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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, and 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?

First, make sure you have cause to terminate the tenant's lease.

Renting your property may be business to you, but it's your tenant's home, and you can't evict 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 does not pay rent, and does not have any good reason for withholding rent such as a warranty of habitability claim.
  • The tenant violates a provision in the lease, such as smoking in a non-smoking apartment.
  • The tenant violates some duty imposed by law. In general, the tenant has a responsibility not to destroy the apartment, to refrain from performing from any illegal activities, and not to interfere with other tenants' quiet enjoyment of the premises.

Next, give the tenant a chance to resolve the situation on her own.

Most states require landlords to notify tenants that they might get evicted if their behavior does not change. These 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 does not 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 does not move out on her own.

Some states have requirements regarding the format of these notices, or the method for the notice's delivery. 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.

Finally, begin eviction proceedings.

Assuming the tenant does not 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 himself -- all such procedures must go through the court.

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

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