By Tracey March
No matter how carefully you screen credit reports and check references, the odds are that at some point you’ll get stuck with a deadbeat or nuisance tenant who needs to go. Unfortunately, evictions are never simple or fast. If you don’t currently have a professional property manager, there are some important things to consider before throwing your tenants’ furniture to the curb.
First things first. Don’t throw your tenants’ stuff to the curb unless — and until — you know that your local laws allow you to do so!
Failure to pay rent is one of the most common reasons for eviction and most states have detailed procedures that landlords must follow. Because state housing statutes often place the interests tenants ahead of landlords, it is critical to follow eviction procedures to the letter.
In most states, you must give tenants “Notice to Pay Rent or Vacate.” If the tenant fails to pay rent during a legally determined time period, then a landlord must file an “Unlawful Detainer” action. The tenant then has the option of fighting this action. But if the tenant doesn’t defend against this action or fails to appear, a default judgment is granted. If the tenant fights the action, a hearing is held to review both sides of the dispute.
So, when does the tenant move out? Not so fast. If a judgment is eventually granted against the tenant, and the tenant still refuses to move out, the court will issue a “writ of restitution” which the local sheriff will post to the tenant’s front door. If the tenant hasn’t moved out by the time specified in the writ (normally three days), the landlord is free to take possession of the rental and remove the tenant’s property. If it comes to this, local laws may require that this be done under the supervision of a sheriff. One more thing, some states also mandate that landlords store an evicted tenant’s property for a specified time.
Even if a tenant pays the rent on time, there could be another reason to attempt an eviction. The tenant may be causing a nuisance, damaging your property, violating the rights of the neighbors or the rules of your lease in some serious way. All of these reasons typically require a special notice with specific wording. As with eviction for failure to pay rent, landlords may end up having to go to court and get the sheriff involved.
Alternatives to Eviction
A cheaper and less time-consuming alternative to serving notices and taking tenants to court is to simply remind uncooperative tenants of their obligations under the lease agreement. A letter from an attorney, describing the problem and the landlord’s legal remedies, is often all the encouragement a tenant needs to get back into compliance.
Another alternative for property owners is to attempt to buy their way out of a bad relationship. Paying a tenant to leave is a tough pill to swallow, but many landlords find this solution to be the easiest and most effective. Often tenants who aren’t in compliance with the lease may not even want to live in your rental. They might remain, however, because they’re locked into the agreement and can’t afford to move. If you offer to let these tenants stay for, say, one month for free, or offer to cover moving expenses, a tenant might take you up on the offer. Make sure you get the agreement in writing. Also, require a walk-through before any money is exchanged.
If a tenant has lost a job, or their hours have been cut back, moving to a cheaper unit might also solve the problem. Most tenants would be relieved to hear that their landlord is willing to work with them to find alternatives.
What Not to Do
As frustrating as it is to have a tenant who doesn’t pay, or causes damages to property, your situation will likely get worse if you unlawfully take matters into your own hands via an action that could be deemed “retaliation.” You could easily find yourself being sued or even facing criminal charges. Some examples of unlawful retaliation are:
- Threatening or assaulting a tenant
- Changing the locks
- Turning off water, heat, or electricity
- Removing tenant property
The most important thing to remember when faced with having to evict a tenant is to keep cool and act in accordance with the law. It’s always a good idea — if not the best idea — to consult a real estate attorney, particularly if you don’t have a licensed property manager. But, there are also resources online at sites like nolo.com that can help as well.