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What's a forcible detainer lawsuit?

Property owners who want to evict someone sometimes file a "forcible detainer" lawsuit instead of a special detainer, which is the term used for a standard eviction in Arizona.

A forcible detainer action essentially means that a tenant is occupying a property without the owner's permission after already having been notified with an order to vacate. For example, you might have a situation where you purchase a foreclosure property at auction only to find out that the previous owner is still occupying it -- even though he or she long ago received notice that his or her right to be there was over.

Just like a standard eviction, you have to follow certain rules in order to legally remove the occupant from the property. You should never attempt any sort of "self-help" measures to remove an occupant -- including things like putting the occupant's belongings on the curb or changing the locks when the occupant is away. Those kinds of actions are illegal and open you up to all sorts of problems.

Generally, the eviction and forcible detainer process works like this:

  • You have to give the property's occupant a five-day notice to vacate. Service of the notice should be documented so that you can prove to the court when it was given to the occupant.
  • If the occupant still refuses to quit the property, you can file a request for a court order.
  • The court will usually order the occupant to leave within a short period of time.
  • If the occupant fails to leave, the sheriff can forcibly remove him or her and give you possession of the property.

As much as you might regret having to force an occupant out of a home or other piece of property, you eventually may have no choice. The property is yours and you have to take the steps necessary to preserve your rights and your own financial stability. A real estate attorney can help you through the process with a minimum of stress and difficulty.

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