How to get rid of tenants — term lease

Those ‘model tenants’ you were sure would be easy on things have moved in — either a week ago or 4 years ago — and now you wish you want to get rid of them.  The reasons could vary.  You wish you had screened them better; or maybe you want the house back yourself; or maybe they lost their job and are either behind on rent or have started living ‘messy’.  How are you going to get them out?

If the tenants are on a term lease you have fewer options than if they are month-to-month.  If the lease will expire soon you can simply wait it out and not renew the lease. Explain to them that you have other plans for the house and are going in a different direction.  You do not have to get specific, and you do not have to have a reason to not renew.

But if the tenants just moved in and you have awhile before the lease expires then you are stuck with them (legally) for the term of the lease.  But it doesn’t mean all is lost.  There are still ways to get them out.

In such situations we will approach the tenant about moving.  By this time we have already made our dissatisfaction known — either verbally or with Notices.  We will tell the tenants that it just isn’t working out and we will offer them a deal.  We will allow them to break their lease AND receive their security deposit back IF: 1) they move by such-and-such date, and; 2) they leave the house clean.  Basically, we are cutting our losses.  It is a lot cheaper on both parties to end the relationship amicably than to take it to court.

We explain to the tenants it is just a bad deal for both of us.  We ask them do they really want us coming around inspecting all of the time.  (You can’t harass people just because they are bad tenants.  But you can legitimately protect your asset with inspections.)  We paint the picture of how renting from us there will always be tension, inspections, lack of trust, etc. and then we show them that by moving they can have all of this freedom and relaxation, trust, and appreciation.  We paint the picture(s) to talk them into moving.

If we are lucky, they will see the rainbow on the other side of the fence and will agree to move.  If they still refuse then we start issuing and collecting notices.  The 3-day Pay Rent or Vacate Notice and the 10-day Notice to Comply become our friends and we post one every opportunity we get.  When we have 3 collected in a 12-month period we are now armed and ready.  We will issue a 20-day Notice to Terminate after the 3rd one and begin the eviction process.

The reality is that we have very little experience with the next step because we have always been able to get the tenants to understand that we are serious about them moving, and they have always vacated before we had to issue that 3rd notice and/or the notice to terminate.  Tenants often need to know if you are serious about following up on things, or if you are going to forget or roll over on them and let them control the situation.  By staying on point with our intentions, it leaves no gray area for them and they quickly understand it would be easier to move on to a landlord who they have a better chance of taking advantage of.  (And there are a ton of them out there!)

One option that we have heard on numerous occasions but have never actually done is to offer to buy the tenants out.  By that I mean you offer to give them money– maybe a few hundred dollars — to move.  The key here is to make sure you give them the money after they move, not before!!

For the next article, we will look into getting rid of bad tenants who are on a month-to-month lease.  There are a few more options available there.  And after that I will get into how to post a notice — there is an art to it!

Peter Nelson is President of Full Service Property Management, a residential property management company in Seattle, WA.  He can be reached through their website at

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