Tenant eviction is usually the last resort that most landlords try to avoid. Not only is it expensive, but evicting someone is also an exhausting process. Getting a bad tenant out of your property legally can take weeks or even months. During this time, you’re losing money on rent. You also face the prospect of a disgruntled tenant damaging your property unit. So, anything you can do to avoid evicting a tenant will ultimately benefit your rental business.
Of course, a renter who won’t or can’t pay rent needs evicting. But, what can you do to prevent that type of situation from developing? Is there anything you can do to avoid a tenant eviction?
How Landlords Can Avoid Evictions
Every situation is different, and, in some cases, it makes good sense to file for eviction—especially if there is a serious lease violation. But the way landlords handle many circumstances can help prevent things from escalating to a point where full eviction is inevitable. Screening tenants, negotiating late payments, or cash for keys deals are just some ways to avoid having to evict a tenant.
Read on to find out steps you can take to avoid a grueling eviction process.
1. Screen tenants
Screening prospective tenants is key to finding ones who pay rent on time and respect your property. Let’s face it—you’ll never have to evict a tenant who sticks to the terms of the lease agreement. Even so, circumstances can change. A tenant could lose their job or have unexpected bills to pay. But a renter with a good track record is more likely to be reasonable and honest if things go pear-shape.
For screening to be an effective way to find suitable tenants, you need to do it properly. So, you need to set criteria for what is acceptable and what’s not. For example, here are a few conditions when it comes to setting your standards:
- Personality: Look for tenants who are friendly, polite, and courteous.
- Income: Verify their proof of income to ensure a prospective tenant can comfortably afford the monthly full rental amount.
- Employment history: Find out what kind of employee the tenant is.
- Rental history: It’s essential to get two or three references from previous landlords. Stay clear of tenants who've previously had an eviction order served.
- Credit score: Getting their credit report can indicate as to how financially responsible they are.
- Criminal history: If your state permits criminal background checks, determine if they've had a run-in with the law.
When screening tenants, it’s important to remember that you can’t base decisions on any kind of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act says that it's illegal to use race, color, sex, religion, family status, national origin, or disability to reject a rental application.
2. Keep up with repairs
Of course, keeping a rental unit well-maintained is something all good landlords do. After all, this is your financial investment, and it’s worth protecting. But remember that well-kept homes and apartments attract the best tenants. Also, tenants are more likely to look after the property if you keep it in good repair.
There's another reason why maintaining your property can prevent evictions. Tenants can legally withhold rent payments if you fail to make essential repairs. Landlord-tenant law states that you have to keep the property “safe and habitable.” So, allowing a rental unit to deteriorate into a dingy, unkempt place is a lease violation.
3. Communicate early to prevent misunderstandings
Open communication is an essential key to preventing starting a legal eviction procedure. As soon as a tenant makes a late payment, reach out and ask them why. Maybe something has changed in their life. Or it could be something as simple as a bank payment error that they weren’t aware of.
Of course, your first step shouldn’t be to wave the lease agreement around and threaten them with a full eviction case. You should be professional and firm, but also kind and understanding. If the tenant missed a payment, put down in writing when the payment is due and whether you decide to waive late fees or not.
Nevertheless, much depends on the relationship you have with the tenant. If your tenant has a reputation for being honest and trustworthy, you can be lenient. But if you suspect that the missed payment is the first of many, it may be better to take a firmer approach.
4. Negotiate a payment plan to avoid eviction
Another way to avoid having to evict someone is to offer a payment plan or split payments. This option is not suitable for every type of tenant. But assuming that you have a long-term, trusted tenant, you could offer a plan for them to make up the rent shortfall.
As with any financial arrangement—put it in writing. Make sure and specify the amount to pay, when the due dates are, and any late fee payments due. Generally, only reserve the payment plan option for your best and most reliable tenants.
5. Offer a Cash-for-Keys deal to prevent evicting the tenant
Do you want your tenant out quickly without starting a painful eviction process? Offer them a few hundred bucks to get out. A cash for keys arrangement can be a fantastic incentive for your tenant to vacate the property. If the tenant is hard up, they’ll probably jump at the chance to get extra money.
Now, you might be thinking: “Why should I pay a tenant to get them to move out?” The answer is simple—it’s cheaper than an eviction lawsuit or having a renter-turned-squatter living there.
Related reading: Which is Best—Cash for Keys or Eviction?
6. Report late payments to credit bureaus
Another incentive to get your problem tenant to pay up is to report late payments to credit bureaus. Your tenant knows they need a good credit score if they apply for a loan, a new credit card, or a job. Just one late payment on a credit report is like a lead weight—it can drag their credit score down to the “poor” category.
By law, it's not an obligation to report delinquent tenants. But, if you decide to inform credit agencies about late payments, there are a few things to remember. Here are a few of your responsibilities:
- You must inform the credit agency once they have paid the debt.
- You have to inform the tenant about the negative report within 30 days of submitting a report.
- You should only report accurate information; otherwise, the tenant could sue you for submitting false facts.
7. Serve a “Notice to Pay or Quit”
One of the last resorts to avoid taking a bad tenant to court is to serve a written "Notice to Pay or Quit." This notification gives them fair notice and is an official document that formally tells the non-paying tenant that they must come up with the rent or move out of the property. The “Pay or Quit Notice” specifies the amount required and the due date.
Very often, these notices help focus the renter’s mind on what’s current. Now, they might have to get inventive to get the rent payment. But you also have your cash-flow situation to consider. In most cases, the Notice to Pay or Quit is a great wakeup call that usually results in prompt payment.
Serving a “Pay or Quit Notice” is also crucial if you end up having to evict them. In most states, these notices are part of the legal eviction lawsuit.
To learn how to evict a tenant, please see this article on how to handle evictions successfully.
Avoiding a Tenant Eviction — What Not to Do
It’s vital to remember that you can’t take the law into your own hands to avoid evictions. As the rental property owner, you have to follow all the necessary legal steps. You also have to have a valid reason to serve a formal eviction notice before taking the case to the county court.
Usually, courts can favor tenants—after all, no one wants to see a family put out on the street. As a result, landlords must follow state regulations when getting a tenant out of a rental property.
Carrying out a self-help eviction is not the way to avoid going to court. In most states, self-help evictions are illegal—even if your tenant is in serious breach of the rental agreement. What are some of the things to avoid if you’ve got a renegade tenant? Here are a few no-nos when it comes to evictions:
- Changing the locks to prevent the tenant from entering the property.
- Using forcible entry to gain access to the property.
- Dumping the tenant’s possessions on the curb or in the garbage.
- Harassing the tenant or their family. Harassment includes turning up at their work, making threatening phone calls, or physically abusing them.
- Arranging to switch off utilities to try and force them out.
How to Prevent Evicting Tenants
The adage “Start as you mean to go on” is a great way to avoid evicting tenants. So, when signing the rental agreement, arrange for automated rent payments as a direct deposit from your tenant’s bank account. Also, include unambiguous information about late fees and penalties.
You could also offer incentives for tenants to pay their rent on time. For example, why not offer a discount on rent when they’re on vacation? It’s also a good idea never to increase the rent when it’s time for the lease renewal. Even giving a gift card can make sure you keep good tenants, and they pay on time.
Avoiding Tenant Evictions: A Takeaway
It is usually possible to prevent serving an eviction order on tenants. Screening tenants is essential to ensure you have responsible folks living in your rental unit. If problems with late payments or other lease violations arise, communicate in a timely and kind, yet firm manner. This approach often prevents situations from getting out of hand that can result in formal evictions.