As a landlord, someday you’ll probably encounter a situation that will make you wonder: can I kick someone out of my rental property if they don’t pay rent?

When a tenant doesn’t pay, or is causing damage to the property, it’s natural to want to protect your income and investment. You might be tempted to strong-arm a tenant into vacating. However, self-help evictions are illegal in almost every state—whether you resort to intimidation or changing the locks and then physically moving a tenant’s belongings to the curb.

Self-help evictions will cost you more stress and legal fees than if you go through the proper channels.

You’re not alone

When a tenant doesn’t pay their monthly rent and refuses to leave, they’ve broken their contract.

You may feel personally insulted. Plus, without your monthly rental income, you may not be able to pay the mortgage. If a tenant is physically damaging your property, there will be repairs to address for days, weeks, and even months after they leave.

Thoughts run through your mind:

  • How could they?
  • Don’t they have a sense of what is right?
  • I feel taken advantage of.
  • I’m so mad!
  • I want them out now.

These are all legitimate feelings, and they may make you want to start the eviction process right away. But self-help evictions are never peaceful nor without consequence. Before you do anything, learn about the options.

Types of self-help evictions

There are two common ways of performing a self-help eviction:

  1. Lock out a tenant Here’s what you’d probably do: sneak over to the property while the tenant is at work, on vacation, or out to dinner, and change all the locks, so they can’t get into the property. This isn’t legal.
  2. Shut off essential utilities including electricity This method involves calling the electric, water, gas, or oil companies and canceling service to the property. This also isn’t legal.

Some landlords may try other self-help eviction methods that are also against the law:

  • Moving your tenant’s belongings out of the unit or placing them in the trash
  • Posting an official-looking threat letter to the tenant’s door
  • Threatening the tenant with violence or subtle suggestions of violence
  • Spreading rumors about the tenant
  • Refusing to make repairs that affect habitability or decrease services to appliances
  • Preventing your tenant from accessing amenities, such as bathrooms, parking, sheds, etc.

What if I pay for utilities?

Many landlords manage the utilities for their tenants. Having the utilities in your name is a great way to ensure the bills get paid and can prevent liens from being put on the property.

However, if a tenant refuses to pay their monthly rent, they’ll likely refuse to pay for utilities as well. If you’re wondering whether you can turn off your tenants’ electricity in response, the answer is no.

Even if the bills are in your name, it’s still illegal to shut off the “essential” utility services to the property while a tenant is living there.

That said, I don’t think a single judge in this country would convict a landlord for disconnecting the premium cable TV package. Not having cable TV or internet won’t make the unit uninhabitable, but you must maintain the essential utilities like water, electricity, and heat.

The bottom line

If you force your tenant to vacate without due process, you’ll likely end up being fined more than it would have cost you to go through a proper eviction.

It doesn’t matter if the tenant has disrespected you or your family, refused to paid rent, laughed in your face, and/or damaged your property.

There’s no valid reason to take the law into your own hands.

Going through the local court system and filing an unlawful detainer action is the only appropriate and respectful way to evict a tenant.