No landlord wants to go through an eviction process. Forcing a tenant out from your property is painful for both you and your tenant. Apart from the eviction cost, your tenant probably owes you a ton in unpaid rent or has damaged the property. Also, evicting someone is time-consuming and takes its toll on you emotionally and mentally.
The last thing that you, as a landlord, need is even more grief. That is why it’s vital to avoid costly eviction mistakes. If you don’t abide by your state’s eviction laws, you could end up losing your case. Not only will you be unable to evict your renegade tenant from the rental unit, but they could also end up suing you. In any case, making mistakes when trying to evict someone is never going to end well.
This article examines the most common mistakes that landlords make during the eviction process. If you avoid these blunders, you can ensure the best possible outcome.
Laws on the Eviction Process
When faced with the prospect of having to evict someone from your property, it’s crucial to know what the law says. In most states, the law tends to favor tenants. Therefore, it’s up to landlords to do everything by the book and ensure they have good and lawful reason to start an eviction court case. After all, you don’t want to get the reputation of being a slumlord.
According to Cornell Law School, there are six types of rules that regulate evictions. These are civil law, state law, local law, federal law, court rules, and leases. For example, the Fair Housing Act is a federal law that states you can’t evict a tenant on the grounds of discrimination. State laws and court rulings affect how much time you have to give a tenant notice before taking eviction action.
A landlord’s biggest mistake is not knowing what local laws and civil laws say about renting units or removing delinquent tenants.
Seven Mistakes to Avoid During an Eviction Process
Let’s look at seven eviction mistakes that are common to nearly every jurisdiction in the U.S.
1. Self-help eviction
Self-help eviction is one of the biggest mistakes landlords can make. The use of self-help to evict someone is when a landlord attempts to remove someone without a court order. Usually, a self-help eviction involves forcing a tenant out by harassment, emotional pressure, or threatening behavior. Other illegal ways to compel tenants to get out include making their living conditions miserable.
Some illegal methods used to force unruly tenants out can include any of the following:
- Changing the front door locks so that tenants can’t access the property.
- Calling utility companies to cut off electricity, gas, water, and other utilities.
- Removing the tenant’s possessions from the property.
- Harassing or threatening the tenant verbally, emotionally, or physically.
Even though you may have grounds to evict a tenant who doesn’t pay the full rent amount or who has a lease violation, you have to go through the courts to remove them. This involves serving proper notice of eviction, making a court appearance, and getting a court order. Failure to do so could result in the tenant bringing criminal charges against you, even though you're the owner of the rental unit.
Making the mistake of carrying out a self-help eviction could see you in trouble with the law. For example, the Office of the Tenant Advocate in Washington D.C. advises tenants to call the police if landlords attempt a self-help eviction.
2. Not offering a cash-for-keys deal
Although not required, offering a “cash for keys” arrangement can be the best thing to get a tenant to vacate the property fast. If the tenant is having trouble paying the rent, a cash sum could be just what they need to move out quickly. The cash helps the tenant with their relocation costs and security deposit.
In many ways, cash for keys deals is a win-win situation for you and the tenant. You can avoid a lengthy and costly eviction process, and you get the property back. From the tenant’s point of view, they avoid having a formal eviction notice appear on their credit report. They will also find it easier to rent the next place. Eviction notices show up in tenant screenings—after all, what landlord wants to rent their property to someone with a record of eviction?
Related reading: Which is best—Cash for keys or eviction?
3. Verbal agreement on lease terms
Not having a written lease agreement is a costly mistake when it comes to evicting a tenant. The lease terms should clearly state all the essential details, including rent collection, late fees, and other specifics about living in the unit. Clauses in the contract should also address things such as pets, subletting, occupancy limits, and smoking.
Having a thorough, detailed lease is the sign of a good landlord. In case disputes or misunderstandings arise in the future, you have a reference point to resolve the problem. Many landlords who have verbal agreements can find it very difficult to evict rogue tenants.
4. Ignoring the importance of an eviction letter
Don’t make the mistake of failing to send an eviction letter—also called a Notice to Quit. Most states require that you serve fair notice in writing about your intentions to initiate an eviction process. There are three different types of notices you can serve before an eviction. These are:
- Pay Rent or Quit Notice: This is where you give the tenant a few days to pay the due rent, or vacate the unit.
- Cure or Quit Notice: If the tenant is in breach of the lease, they have to resolve the lease violation or get out.
- Unconditional Quit Notice: This type of notice is usually when the tenant is guilty of repeated lease violations or carrying out illegal activities from the apartment.
5. Not getting enough evidence to evict a tenant
Having insufficient evidence before starting the eviction process is a common eviction mistake that landlords make. Although the tenant may be in arrears with rent or breach of the lease conditions, you need to have documented evidence. It can be a disaster for landlords to go to court with weak evidence.
For example, if you are evicting someone because they haven’t paid rent, you should have bank statements to back up your claim. This is also a valid reason never to accept cash only payments from tenants, but to insist on a check or bank deposit. If the reason for eviction is due to property damage, you need pictures or video evidence.
Documented proof of lease violations before starting a legal eviction procedure should include the following:
- The signed lease agreement.
- A copy of the eviction letter—either the notice to cure or notice to quit.
- Documented evidence—bank statements, photography, video, or other proof.
- All communication between you and the tenant.
- Any records of complaints from neighbors.
- Any other related documentation pertaining to the tenant's behavior
6. Forgetting to put everything down in writing
Dealing with bad tenants is stressful and emotionally tiring, and it can be easy to make the mistake of forgetting to document communication. Of course, communicating with your tenant is crucial to resolve issues with the rental agreement. However, always follow up verbal communication with an email or text message. Doing so can help strengthen your claim in case of eviction.
It is also vital to keep all communication connected to the rental agreement in writing—even when you're dealing with good tenants. Here are a few examples:
- Mail a written notice if you need access to the property to carry out maintenance or schedule repairs.
- Send a written notice if the tenant violates the lease agreement.
- Keep copies of eviction letters or notices.
- Make a note of the conversations you had with the tenant when resolving problems. Write down the time, day, what was said, and how the conversation ended.
7. Accepting partial rent payments
It can be sad to see a good tenant going through a hard time financially. While landlords want to be sympathetic, it can be a mistake to accept partial rent payments. Of course, it’s your choice to take a partial payment or not. But there are two reasons why letting the tenants only pay part of their rent is a bad idea.
First, you could end up not being able to cover your costs and expenses. This can happen if the tenant gets into the habit of paying late or only paying part of the rent. Also, in multi-family properties, word could get around, and other tenants may expect the same treatment.
Second, in some states, you might not be able to evict the tenant quickly if they’ve been making partial payments.
In some cases, it’s a good idea to show some leniency. For example, good, long-term tenants could get into temporary difficulty. Maybe they lost their job, but they now have a new one. Or, someone could have had unexpected medical bills to pay. However, next month they will pay rent in full plus the balance for the missed month.
If you want to accept an occasional partial payment, how should you proceed? Put everything in writing. You should specify the due date, if you are waiving the late payment fee, and the consequences of not making the next payment.
Avoiding Mistakes When Evicting a Tenant
Starting an eviction process is always a last resort to get rid of bad tenants. Evictions are costly and time-consuming; however, they may be the only way to legally vacate the premises. To ensure the process is free of problems, successful landlords should avoid common eviction mistakes.