Reasons You Can Evict a Tenant

Legal Grounds for Eviction

Stuff piled up on the curb outside an apartment building after the eviction of a tenant.

  PhotoAlto / Milena Boniek / Getty Images 

Being a landlord has its struggles. One such struggle is having to evict a tenant. Even though you own the property, you cannot evict a tenant for personal reasons, such as they didn't send you a birthday card or you don’t like the football team they root for.

Instead, you can only evict a tenant for lawful reasons that are spelled out in your state’s landlord-tenant law. Each state has slightly different regulations, so you should always check your local law to determine if these reasons apply in your area. Here are five of the more common reasons you can evict a tenant.

Illegal Use of Property

You can file to evict a tenant if they are using the property they have rented from you in an illegal manner. This includes using the property for legal business or for an illegal business.

The unit you have rented to the tenant is more than likely zoned solely for residential use, not for business or commercial use. If the tenant attempts to operate a business out of that unit, they are using the property illegally.

For example, a tenant who attempted to operate a hair or nail salon out of their unit would be violating their lease agreement, as well as local zoning ordinances. They are creating a liability for themselves and for you because the property is not zoned for business use and does not meet the proper health or safety codes for such. If a customer was injured, the customer would attempt to come after the tenant and after you, the landlord, for any damages.

If you can evict a tenant for attempting to operate a legitimate business out of a residential property, needless to say, you can evict a tenant for attempting to operate an illegal business. Tenants who attempt to distribute any type of narcotics, prescription drugs, or other illegal substances can be evicted from the property.

You must serve the tenant with a Notice to Quit, informing them that you will be filing for eviction because they have used the property in an illegal manner.

Health or Safety Violations

You may be able to evict a tenant if your property has a known health or safety violation that must be remedied. If the situation cannot be remedied while the tenant is residing on the premises, you can file to evict the tenant. An example of this type of health violation would be a property that has to be treated for serious lead paint hazards.

You must also provide the tenant with a Notice to Quit far in advance of the intended date of eviction. The time frame will vary by state. In the state of New Jersey, this notice must be given at least three months before you are able to file for eviction. Relocation assistance must often be provided to tenants who are being evicted under these circumstances and the eviction will not occur until the tenants have been relocated.

The Unit Is Being Taken Off the Market

If you are taking your property off the rental market for the foreseeable future, you can file to evict the current tenants. Each state will have different rules regarding the process for this type of eviction.

For example, in the state of California, this is known as the Ellis Act. Under this act, the owner must plan to retire the property from residential use for at least 10 years. They must notify tenants who are 62 years of age or older and tenants who are disabled one year in advance and must notify all other tenants at least 120 days in advance of withdrawing the property. The landlord must also file a Notice of Intent to Withdraw the property with the Rent Board and is responsible for paying each tenant a relocation amount which varies each year.

In the state of New Jersey, a landlord must notify all tenants of the intention to withdraw the property by providing them with a Notice to Quit at least 18 months in advance and cannot remove the property until all tenants’ leases have expired.

Owner Move-In

If you, the landlord, plan to move into a rental unit, you can file to evict the current tenant. In addition, if you currently live in the property, you can file to evict the current tenant if you have an immediate family member who plans to move into the unit.

Rules will vary by state. Some states require that you plan on living in the unit for at least three years. You often cannot evict a tenant for this reason if they have lived in the unit for more than 10 years or are disabled. You must wait until the end of the school year to evict a tenant with children.

If a tenant has lived in a unit for at least one year, you are often responsible for paying a tenant’s relocation costs. In addition, if you have a comparable vacant unit at the property or at any other property you own, you must offer it to the tenant at whatever the market rate is for that particular unit.

You must file a Notice to Quit for this type of eviction at least two months in advance. You must give more notice in many states.

Any Other Breaches to the Lease Agreement

When a tenant rents an apartment, they sign a lease agreement and agree to abide by the terms of this agreement. If they breach the terms of the lease they have signed, you can file for an eviction. Before filing for the eviction, you must first present them with a Notice to Quit. After filing, a judge will then determine if there are legitimate grounds for an eviction. Some common breaches to a lease agreement include:

  • Violating a pet policy: For example, you have a no pet policy and you discover that the tenant has a 100-pound dog living in the unit.
  • Unnamed tenants living in the unit: When a tenant signs a lease, the names of all parties living in the property should be on the lease agreement. If you discover there are additional people living in the unit who have not been named on the lease agreement, you can file for an eviction.
  • Refusal to pay legal rent increase: In most states, you can legally increase a tenant’s rent by a certain percentage each year. If the tenant refuses to consent to this legal rent increase, you can file for an eviction.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.