If you stay in the rental property industry for long enough, you’re likely to come across a tenant who is either unable or unwilling to pay his or her rent on time.
According to a TransUnion Rental Screen Solutions Survey, 84% of landlords are concerned about payment problems with their tenants. As a landlord dealing with this issue, when is it appropriate to evict a tenant and how do you go about doing so?
From providing your tenant with a legal eviction notice to collecting past-due rent, here are nine steps you should take to see the entire process through properly and lawfully.
1. Look into your state’s eviction laws
When looking to potentially evict a tenant, you must make sure you do so legally. It’s never a good idea to take things into your own hands and risk infringing on the tenant’s rights.
Rather, it’s important that you look into the specific eviction laws in your state, as they often vary from one state to the next. What’s more, federal and state eviction protections relating to the COVID-19 pandemic might affect your ability to evict a tenant.
It’s also wise to consult with an attorney—both when you write your standard lease agreement and when looking to evict a tenant. This will help ensure that your lease agreement lines up with federal and state laws and that you approach the eviction process legally.
2. Comb through the terms of the lease
Next, you’ll need to refer to the executed lease agreement between you and your tenant and read through the terms.
First, you’ll need to determine whether this tenant is renting space on a month-to-month basis or whether he or she has agreed to a long-term lease, as in many states, this will impact the timeline of when you are able to evict the tenant.
Finally, confirm that you made no special provisions for this tenant and that his or her behavior is indeed violating the terms of the lease.
3. Make sure you have a valid reason for eviction
After reviewing federal laws, state laws, and the specific terms of your lease agreement, you must ensure that you still have a valid and lawful reason to evict the tenant.
Some of the most common reasons for eviction include the following:
- The tenant has failed to pay rent
- The tenant has violated the lease agreement
- The tenant has caused significant damage to the property
- The tenant has participated in illegal activity
- The tenant has disturbed other tenants
- The tenant is subletting space
- The tenant has caused health or safety hazards
- The tenant is housing unapproved pets
- The tenant’s lease has expired
While many of these scenarios are fairly common and are often easy to prove, keep in mind that you will need to present clear evidence for any wrongdoing in court.
4. Speak with the problematic tenant
While eviction may seem like your best option, it should be used as a last resort—especially if you feel as though your reason for eviction may not hold up in court.
The reality is that you’re likely to spend time, exhaust resources, and pay heavy eviction costs—estimated between $4,000 and $7,000 in some cases—to see the process through to completion.
If at all possible, speak with the tenant in an attempt to mend the relationship and come to an agreement. While listening to the tenant and trying to understand his or her situation, also communicate the seriousness of a potential eviction notice.
Convey to him or her that an eviction impacts one’s credit score and that it’s an expensive and inconvenient process for both parties involved.
5. Provide an eviction notice
If your tenant does not take immediate action to remedy the situation, it’s time for you to issue an official and legal eviction notice.
You can issue one of three types of eviction notices—notice to pay rent or quit, notice to cure or quit, or notice to quit. The two former options allow the tenant a final opportunity to make amends, while the latter does not afford him or her that opportunity.
Make sure your notice includes a final date by which any conditions must be met. You will also need to check your state’s requirements for issuing the eviction notice, as states require the notice to be served by a sheriff or through certified mail.
As failing to serve a lawful eviction notice can impact your ability to win a court case, it’s wise to consult an attorney before issuing the notice.
6. File the eviction
If the tenant fails to meet the conditions of your eviction notice, visit your courthouse to officially file the eviction.
You will need to provide proof that the conditions were clearly communicated to your tenant and that those conditions were not met within the time period required by your state. The clerk will then give you a date for the hearing and notify both parties.
7. Prepare for a court hearing
When preparing for your court date, you’ll want to collect proof that supports your claim. This documentation is likely to include your lease agreement, payment records, communication records, and a copy of the eviction notice.
Particularly if the tenant is guilty, he or she might claim that you did not lawfully follow the state’s requirements for eviction. Therefore, it’s critical that you leave no stone unturned when gathering evidence.
8. Execute the eviction
According to a Journal Record report, landlords win 95% of eviction cases. If you win the case, the court will issue a deadline by which the tenant must vacate the property.
If the tenant fails to comply yet again and has not vacated the space by the deadline, notify the sheriff’s department immediately to have him or her and all possessions removed.
9. Collect past-due rent
Although you can now find a new tenant to occupy and pay rent on your vacated space, you may still wish to collect any past-due rent from the previous tenant.
Sometimes this can be settled during the eviction case. The court may allow you to combine a small claims lawsuit with the eviction, or a judge may deliver a court order that allows you to garnish the tenant’s wages.
Otherwise, you may choose to work with a private debt collector. This company will help you collect the past-due rent and report the debt to major credit bureaus.