want them gone. You will want to explicitly tell them that you want them to leave the property.

If you’ve already made it abundantly clear that the individual isn’t welcome, it’s time to call the cops.

Call the Cops

Having the police help remove an unwanted guest from your property can be more difficult than you might imagine. Because cops are reasonably concerned that a houseguest is actually a tenant, they are usually somewhat wary of getting involved in this type of dispute.

The police understand that if the houseguest is actually a tenant, the owner of the property needs to follow the legal procedure before the individual can be removed from the property.

Though the laws vary between states, landlords in most states have to terminate a tenancy formally through the proper delivery of a written notice. If the tenant doesn’t leave by the deadline that is outlined in the notice, an eviction lawsuit can be filed by the landlord. Only once the lawsuit has been won by the landlord can an individual be physically removed from the property by a law enforcement officer.

Guests are usually not considered tenants under most state laws, even long-term guests. The problem, though, is that cops don’t have any way of knowing one way or another whether the individual is a tenant or a trespasser. Because the police officer could find themselves in trouble legally for removing a tenant from a property wrongfully, involving the police in an unwanted houseguest dispute isn’t always as helpful as you might hope.

Is There a Formal Eviction Process For Unwanted Houseguests?

While there is a formal process for evicting tenants from property, there isn’t a formal process for removing unwanted guests from your home.

The first step is always to clearly communicate to the person that they must leave the property. If this is a friend or a relative with whom you want to preserve a relationship, try to sit down with them and calmly discuss the situation.

For some people, confronting an unwanted houseguest verbally is too uncomfortable. In these instances, you can also give them a written notice. It’s fine to send this communication as an email, but however you deliver the notice, you’ll want to make sure you keep a copy for yourself.

In this notice or in your conversation, you’ll want to set a clear deadline that you want them out by.

If your unwelcome guest doesn’t leave by the deadline you set and doesn’t seem to intend to, you might choose to change the locks on the home. The primary concern at this point, though, is your safety. The fact that a person is unwilling to leave your home when asked is certainly unnerving, and it’s important that you don’t do anything that puts you or anyone in your household in danger.

If a houseguest becomes threatening or violent, you’ll want to call the police. While guests will usually take the hint and move out when a property owner asks them to, sometimes they act irrationally and turn violent. Depending on the situation, you could file for a restraining order or a protection order that makes it so the individual is not to have any contact with you.

If a guest remains on the property and ignores your notice, you might be able to file an eviction lawsuit depending on the state your property is in. If the person isn’t going to leave on their own, this might be the best option because once the court issues an order for the person to leave the property, the individual can be physically removed by local law enforcement.

Understanding How to Evict Someone From Your Property or Home Is Essential For Any Property Owner

If you’re a landlord, having a firm grasp of the landlord-tenant laws in your state and city is vital. While receiving income from a rental property is a great way to make passive income, being a landlord can quickly turn into a nightmare if you are dealing with uncooperative tenants that violate the terms of your lease or refuse to pay rent.

Even if you aren’t a landlord and simply a homeowner, it’s worth understanding what it means to allow a guest to stay in your home. While it can be distressing for someone that you consider a friend to overstay their welcome, it’s important to follow the procedures outlined above.

If you’re considering owning rental property, it’s important to understand both the pros and cons of being a landlord. There can be quite a bit of variation in terms of landlord-tenant laws between states, and some places have laws that are more landlord-friendly than others. In our recent post about the best places to buy a rental property, we outline some of the most landlord-friendly states in the country.

Are you looking at a prospective rental property but aren’t sure if it’s a good investment? It’s essential to run all the numbers before buying a property to make sure that it will help you meet your investing goals. Check out our rental property calculator to ensure that the property you’re looking at will produce the outcome you’re looking for.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and is a real estate investor and researcher. With more than ten years of experience owning and managing investment properties, she has gained valuable insight into the pros and cons of operating rentals. Sophia is dedicated to helping others create wealth through real estate and aims to provide straightforward information about every aspect of rental property ownership.
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