Fact Checked

What is a Legal Eviction?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

In an eviction, a landlord forces his tenant to vacate the property. In many places, evictions are regulated by law, and a legal eviction is one in which the legal procedures set out by law are followed. In the United States, the United Kingdom and many other countries, only a judge can order a legal eviction, and in some cases, only a law enforcement officer can physically enforce the eviction by removing the tenant and his belongings from the premises.

The legal arrangement between a landlord and tenant is typically called a lease, and it is generally considered to be a binding contract between the parties. In exchange for the tenant's rent payments and agreement to care for the property and obey the landlord's reasonable rules, the landlord gives the use of the property over to the tenant for the duration of the lease. A landlord who wants a tenant to move out generally has few legal choices: He must either wait until the lease runs out, negotiate a voluntarily move-out with the tenant, or must prove in court that he has grounds to evict the tenant. Attempting to force the tenant out through what is known as a "constructive eviction," essentially making the rental unit unlivable so the tenant chooses to move, is considered in many places to be an illegal eviction.

A notice of eviction posted on a door.
A notice of eviction posted on a door.

Eviction rights are typically defined in law, which can vary considerably from place to place. Within the United States, for example, what constitutes a legal eviction is established by state, and sometimes local, law. Eviction law may require a landlord to give a tenant advance notice of his plans to evict the tenant before the landlord can file an eviction in court. The law may also require that a landlord have eviction papers served to a tenant by a sheriff or process server before a court hearing is held. If a landlord decides to take the law into his own hands and attempts to remove or lock-out a tenant without due process, a tenant might have the right to sue the landlord for wrongful eviction.

To ensure a legal eviction, landlords would do well to learn the pertinent laws in their jurisdiction and seek good legal advice. Landlords should also understand the difference between different types of evictions, as there can be significant legal variations between residential and commercial evictions. On the tenant's side, knowing the difference between a legal and illegal eviction can prevent bullying by an unscrupulous landlord. If a tenant knows the process for a legal eviction, the tenant may be able to better take control of the situation, perhaps by seeking eviction mediation and thus being able to avoid the legal consequences of having an eviction on his record.

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Discussion Comments


I had never heard the term "constructive eviction" until I watched one of those TV court shows. A landlord was suing a former tenant for destruction of property and other things. As it turned out, the landlord had done things to make the apartment hard to live in, like shutting off the water for days at a time and not repairing a broken toilet. The judge decided the landlord used illegal constructive eviction tactics to chase out the tenants. She said he should have followed legal eviction procedures at the first sign of trouble.


One important thing to keep in mind is that a legal eviction is not a speedy process. It can take several months before a troublesome tenant can be physically forced to leave the premises. By that time, he or she may do a lot of damage to the property in retaliation for the eviction notice. It's not like a landlord can post an eviction notice at the first of the month and expect a clean and abandoned apartment at the end of that month.

I've been on both sides of the eviction process, and it's never a fun period of time for either side. The landlord loses a lot of rental income, and the tenant loses a place to live and possibly the credit to rent property elsewhere. Nobody wants to see the day when a sheriff's deputy arrives to enforce a legal eviction.

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    • A notice of eviction posted on a door.
      By: bagraphix
      A notice of eviction posted on a door.