Tenant Eviction Procedure and "Eviction Letters"

The first step to remove a tenant who has failed to pay the rent or otherwise violated a term of the lease or the law is to terminate the tenancy according to your state's procedure. These terminations are sometimes called "eviction notices," but they don't mean that an eviction will necessarily follow. If the tenant does not move voluntarily, only then can the landlord go to court and file an eviction lawsuit.

Properly terminating a tenancy is the first step toward an eventual eviction. Landlords must send tenants a notice announcing that if the tenant does not comply (by paying the rent, honoring a lease clause, or following the law) or move out, the landlord will file a court action for eviction. These terminations are known as "for cause" terminations. Some notices give tenants a few days to comply. If the tenant reforms or moves out within that time, no one goes to court.

Landlords who rent on a month-to-month basis can also terminate tenancies without needing to give a reason, as long as their motivation is not discriminatory or retaliatory. These terminations are "without cause," and typically give the tenant longer to move out (30 days is common).

Learn more about Evictions for Nonpayment of Rent.

Termination Notices

For-cause termination notices are one of the following types:

Pay Rent or Quit. The tenant has a few days to pay or move out.

Cure or Quit. The tenant must stop the offending behavior or act within a few days or move.

Unconditional Quit. The tenant must move within a few days, without a chance to reform.

Of the three types, an unconditional quit notice is the most harsh. By law, it is reserved for specific situations, such as repeated late rent, significant and repeated violations of the lease, or single acts of serious proportions, such as major property damage or crime on the premises.

Learn more about Eviction Notices.

Drafting a Termination Notice

State laws typically specify how landlords must write and deliver a termination notice. Laws commonly set the type size and font, as well as the inclusion of specified language. In rent control cities, additional information is often required.

It is very important to know and follow your state's laws on termination notices. If the notice is defective, and the tenant raises this issue in a later eviction lawsuit, your case may be tossed out and you may have to start all over again.

Don't Embellish

Some landlords are tempted to add threatening or official-sounding language to their termination notices. This is a mistake. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids you from acting in a threatening way, or suggesting that you are affiliated with the government. Even using a picture of a policeman could violate the Act.

Learn about Constructive Eviction and Notices.