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What is a lease violation?

A lease violation is any action that breaks one of the terms of a Lease Agreement. Since a lease is a contract, a lease violation is legally a breach of contract.

A lease violation can occur when the tenant does something that the Lease Agreement specifically forbids. For example, if the Lease Agreement states that pets over a certain weight or size are not permitted, a tenant may be violating the terms if they welcome a large dog into their space. A lease violation can also occur when the tenant fails to take action required by the Lease Agreement. For example, failing to mow the lawn when asked to do so while renting a single-family home, or neglecting to pay rent are common lease violations.

If a tenant commits a minor violation, it may not be in your best interest to immediately file an eviction lawsuit. The eviction process is often expensive, and the tenant may otherwise be a good fit. Instead, you may want to send notice of the lease violation and give the tenant a chance to make things right. In some places, landlord-tenant laws even require you to give a warning for many minor or first-time violations before you can file for eviction.

What can you do if your tenant breaks the law in your rental unit?

If your tenant breaks the law in your rental unit, generally your first step is to either tell them, in writing, to stop, or contact the local authorities depending on the severity of the conduct. This can help document the issue and can reduce the chance of a repeat offense. In the case of a very serious crime, your tenant may be taken into custody.

Even if the tenant may have committed a crime, you don't have an automatic right to evict. Generally speaking, you may only end a tenancy if a tenant breaks a specific rule in the lease or if you have terms covering criminal convictions.

If you determine that the tenant violated the Lease Agreement, you can begin the eviction process to remove the tenant. Be sure to follow local or state laws around eviction to avoid costly legal liability. If you engage in self-help, such as locking a tenant out before receiving an eviction order from the court, your tenant may be able to sue you or have you criminally charged with a wrongful eviction.

What other types of lease violations require a stronger stance?

There are several other types of lease violations that may make you want to immediately begin eviction proceedings or at least give a very strong warning. These include:

  • Not paying rent.
  • A large, disruptive gathering that creates disturbances for neighbors.
  • Violent behavior.
  • Aggressive pets.
  • Severe property damage.

These types of violations can harm your finances, risk damage to your property, or leave you open to potential legal liability. The kind of legal liability you may face includes a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your rental property, lawsuits by neighbors saying your tenant is creating a nuisance, or government fines for code violations.

If you don't have a lease, you can still evict for certain serious issues.

How do I evict a tenant for a serious lease violation?

If you want to evict a tenant for a serious violation, consider whether you want to give them a chance to fix the issue first. Use your best judgment and stay aware of local laws. For example, in some areas, you aren't permitted to file for eviction the first time a tenant misses rent by the due date. If you don't want to give the tenant a chance to fix the issue, you may have to adhere to requirements under your local laws, such as refusing to accept additional rent payments.

When the tenant commits a serious violation or fails to correct violations after being warned, it may be time to consider sending an Eviction Notice. Most states require a certain number of days' notice before a tenant can be evicted. The number of days' notice required may vary depending on the lease violation. Typically, the notice specifies how the tenant may fix the issue or explains that the tenant may be required to move out by a certain date. An Eviction Process Worksheet can help guide you through the process, which needs to be followed carefully if you want it to hold up in court. Even the process of serving the Eviction Notice itself requires your full attention.

You generally don't have the right to lock the tenant out after the notice period ends. Rather, you only gain the right to take the next steps, such as beginning legal action in court. The exact process for when to give notice, when to file a lawsuit, and when to serve a lawsuit varies by state, county, or city. While it may be best to take each step as quickly as allowed by law to reduce potential liability and cost, be wary of costly eviction mistakes.

To learn more about the eviction process or to ask a lawyer about the specific eviction process where your rental property is located, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice. 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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