Everything Landlords Need to Know About Evictions
February 21, 2023
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If you’re a landlord, there is a high chance you’ll deal with an eviction at some point.
Evictions can be complex and stressful, but with proper preparation and research, you can make them substantially less painful.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about evictions at a high level.
This will help you navigate a process that can make or break your business.
How to Evict a Tenant
You cannot conduct an eviction without knowing the ins and outs of the process. Thus, it’s important to understand how evictions work and how you need to approach them.
Understand the Law
Your entry point is the law. You need to know local regulations and follow them. An eviction won’t hold up in court if you haven’t followed procedures properly.
Consult with an attorney if you have any questions about the law.
Have Legal Reasons to Evict
You must have a valid reason to evict a tenant. Here are six common, legal reasons to evict a tenant:
- They missed multiple rent payments.
- They damaged your property.
- They throw loud parties or cause major disturbances in the area.
- They conduct illegal activity on your property.
- They stay on the property after their lease has expired.
- They violated the terms of the lease agreement.
Talk to Your Tenant
According to the BiggerPockets article, “How Much Will It Cost to Evict My Tenants?”, evictions can often cost between $4,000 and $7,000. Talking to your tenant could help you avoid these exorbitant expenses.
When you first meet with the tenant, explain the potential consequences of being evicted, like negative marks on their credit reports and bad rental history citations. If the tenant agrees to vacate the premises without issue, develop an agreement for the tenant to sign so that you have everything in writing.
Cash for keys is another alternative to eviction that can save you time and money. Cash for keys is an agreement between a tenant and a landlord where the tenant moves out on a certain date in exchange for cash.
If you take this approach, we recommend starting with a low offer. See if your tenant will take an additional portion of their security deposit if they leave without issue. Throw in a tiny percentage more, if necessary. Whatever you do, don’t give them the money until you have the keys in your hand. And make sure you have your tenant sign a written agreement with all these details in it.
We know this method can seem a bit unfair from your perspective. Cash for keys may be your best option, though. It can be substantially cheaper than moving forward with an eviction. So, it’s something you want to consider.
Send a Notice of Termination for Cause
When talking to your tenant doesn’t work, it’s time to send a notice of termination for cause, commonly known as an eviction notice. A proper eviction notice needs to include these elements:
- Current date
- Tenant name(s)
- Status and date of the lease
- Explicitly stated reason(s) for the eviction
- Date that your tenant must vacate the premises
- Record for delivery of notice
The wording you need to use will differ from state to state, but you’ll need to send one of the following letters:
- Pay Rent or Quit Notice: You send this eviction notice if the tenant misses rent payments.
- Cure or Quit Notice: You give this notice to a tenant who violates a term or condition of the lease agreement (e.g., a no-pets clause or a reasonable standard of cleanliness).
- Unconditional Quit Notice: This is the most extreme kind of notice to quit. It requires the tenant to move out quickly, and it doesn’t allow them to pay the rent or correct a lease agreement violation. In most states, unconditional quit notices are only sent if the tenant did one or more of the following:
- Repeatedly violated a key lease agreement clause
- Paid the rent late frequently
- Severely damaged the property
- Engaged in illegal activity like using the property for dealing drugs
Sue Your Tenant for an Eviction
What if your tenant doesn’t leave the property by the date specified in the notice? Then it’s time to proceed with an eviction. This means you serve your tenant with a summons and complaint for eviction.
You also give these to the court. The court will set a time and date for a hearing in front of a judge. You and your tenant must show up for the proceedings.
Prepare for an Eviction Court Hearing
It’s important to thoroughly prepare for your eviction court hearing ahead of your court date. First, consider legal representation. Although you may not need it, if you’re in a particularly complicated situation (e.g., your tenant is filing for bankruptcy), it may be a good idea to retain a lawyer’s services.
Next, dress appropriately. Remember, the judge’s first impression of you matters. Presentable clothing that is at least semi-professional will show you’re taking this seriously.
Another tip to keep in mind is to speak concisely and calmly during the hearing. You have the documentation to back up what you’re saying. Prepare some talking points and know what you generally want to say. Listen to the judge.
Avoid emotional outbursts or arguments. You won’t win any points for being loud or angry. Present the facts and speak with confidence.
Finally, and most vitally, bring the proper documentation. Here is a list of items you will need:
- Original signed lease agreement
- Records, such as bank statements and proof of payment
- Copies of communications between you and your tenant
- Evidence that you gave your tenant an opportunity to fix the issue, except in the case of an Unconditional Quit Notice
- Proof of how the tenant violated the lease agreement
- Copies of the termination notice and proof of delivery
Evict Your Tenant
If you abide by the law, have a sound reason for the eviction, and follow the necessary procedures, the judge will probably rule in your favor. You will receive a Writ of Restitution, which facilitates the removal of the tenant from your property.
