If a tenant falls behind on the rent, or does other things the landlord does not like, it may reach the point that the landlord wants the tenant out of the property. In Delaware, evicting a tenant is called obtaining summary possession. There is a process that landlords must follow, or they may not regain possession of the property from the tenant.
The first rule of summary possession is that a property owner should not file unless 1) he or she wants possession or 2) he or she wants possession and is owed money. An action for back rent or other debt is a different legal process.
Unpaid rent gives the landlord the right to evict the tenant under Delaware law, if the landlord wishes to do so. This applies to commercial as well as residential tenants. Other permissible reasons for landlords to seek summary possession include:
- The tenant remained in all or part of the property after the lease expired, without the landlord’s permission
- The tenant used the premises in a way that violated their lawful obligations
- The tenant refused to give possession of the unit after fire or other damage, to give the landlord the chance to make necessary repairs.
Before filing for possession with the court, the landlord must notify the tenant, in writing, that the rental agreement is being terminated, or will be terminated if the tenant does not take corrective action. The tenant must receive a certain amount of notice, depending on the issue in dispute. For example, a tenant of a residential unit must get at least five working days from receipt of the notice to make good on the rent.
If the deadline passes and the issue is not resolved, the landlord may then file with the nearest Justice of the Peace Court. This involves filling out several forms. Upon receiving these papers, the court will schedule a trial date. This could be in several weeks, unless there is substantial evidence that the tenant is damaging the property.
The hearing is the landlord’s opportunity to show the judge why he or she should grant summary possession and evict the tenant.