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Eviction and Unlawful Detainer

Landlords can take legal action to force tenants out of the home. If you get an eviction notice, treat it seriously.

Eviction is the legal process through which a landlord terminates a tenant's right to remain on the rental property. Ultimately, law enforcement may forcibly remove the tenant from the property. 

This real estate law article explains the difference between evictions and unlawful detainers. It also describes the tenant removal process. 

What Is an Unlawful Detainer?

An unlawful detainer lawsuit is a legal way for a landlord to evict a renter. Courts commonly refer to eviction actions as "forcible entry and detainer" or "unlawful detainer" actions.

However, doing so requires a formal court order. The landlord cannot use self-help to remove the tenant.

Reasons for an Eviction

Landlords can evict a tenant if they violate one or more lease agreement provisions.

Valid reasons for eviction include:

  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Illegal activity

Tenants have rights in evictions. A landlord cannot forcibly evict a tenant without proper notice. The landlord must provide written notice to the tenant of their default.

If the tenant does not fix the default, the landlord must file for a formal court eviction proceeding. This will start the eviction process. 

Causes for Unlawful Detainer Actions

Unlawful detainer actions are often used if one of the following happens:

  • The tenant does not vacate the rental unit after the lease ends.
  • The tenant has unpaid rent.
  • The landlord cancels the lease or rental agreement. 

A landlord may also seek an unlawful detainer when a tenant's guest has stayed on the property too long. To avoid this dispute, long-term guests may instead apply to join the lease as official roommates.

An unlawful detainer requires a special court process and can move quickly through the court system.

Unlawful Detainer Process

The steps in an unlawful detainer action are precise. If the landlord or property owner makes a mistake, they must start over.

Below is a step-by-step overview of how landlords seek an unlawful detainer:

  1. Serve the eviction notice. Most notices give the tenant a three-day or 30-day notice. This starts the eviction process.
  2. If the tenant does not vacate the premises during the notice period, then the landlord can pay a filing fee to file an unlawful detainer action (complaint).
  3. The tenant must file an answer to the complaint or risk default judgment.
  4. Both parties appear in court. If the judge favors the landlord, the court will issue a writ of possession. The court may also assess attorney fees against the tenant.

The landlord can give the writ to local law enforcement to forcibly remove the tenant from the rental property. Once law enforcement removes the tenant, the landlord regains possession of the property (rental unit).

Or, the tenant might successfully defend against eviction. If the judge favors the tenant, the landlord will not be able to force removal.

Get Legal Help for Eviction or Unlawful Detainers

If you are a landlord or tenant facing an eviction issue, you should speak to a qualified attorney. Landlord-tenant lawyers are uniquely experienced attorneys who stay updated on state law. They can offer you sound legal advice. Speak to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your area today,

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