Can a Landlord Ask a Tenant to Leave Before Their Lease Ends?

I have had some real pieces of work in my places.  Some were just plain whacko, and I missed the warning signs early on.  Others showed their insanity over time and I had to deal with increasing levels of frustration.  So, as a landlord, can you ask a tenant to leave before their lease is up?  The answer is absolutely, and if you plan it right you don’t have to get into messy legal proceedings.

I recently had a problem tenant.  She was whiny, bitchy, and just generally a pain the butt.  Her neighbors hated her, and she was rude to me and my property managers.  After a shouting match on a phone call, it was time for her to go.  But I don’t want to go through eviction, and putting people on the street with little notice really isn’t my game.  Plus, she’s still living in my house.  What condition would I find the house if I tried to toss her out?  So here’s how I like to approach it.

Start With a Good Lease

This sounds elementary – and that’s because it is.  Make sure you protect yourself with a good ‘out’ clause.  Here’s what mine looks like:

‘Landlord may terminate this agreement at any time by giving the Tenant 30 days written notice’

Obviously your state may have other requirements, and you should get a good lease boilerplate from a local real estate attorney.  Also make sure you put in a clause about escalation (or raising the rent) this will come in handy for the really difficult tenants.

Try The Nice Guy Approach

Don’t tell a loony tenant you want them gone.  That’s inviting trouble.  Try the indirect approach; tell them you think they would be happier elsewhere.  Point out the flaws in your rental.  Tell them (without naming names) that you have had some complaints.  Let them know gently that the arrangement isn’t working out.  If there are vacancies in your neighborhood, gently point them in that direction.

The Little White Lie

If you’re really afraid of confrontation you can tell them you simply need your place back.  Sick relatives, family tragedy, and financial distress are all perfectly valid excuses for needing your rental available.  This can aim their venom at a mythical third party and avoid nasty fights.  The problem with this is that you can’t really have showings while the tenant is still occupying and might delay finding a new tenant.

Raise the Rent

I’ve noticed that the weird, crazy, and problem tenants are extremely price sensitive.  Tell them you have to raise the rent, as you have every right to in your lease, and most will move out on their own.  If they press you for details tell them your taxes have gone up dramatically (which is probably true these days!).  In the current market, this is easy to do; you can raise the rent and get a new – hopefully nice – tenant in a short amount of time.

Just Be Direct and Firm

Usually the best policy, for reasonable people, is to just tell them the truth.  Tell them you are tired of the weird hours, strange noises, smells, rudeness or whatever.  Remind them of all their complaints about your place.  And then remind them of the damage deposit, and how they will need it to help them with moving expenses.  Remind them that a damaged, dirty apartment will take away from their damage deposit.  Tell them firmly its best for everyone if they simply move out as soon as they find a new place.

I took this last approach with my problem tenant.  She made a big stink at first, claiming financial hardship and lack of vacancy in the neighborhood.  I told her she could have 60 days.  When she bitched more, I told her she could have 90 days.  She agreed and 5 days later found a place that suited her.  I gave her a good referral, promised her deposit would come faster than the stipulated 30 days after move-out, and everyone is happy.  It only took me two hours to find a new tenant (who happens to sane, happy, and ecstatic to be moving into my place).  I’ll keep you posted on whether or not he is crazy….

About Kriss - Co Founder

Kriss is co-founder of Real Estate Genius Network and has been investing in real estate for 7 years. He now holds $1.43 million worth of real estate and looks forward to adding more.
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