Unlawful Detainer (Unlawful Eviction)

The process of evicting a tenant requires a legal proceeding usually referred to as unlawful detainer, summary possession, summary dispossess, forcible detainer, ejectment, and repossession, among other terms. Unlawful detainer occurs when a tenant, in possession of an apartment or leased property, refuses to leave the premises upon the expiration or termination of the lease. The termination of the lease can occur prior to the expiration of the lease term for reasons such as nonpayment of rent or any other default for which the landlord can seek to regain possession.

Under "common law" a landlord was permitted to remove a tenant by force , however, in the United States a landlord is required to file an action in court. An action to remove a tenant from a leased premises is commonly referred to as an unlawful detainer action. To protect a tenant's rights under the Fifth Amendment a landlord must follow the guidelines dictated by state and local laws. Failure to do so can result in the action being dismissed or legal penalties being imposed against the landlord.

Only a sheriff can physically evict a tenant. Even then, the sheriff can only act to evict the tenant after a court has issued an order to do so.