How do I evict a tenant?

The eviction of a tenant is one of the most common legal proceedings. The attorneys at the Paul Law Firm understand that your priority as a landlord is to reclaim and relet the premises as quickly as possible. Here are the five steps in evicting a tenant:

The first step in evicting a tenant is giving notice. Typically, the required amount of notice is specified in the agreement (lease) between the landlord and the tenant. If the tenant is month-to-month, the landlord must give at least one full month’s notice. Usually, the notice is mailed to the tenant and posted on the premises.

The second step in evicting a tenant is filing suit. In Missouri, we have found that the most effective cause of action for removing a tenant is unlawful detainer. Notably, unlawful detainer may be used against tenants who have defaulted in a landlord-tenant relationship as well as purchasers who have defaulted on a contract for deed.

The third step in evicting a tenant is serving the tenant. Once suit is filed, the court will issue summons. Usually, a process server serves the tenant. If the landlord is unable to personally serve the tenant, the landlord may post summons on the premises. However, if the landlord obtains a judgment on the basis of posted summons, he or she is only entitled to possession of the premises (no damages).

The fourth step in evicting a tenant is obtaining a judgment. Missouri allows for a trial to be held on the return date (the return date is the first appearance in court and is listed on the summons). Whether a trial is actually held on the return date depends on the judge. Currently, Newton County and Jasper County hold trials on the return date, while McDonald County does not hold a trial on the return date. If a trial is not held on the return date, a trial will be scheduled at that time. There are three possible outcomes to the return date / trial:

(1) If the landlord has service on the tenant and the tenant does not appear at court, the landlord may collect a default judgment.

(2) If the landlord has service on the tenant and the tenant does appear at court, the landlord and tenant may agree to a consent judgment. Why would a tenant agree to a consent judgment? Usually, the landlord will agree to release the tenant from any claim for damages in exchange for the tenant’s immediate surrender of the premises. In other words, the landlord’s priority is to relet the premises as quickly as possible, and the landlord probably has little chance of actually collecting a judgment against the tenant, so the landlord will waive his or her claim for damages against the tenant in exchange for a quicker return of the premises.

(3) If the landlord has service on the tenant and the tenant does appear at court, the tenant may contest the judgment and demand a trial. In this case, the landlord must prove that the tenant is in default and he or she is entitled to a return of the premises. Usually, the landlord will introduce the following as exhibits: the agreement (lease) between the landlord and tenant, the notice of default, and the landlord’s ledger evidencing the tenant’s default. If there are damages to the premises, the landlord may also introduce photos of the premises and/or receipts for repairs.

The fifth step in evicting a tenant is executing the judgment. In this situation, the landlord has obtained a judgment, but the tenant continues to remain on the premises. The landlord must obtain a writ of possession in order to remove the tenant. The writ of possession may be obtained at the same time the judgment is obtained. The writ must be served on the tenant by the sheriff, who will see to the physical removal of the tenant from the premises.

If you have additional questions about landlord tenant law, call or come visit the attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!

Check out the Missouri Attorney General’s “Missouri Landlord-Tenant Law.”