How do you handle evictions which can be a sometimes messy part of our business? Veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi answers questions from other landlords and property managers around the country about their rentals.
Dear Landlord Hank,
How do you handle evictions? Is there an easier way? Unfortunately, we just had to do the first one in 10 years and had to show up at the rental with the sheriff, plus tenant left a bunch of stuff which we now have to clean out and store.
Dear Landlady Ellen,
Evictions are a messy part of the business, but sometimes it has to be done.
The key, in my opinion, to lessening the chance that you will have to evict, is to do extensive tenant screening. We check credit, criminal, residential history (5-year minimum), employment history and income verification (2-year minimum), sexual predator/offender, terror watch list, and common sense.
10 years of no evictions means you are doing something right
Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to evict, but 10 years of no evictions means you are doing something right.
Do not let the process frighten you or make you slow to initiate.
The state laws vary, so become very conversant with your state laws to avoid any associated missteps. You want to go right by the book.
Refer to your lease to see when rent is due, when it is late and when to evict.
I always try to talk to my tenants first to see why the rent is late. Sometimes it has been mailed, and they don’t know I didn’t receive it (There are some legitimate excuses for late rent).
Reach out to tenants if you can
However, other times, tenants do not respond to calls, texts and/or emails.
This reaching out by the landlord should be a one-day event. I never extend this outreach beyond one day. If tenant lost their phone, a notice on their door should bring their attention to this dire circumstance.
Make sure you give a three-business day notice (to cure-or “pay rent”) if required in your state (holidays and weekends don’t count). Then file immediately.
In some areas you can file on line. If not, go to the court house and bring all your info with you, including all tenant contact info, the amount the tenant owes in rent, late fee, etc.
Read and complete the forms, pay the filing fee, and then cease all contact with the tenant. Do NOT accept any rent after you have filed unless the tenant pays the rent, late fee and your cost for filing the eviction, AND provides a reason this happened and assurance it won’t happen again.
The court will send a copy of the filing to the tenant showing the amount owed, and the tenant can submit an answer to the court either accepting the debt or denying it and providing their justification for the dispute.
You can hire an attorney to take care of it for you
You can hire an attorney to take care of this for you, but find one who specializes in landlord-tenant relations.
I have never used an attorney and have never lost a case. I don’t like people trying to steal from me (by not paying what they owe to live in a nice home), and I don’t mind standing up for myself.
This would be too stressful for some people, in which case an attorney would be a great choice.
After you go to court, if you are really in the right and the tenants did not pay the rent for some reason other than deficiencies in the rental, the judge often will give the tenants a week to leave. You will have to get the writ of possession from the court and take it to the sheriffs office for service to tenants (another fee is due for service).
The sheriff will schedule an appointment with you for the eviction
The sheriff will schedule an appointment with you for the eviction. You are not required to notify the tenants when the eviction is taking place.
The sheriff will arrive and force the tenants to leave the property. You are responsible for providing able bodied workers to cart the tenants’ belongings to the curb. Bring boxes, dollies, etc., because it all has to go.
After you are finished, make sure you CHANGE THE LOCKS on the door to prevent the tenants from reentering the property. Make certain windows and doors are locked.
This is a painful process for all involved, but continue to treat the tenants with respect and proceed in a professional manner. You probably won’t know why they are not paying the rent, but whatever their reason, you aren’t a charity.
The easiest way to handle this is through an attorney and a company that moves tenants belongings to the curb. You will still have to consult with the attorney, provide your lease and tenant accounting for rent owed, and pay for these services.
Good luck, but you have a great record in this business so far.
Hopefully, you’ll have no more evictions.
Editor’s note: Be sure to do your due-diligence and take the time to know & understand your state & local laws pertaining to evictions. Your local REIA can be a great resource.