Dealing with evictions is one of the most challenging aspects of being a landlord. Despite a thorough screening process, even the most successful landlords have to deal with bad tenants. Managing the eviction process is key to keeping your rental business thriving and avoid unnecessary legal battles.
Of course, evicting someone from your property is never easy. The chances are that the renter has got into financial hardship or is dealing with a life-changing event. Now, when they are threatened with eviction, they have even more stress to deal with. They have to find a new place to live or face the possibility of becoming homeless.
Even though eviction is harsh, it’s often necessary to protect your business or property. Let’s face it—if the tenant isn’t paying rent, you are losing money. Worse still, if they are trashing the place, you’ll have a mountain of repair bills to pay for after you get them out. When you still have to make mortgage payments, you can’t afford to lose money on your real estate investment.
In this guide, you will learn what successful property owners do when they have to end a lease agreement early. You will also find out how to ensure that any eviction proceedings go as smoothly as possible.
1. Know If You Can Evict a Tenant
The first step before you start any legal proceedings is to know if you can evict your tenants. Each state has its own laws when it comes to the eviction process. But usually, the reason for eviction is due to the renter breaking the lease agreement. Some of the most common reasons are:
- Missed payments or not making any rent payments at all
- Causing major damage to the property
- Violating the lease—for example, keeping pets, subletting, high occupancy, or illegal use
- Making excessive noise
It’s important to remember that, in most cases, you still have to give tenants time to resolve any issue. For example, say the problem is that they’re blasting music during the night and the neighbors complain. You should issue them with a written warning and give them time to correct the problem. If you fail to do that, you could lose any eviction case, and you might end up with a reputation as a slumlord—something no successful landlord can afford.
So, it’s a good idea to read up on the landlord-tenant law and the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA). You also need to remember that under the Fair Housing Act, you can’t evict person based on discrimination of any of the following classes:
- National origin
- Family status
2. Communicate with Your Tenants
If you feel you have grounds to evict a tenant, the best option is to try and reason with them first. You could speak to your tenant about the situation. In some cases, coming up with a payment plan can help avoid evictions. Generally, the best approach is to keep an understanding but stern attitude. However, the goal should be to make it clear that the issue must be resolved, or the tenant should vacate the property.
As a general rule, document all communication with your tenants. So, if it was an informal chat, make a note of the date, where you met, and what you discussed. If you send any documents to your tenant, always keep copies for your records. In case you have to go to court, the more documentation you have, the better.
3. Formal Notice to Evict
So, if the friendly chat hasn’t worked and you still haven’t received rent, or they continue to break the lease, it’s time for formal action. Most states require that you serve a notice to cure or quit— the tenants should resolve the problem, or they move out.
There are three types of notices to terminate the rental agreement:
- Pay or Quit:You issue a notice, giving the tenant a specified date to pay the rent or move out of the property.
- Cure or Quit:This type of formal notice allows the tenant some time to correct the violation. For example, if you have a no-pets clause in the agreement, you could allow the tenant reasonable time to rehouse the animal.
- Unconditional Quit: If the tenant is in serious violation of the lease agreement, you can serve them with an eviction notice. This type of notice doesn’t allow the tenant time to pay rent or resolve the issue. These notices are only served due to repeated violations, damaging the property, or if the person has engaged in illegal activity in the property.
How to serve the eviction notice
The formal eviction notice should clearly state the reason for eviction, a deadline, and the amount they owe. Depending on the state landlord-tenant laws, you may have to give the tenant a certain number of days warning.
You also have to have proof that the tenant has received the eviction notice. You should send the document via the US Postal Service (USPS) as “Certified Mail / Return Receipt Requested.” Also, tape a copy of the notice to the front door and take a picture of it. This action helps to prove in a court that you have fulfilled your legal side of the eviction proceedings.
Hopefully, the tenant will sort out their issues—they come up with the rent or resolve the lease violation. Unfortunately, even if they sort out the matter, your relationship with the tenant will probably be soured. This is one good reason why you shouldn’t rent to friends.
But what if the renter doesn’t vacate the property by the specified date on the eviction? What if you’ve offered a payment plan and they still skipped payments? It’s important to remember that the eviction notice doesn’t give you the power to evict the tenant. So, it’s now time to go to the courts.
4. File the Eviction with the Courts
To file your eviction, you should head over to your local courthouse. There, you will have to show proof that you have given the tenant the appropriate notice. The clerk will schedule the hearing and send a summons to the tenant.
Before the hearing, you will need to gather all relevant documents to show you have cause for eviction. The evidence could be bank statements, returned checks, and all communication—email, phone records, and letters—between you and the tenant.
Remember that having as much documentation as you can gather will only make your case stronger. It is always worthwhile to get legal advice on the eviction to ensure you have a basis to start eviction proceedings.
If you win the case, the tenant will have a set amount of time to vacate the property. Depending on state regulations, they could have between 2 and 7 days to get out. If they still refuse to leave, you can contact the Sheriff’s department to remove them and their possessions physically from the premises.
When you get back into your property, check for any damage, and take photos. You can still sue the previous tenant for past-due rent, fees, and property damage. If the judge rules in your favor, you will be able to garnish your former tenant’s wages or tax refund.
Wage garnishment takes money directly from the person’s payroll and deposits it in your bank account. This way, you can continue to run a successful rental business as you recover all costs incurred with the eviction notice.
Avoid Common Eviction Mistakes
It’s crucial to avoid common mistakes when dealing with eviction if you want to be a successful landlord. Evicting a troublesome tenant is frustrating for any landlord. You have to pay court fees to file your case, the eviction process can be long and drawn out, and the tenant can turn nasty.
Tenants have rights while during the eviction proceedings. Even if they’re not making rent payments or have trashed the place, you can’t force entry or harass them. As a responsible landlord, you must stick to the law—otherwise, the court can rule against you.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid if you have to evict a rogue tenant:
- Self-help eviction—You can’t attempt to evict the tenant yourself. So, you can’t hire some “muscle” to try and get the person out of the property. You also can’t enter the property and dump their personal belonging at the curb. Most states view this type of action as illegal eviction.
- Changing the locks—You can’t change the locks to prevent the tenant living in the property.
- Shutting off utilities—Another mistake would be to shut off the water, electricity, or other utilities. If you, as the landlord, are responsible for paying for these, you have to continue paying the bills even if the tenant is defaulting on rent.
- Removing possessions—You also can’t enter the property and start removing items to the curb. Only a court order for eviction makes this lawful under the supervision of a sheriff.
- Harassing a tenant—Again, you can turn to “strong-arm” tactics to threaten the tenant physically or cause emotional distress.
- Not having a basis for eviction—It’s important to follow Federal guidelines and state laws on evictions before heading off to the Courts Office. For example, even if your tenant is in financial hardship, but is still making partial payments, you might not be able to evict them
If you try to self-evict the tenant, you may end up in court yourself as a defendant—something no landlord wants to happen. If you enter the property illegally—albeit your property—you could be charged with trespassing.
How Successful Landlords Can Avoid Evictions
Evicting a tenant is a costly and time-consuming process. Thankfully, it’s rare when a landlord has to resort to such drastic measures. The best way to avoid evictions is to carry out a thorough screening process. You should get their credit report, check references from previous landlords, and do a background check for criminal history.
It only takes one bad tenant to impact negatively on your rental business. If you have to evict someone, make sure and follow the law and never carry out an illegal eviction. This way, you will protect yourself and your business from the damage that rogue tenants cause.