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How Does the Landlord Terminate the Lease for Cause?

You're a responsible landlord and have scrupulously kept your rental units in good repair. You've also carefully screened your tenants' credit and rental histories. You selected your tenants based on economic factors and not any of the factors prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. Despite all your careful work, you've got a tenant that you want to evict. But how do you even begin? This article addresses frequently asked questions (FAQ) on terminating and vacating rental occupancy.

Step 1. Make Sure You Have Cause To Terminate the Tenant's Lease

Renting your real estate may be business to you, but it's your tenant's home. You can't evict them for just any reason. Although landlord-tenant law varies by state, there are generally three reasons for which a landlord may terminate a lease:

The tenant doesn't pay monthly rent and doesn't have any good reason for withholding rent (such as a warranty of habitability claim).

The tenant violates a material provision in the rental agreement, such as subleasing the rental property to a new tenant without getting your permission. See our article explaining the difference between a sublease and a sublet in the context of new leases.

The tenant violates some duty imposed by tenancy laws. In general, the tenant has a responsibility not to destroy the apartment. They must refrain from performing any illegal activities. They must not interfere with other tenants' quiet enjoyment of the premises.

The rental agreement might specifically lay out scenarios for termination of the lease. There might be a termination clause relating to misuse of the property. The term of the lease also ends after a period of time, culminating in a natural termination date. When a set amount of time (fixed term) in an original lease is complete, the rental may turn into a month-to-month lease.

Step 2. Rule Out Poor Excuses To Evict

If you have personal problems with your tenants, you may need to put them aside. If you're annoyed because your renter is disrespectful or messy, you can't use that as an excuse to evict them. You may also not send out eviction notices to tenants who make too many repair requests.

Keep in mind that, for as long as the term of the lease is in effect, you can't break it if your tenant has done nothing wrong. For example, if you intend on moving back to the property or remodeling it, you must wait until the term of the lease is over. You can't break a one-year lease six months into the term just because you own the property. On the other hand, lease termination of a month-to-month lease may be possible with advance proper notice and good cause.

In general, the eviction process or early terminations will not apply when:

Some states may also prohibit eviction when a landlord has unclean hands. For example, consider a landlord who retaliates against a nonpaying tenant by turning off water and electricity. Here, the landlord is deliberately making the dwelling unit uninhabitable. A purposeful attempt to make the rental property unlivable is itself a violation of the law.

Step 3. Give the Tenant a Chance To Resolve the Situation on Their Own

It's usually in everyone's interest for a conflict to be resolved amicably. Not only will it save you mental and emotional stress, but you also won't have to waste time taking more drastic action. Most importantly, resolving the situation in a friendly manner means everyone can save money. A lease termination letter from your property manager might be too vague and cold to work. Sometimes, all it takes is a mature personal conversation with your tenant.

Most state laws require property owners to notify tenants that they might get evicted if their behavior doesn't change. These written notices are called "Cure or Quit" or "Pay Rent or Quit." They give the tenant a chance to fix whatever is wrong. If the tenant doesn't cure within a certain time frame, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings. The other type of notice a landlord can give is called a "Vacate or Quit" notice. This notice simply warns the tenant that the landlord will begin eviction proceedings if the tenant doesn't move out on their own.

Some states have requirements regarding the format or delivery method of these notices. For example, some states might require the notice to be affixed to the tenant's door. Others may require that the notice be sent by certified mail. Be sure to check the laws of your state to make sure you're giving proper notice. Some states offer templates for 30-day notices to allow a landlord to terminate a month-to-month tenancy. There are different notice periods and ways to produce a notice of termination, so make sure you have the right paperwork.

Step 4. Begin Eviction Proceedings

Assuming the tenant doesn't leave or cure the situation, the landlord can begin eviction proceedings. Most state courts have a simplified process for eviction proceedings so that landlords and tenants can handle it themselves. The landlord files a petition in court and attaches copies of the lease and any evidence against the tenant.

If the court rules for the landlord, the tenant will then have some time to leave on their own before the landlord can get local law enforcement to remove the tenant. Under no circumstance should the landlord remove the tenant by themselves. All such procedures must go through the court and local authorities.

You may be legally required to return some or all of your tenant's security deposit after evicting them. This will depend on whether you were allowed to make deductions based on damage or unpaid rents relating to the rental property. Most states require you to return the unused portion of the deposit within a set period.

For more information, see FindLaw's section on landlord-tenant law or check out the laws in your state.

A Landlord-Tenant Lawyer Can Help

If your tenant isn't taking the situation seriously, consider contacting a legal expert. You might want to have a lawyer send them a warning letter. If you need to escalate the situation further legally, consider hiring a landlord-tenant attorney. They can properly file the court papers required to complete the eviction appropriately.

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