How to Terminate a Lease When You No Longer Want the Tenant


Your tenant pays their rent on time but you field five complaints a month about the parties being thrown in the unit. Or, you believe your tenant (again who pays their rent on time) is allowing dumping in the back of the unit. Now the Health Department is sending letters demanding clean-up. Or the neighbor is reporting a ferocious dog is staying at the property and no dog is approved. As a landlord, you are faced with a decision about the tenant who pays their rent, but is causing other problems. In fact, you may have already decided you just want to terminate the lease and force them to move out.
Can you do that?

Proving Your Right To Terminate The Lease

Simplified (since this is not a legal paper) there are three general ways to terminate a lease. Typically you should be prepared to go to court and support your reasoning.

  1. Your tenant is not paying their rent. This is easy to prove if you keep good records.
  2. Your tenant violates a provision of their lease. You have issued a lease violation notice and can prove the violation. This might include an unauthorized pet or not maintaining the yard. Be sure and document your proof.
  3. Your tenant is violating the law in your rental. This is the purpose of our lease’s crime free addendum. This addendum makes it clear that committing illegal activities is also a lease violation subject to termination.

What if the problem is an accumulation of issues? You really would prefer not to go to a court and have to provide the level of proof required to achieve an eviction?

Is there an alternative path to follow to achieve your goal to terminate the lease?

How to Terminate the Lease and Get Your Tenant to Move. Without an Attorney.

The easiest solution is to terminate the lease and prepare for an eviction if your tenant does not voluntarily vacate. You prefer to avoid legal action. Lease termination cases that do not involve unpaid rent are a gamble. What if the Judge only issues an order that the tenant is to not disturb the peace after 11pm or remove the dog from the premises or simply clean up the yard. Cases like this may perturb the Judge. Your Honor may see it as a dispute that could be settled outside the court room.

That should be your goal also. No matter how much you really want the paying tenant to leave, a different strategy than legal action needs to be attempted.

Issue a Warning

All of the previous examples should constitute violations of a well written lease. So lets start with the concept that your lease is well written. Start by citing your tenant for a lease violation.

One of the problems with the situations above is you have to take the time to prove your tenant is actually violating the lease. This may take some detective work. Time that you may not have. Do you really want to get up at 2AM and go check out your rental?

Let the tenant know of your concern in writing. Remind them of the clause in their lease that states the activity is a lease violation. Don’t make accusations but be prepared to follow-up by doing the appropriate detective work.

Just Because You Cite the Tenant With a Violation Don’t Expect the Activity To Change

A lease violation charge may be the best way to start to resolve the problem. If your assess a monetary penalty for a lease violation, you need to have completed your detective work.

Ask a neighbor to send you images of parties with time stamps. Find evidence of a dog in the yard. Monitor the use of the property as a dump. At this point, the lease violation citation can be utilized. Be sure to state a time frame for correction. Identify the penalty being assessed for the violation.

Plan what you are going to do when there is pushback.

Alternatives To Forcefully Trying To Remove Your Tenant

The best alternative to legal action is to negotiate an agreement with the tenant to vacate. This agreement can take a few different forms. The preferred option is to simply tell the tenant that you have witnessed a nuisance and they are in violation of their lease. If they agree to vacate, no legal action will occur that will become a part of their rental history.

Or you can just post on their door you are terminating the lease. Cite the violations. Hope they leave on their own. They might. And they might not.

What if proving the complaints is a challenge? You know that you do not wish to enter into the legal system to terminate the lease. An enhanced offer may be needed.

One option might be to obtain an agreement to vacate and offer a small moving stipend that is less than the cost of eviction. This approach has been very effective during my career. It may surprise you how little it costs you to get the tenant to move on.

Don’t let on that you really do not want to go to court over the lease violation. The tenant needs to believe you will. Of course, you might and still can if an agreement can’t be reached.

Responsible Landlords Enforce Leases and Find Solutions

Don’t assume you are stuck with the tenant from hell. Leases offer a number of options for terminating them. The landlord has several other weapons to utilize to make tenant behavior modifications or remove the problem.

Be proactive before something much more damaging occurs.

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