The writ goes out to local law enforcement. They go to your property, allow the tenant a few minutes to gather personal items, and then escort the tenant off the property.
The Cost of Evictions
Evictions aren’t cheap, and you need to understand the different factors that play into them.
The major eviction fees to consider are serving and filing fees (serving fees are typically $30 to $150 based on location, and filing fees are usually $30 to $150), legal fees (normally over $500), court costs ($50 for initial cost, but increases with more time in court), sheriff costs (typically $50 to $400), missed rent (typically around $3,966) and repair costs (varies depending on damage, etc.).
There can also be other costs related to evictions. Each eviction can offer slightly different circumstances that may require different things from you.
Common Mistakes Landlords Make During the Eviction Process
Evictions are stressful, so it’s an easy time to make mistakes. Thus, it’s important to understand common eviction mistakes landlords make, so that you can avoid them.
One common mistake landlords make is sending the wrong notice. Educating yourself and meeting with an attorney if you have questions are the best ways to prevent this error. Getting this right is critical, so take your time and ensure you send the right letter.
A second common mistake landlords make is losing control of their emotions. Evictions are naturally frustrating. There will probably be moments when you want to yell at the tenant or give them a piece of your mind. Resist this urge. Staying calm during evictions will pay major dividends later. You don’t want the tenant to interpret something as threatening or discriminating, which can impact the process significantly.
Another common mistake landlords make is taking matters into their own hands. You cannot illegally enter your property and remove all your tenant’s things. You will only hurt your case if it goes to court. Do everything by the book and follow the laws.
The fourth common mistake landlords make is not documenting proof of damage or late rent payments thoroughly enough. The key to winning an eviction hearing begins long before you step into a courtroom. It’s important to keep copies of payment receipts, before and after photos, and anything else that might be relevant. The better your records, the more likely it is you’ll win your case.
The fifth common mistake landlords make is constructive evictions. A constructive eviction occurs when a landlord doesn’t physically or legally evict a tenant but takes actions that interfere with the tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises significantly enough to constitute “eviction in fact.” So, if you think shutting off your tenant’s electricity because they’ve missed their last two rent payments is a good idea, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening later. Once again, it’s critical to conduct evictions in step with the law.
Lastly, not acting assertively is a mistake too many landlords make. You cannot allow a tenant to take advantage of you regardless of how kind they are as a person. If someone isn’t paying rent on time and in full or they’re not abiding by the lease, then you must take action.
What You Need to do After an Eviction
Your job isn’t done once the eviction happens. What you do after an eviction is just as important as the eviction itself. Let’s look at the steps you need to take.
Change the Locks
After the sheriff gets your tenant off the property, it’s time to change the locks. The importance of changing the locks promptly after an eviction cannot be overstated. You don’t know if your tenant or someone else has an extra set of keys to get back into your property. So, don’t wait. Take care of this as soon as possible.
Get Rid of Things Your Tenant Left Behind
Next, it’s time to remove any remaining personal property left behind by the tenant. The laws governing abandoned property vary by state, so be sure to do your research.
In some states, landlords must provide tenants with written notice and give a little time for tenants to reclaim items before discarding them. In other states, notice may not be required.
No matter what, it’s prudent to take photos or inventory of the abandoned property and record your actions to show you followed state laws.
Inspect Your Rental Unit
Now it’s time to inspect your property. You want to bring a new copy of your walkthrough list and the move-in inspection to compare. Take pictures, especially if there is damage to your rental unit.
Be sure to check for these common issues in these areas:
- Mold in the kitchen and bathroom(s)
- Holes in the walls and/or ceiling
- Wear and tear on the carpet
- Leaks in the kitchen, bathroom faucets, and toilet
- Cracks and disrepair in the windows and window locks
- Issues with the water heater and other appliances
File a Small Claims Case for Damage, if Necessary
If your tenant has caused an exceptional amount of damage to your rental property after an eviction, you can file a small claims case to recoup losses due to the damage. You will need to follow these steps:
- Identify the jurisdiction.
- Create the complaint.
- File the complaint.
- Serve the defendant.
- Attend the hearing.
- Receive the decision.
The actual process may differ from state to state, but most follow a similar pattern.
After the other steps, your goal is to rent the unit to someone new as soon as possible to minimize turnover. This step includes preparing the unit for new tenants, cleaning, and making any necessary repairs.
Advertising and marketing are key. You want to maximize your chances of finding a great tenant quickly. Screening potential tenants carefully is also vital to ensure they will be responsible and respectful renters. You want to do everything in your power to avoid another eviction.
No landlord wants to evict tenants. There are several ways to avoid evictions but sometimes, it’s a necessity. Preparation and research will make the process smoother and lead to better outcomes.
Everything in this article provides a great foundation in case you need to evict a tenant. It’s important to understand the process, the cost, how to avoid common mistakes and what you need to do after a tenant vacates the premises.