The eviction process is determined by state law; that is, the exact steps in the process, and how long they take, is determined by each individual state. Therefore, it is vital, whether you are a landlord evicting someone or a tenant facing eviction, to check out the law of your state to see what the rules are.
That said, there are general guidelines and common time frames to bear in mind. The usual process is 4 – 8 weeks, from start to finish, including all the different steps.
The first step for many—but not all—lease violations or grounds for eviction is providing the tenant a notice (often called a “notice to quit”) which tells the tenant to cease doing what they are doing or else leave. If this notice is required, it’s usually a 3-, 5-, or 7-day notice (depending on the state) and is often called a “3-day notice,” etc. Note, however, that in some states, no initial notice is required for certain grounds for eviction; for example, if the reason for eviction is non-payment of rent, it’s often the case that no separate notice is required. (The assumption is that the lease itself lets the tenant know about this obligation.)
Either after the notice period (if one was required), or immediately upon seeking eviction (if notice was not required), the landlord files for eviction with the court and also serves a summons and complaint—the paperwork that begins a legal action—on the tenant. (Remember: eviction of a residential tenant must be through the courts.) A court date will be issued, for the landlord and tenant to show up and tell their stories; usually, this date will be 2 – 4 weeks after filing, though this varies not just state by state, but also by county or district depending on how crowded the court’s “calendar” is.
On the trial date, if either the landlord wins (which usually happens, especially for non-rent-payment eviction, so long as the tenant doesn’t come up with the money) or the tenant didn’t show (in which case the landlord wins by default), the landlord will get a judgment in his or her favor. This is often called a judgment of possession, and it is a court order that the landlord, not the tenant, has the right to “possess” the premises.
However, the judgment is not the last step. Once the judgment is issued, the tenant then has another period of time—typically 2 weeks, though again, this varies by state—to leave. If the tenant has not left by the end of that period, the landlord goes back to court, armed with his or her judgment, and gets something called a warrant or writ for (or of) removal. This will be a court order directing some law enforcement agency—usually the sheriff—to remove the tenant from the premises and lock him or her out.
Eviction is not necessarily difficult, but it is “technical”—if the steps are not done correctly, eviction will fail. If it does, the landlord can generally try again, but the tenant at least gains time. Certain serious irregularities or improprieties could even give the tenant a cause of action against the landlord. Therefore, if you’re a landlord, an attorney’s assistance will help make sure you get it right the first time; and if you’re a tenant, an attorney can often help buy you time, negotiate with the landlord, and/or make sure all your rights are respected.