Ok, let’s admit it. Sometimes, even with your best efforts, things may fail to work out between a tenant and you. Being a good and honest landlord, unfortunately, doesn’t shield you from bad tenants who fail to honor their rent payments, damage property, or disrupt other tenants.
Of course we all wish tenant screening was completely foolproof. But, unfortunately, even tenants with the highest qualification scores and best intentions may struggle to pay rent from time to time. While this is heartbreaking, especially if you have a good relationship with a tenant, you simply can’t put them up free of charge. It may seem harsh, but it’s just business, and just like any other, your main priority is protecting it.
While evicting some tenants is just as simple as asking them to leave, the bulk of them may resist, forcing you to go through a formal eviction process. To manage this appropriately, you have to follow the right legal channels, otherwise you risk locking yourself in a civil suit, and probably damaging your reputation as a property manager or landlord.
Here’s a brief, but comprehensive guide to assist you:
Don’t Take Matters into Your Own Hands
According to the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA of 1972), and the corresponding state tenancy laws, it’s illegal in every state to take matters into your own hands, regardless of the tenant’s actions. Even if your tenant is physically damaging your property, causing extreme nuisance, or threatening to kill you, hiring a couple of Hulk Hogans to evict him/her would not go down well with the court. Your tenant is pretty much immune from eviction until you follow the due process.
Well, of course this can be frustrating since you own the property after all. But, the law is supreme.
Ensure That You Have a Valid Reason For Eviction
Now that the law requires you to follow the due process, you need to first establish concrete and valid reasons for eviction. Otherwise, you risk losing a protracted legal battle, which could possibly force you to compensate the tenant for anguish and harassment.
Some of the widely acceptable reasons include:
- Health and Safety hazards
- Breaking health, occupancy or noise laws
- Extensive damage to property
- Violation of tenancy agreement
- Failing to pay rent
Going by the U.S court system’s overarching rule of “innocent until proven guilty”, your claim against the tenant requires documented proof as evidence. And that, of course, would be very simple and straightforward if you’ve already implemented a property management software, since it would only be a matter of generating past reports.
Try To Evict Amicably
It’s always a good idea to start with diplomacy, to save yourself all the time an energy which would be spent in court. As a matter of fact, the court system encourages this, especially on trivial issues which can be arbitrated by third parties.
One of the best ways to initiate a problem resolution conversation with a tenant is to invite him/her for a coffee, just to ease the tension and allow for a heart-to-heart chat. To keep it professional however, use an “understanding but strict” approach to explain all the eviction reasons. This works in most cases, particularly when tenants get to understand the possible repercussions of a court case. Only few individuals, for instance, would be willing to hold on to the property, after you make it clear that a formal eviction process could ultimately hurt their credit scores.
Issue a Formal Eviction Notice
Nothing says “we’re serious” better than a formal eviction notice. So, if your tenant is still uncooperative at this point, draft a notice outlining all the reasons for eviction, plus the corresponding ultimatum on the days the tenant is expect to vacate the premises. Thankfully, there are state-specific templates you could use for this, to ensure that the notice is legally comprehensive.
At this point, if the tenant owes you rent, chances are the notice will whip them into shape, and they’ll move to clear all the amounts owed. But, if nothing changes within a week or so, you should proceed to file a court case.
File a Court Case
This is usually the last resort, but completely necessary if all the other steps have failed. To file the eviction case, proceed to your local courthouse and present proof that you have given the tenant sufficient time to move out (eviction time varies with state). After paying a fee, the court clerk will set a date for your hearing, and subsequently issue your tenant with an official court summon on your behalf.
At the court hearing, gather and present all documentation relevant to your claim. If your tenant has rent arrears for instance, you may need to have not only the payment records, but also the lease agreement, any bounced checks, and a copy of the eviction notice, plus proof of receipt.
If the case turns out to be a hard nut to crack, especially if the tenant lays out a strong defense, you may need to consider leaving the heavy lifting to a competent property lawyer. While this may cost you a buck or two, you’ll ultimately save yourself time, and enjoy the peace of mind on having an expert handle the matter.
Evict the Tenant
As long as you hold a legitimate claim against your tenant, the court will probably rule in your favor, and order the tenant to move out within 2 days to a week, depending on your specific state legislation on eviction. In the event that the tenant rejects the court order and maintains occupation after the stipulated eviction time, you have the right to seek additional help from the Sherriff’s department. They’ll eventually storm into the property, and drag out the tenant’s possessions. Not a favorable outcome, but definitely necessary to reclaim your property from a troublesome tenant.