A landlord who wants to evict a tenant in Delaware must win an eviction lawsuit (also called an action for summary possession) against the tenant in court. The landlord must follow very specific rules and procedures during the entire eviction process; otherwise, the eviction might not be valid. This article will explain the basic rules and procedures landlords and property managers must follow when evicting tenants in Delaware.
To evict a tenant, a landlord must have legal cause. Legal cause provides the basis for the lawsuit, and it has been defined by Delaware law as failure to pay rent, violation of the lease or rental agreement, irreparable harm to another person or the rental property, or violation of the law. To evict the tenant for one of these reasons, the landlord must first terminate the rental agreement. This is done by giving the tenant written notice.
If a landlord does not have legal cause to evict a tenant but wants the tenant to move out anyway, the landlord has to wait until the lease or rental agreement has expired. In some cases, the landlord might still need to give the tenant written notice to move.
A landlord who wants a tenant with a month-to-month tenancy to move, but does not have legal cause to evict the tenant, can give the tenant a written 60-day notice to move. The 60 days will begin on the first day of the month following the notice. For example, if the landlord gives the tenant notice on March 15, the 60-day time period will begin starting April 1. This notice must inform the tenant that the landlord is terminating the month-to-month tenancy and that the tenant must move out of the rental unit by the end of the 60-day time period. If the tenant does not move out in time, then the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Del. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 25 § 5106). Delaware Notice Requirements to Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy has more information on this subject.
A landlord who wants a tenant with a fixed-term lease (that is, a lease with a specific end date) to move, but does not have legal cause to evict the tenant, must wait until the lease has ended before expecting the tenant to move. The landlord is not required to give the tenant written notice to move unless the terms of the lease specifically require the landlord to do so. If the tenant does not move out of the rental unit by the end of the lease term, then the landlord should stop accepting rent from the tenant and begin the eviction process.
A tenant can always choose to fight an eviction, even if a landlord has a valid legal cause to evict the tenant. The tenant could also have a valid legal defense against the eviction, such as the landlord discriminating or retaliating against the tenant. The tenant's decision to fight the eviction could lead to increased legal costs for both the landlord and the tenant and could allow the tenant more time to remain living in the rental unit. Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Delaware has more information.
A landlord can only remove a tenant from a rental unit after the landlord has won an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. Even then, the landlord is not the one who will actually evict the tenant; that will be done by a law enforcement officer with a court order. Delaware law has made it illegal for the landlord to do anything, other than file a legal eviction lawsuit, that forces the tenant to move out of the rental unit, and the tenant can sue the landlord for trying. Illegal Eviction Procedures in Delaware has more information on this topic.
After the eviction, the landlord might find that the tenant has left behind personal property at the rental unit. The landlord must store the personal property for seven days after the date of the eviction. If the tenant does not claim the property during those seven days, then the landlord can consider the property abandoned and dispose of it (see Del. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 25 § 5715). Handling a Tenant's Abandoned Property in Delaware has more information for landlords who find themselves in this situation.
Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by Delaware law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. Although these rules and procedures may seem burdensome to the landlord, they are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, and the end result is serious: the tenant has lost a place to live. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home.