Perhaps the top worry of new landlords and property managers is what they will encounter during the eviction process. Nearly every landlord will have to go through the eviction process with bad tenants at least once, but the fear of making a mistake and the seriousness of the situation can cause you lots of stress, especially if you aren’t completely familiar with the process.
Eviction is the action of legally expelling a tenant from a property, and it is most commonly done because of nonpayment of rent, although failure to comply with the lease agreement is also grounds for eviction. In a perfect world, your tenants would pay rent on time, every time, and always follow the lease agreement rules. However, there will be bad tenants from time to time that force you to evict.
Here are 7 eviction tips for new landlords that will hopefully take some of the stress out of a long and exacting process to get the property back into your hands.
1. Always send an official written notice.
The first step in the eviction process always is to let the tenant know in writing that they are in violation of the lease agreement and what they’ve done wrong. Whether nonpayment of rent or breaking the rules, the official notice starts the process and gives them a set time to rectify the situation. State laws vary on how many days you have to allow them from the time of delivery, but most states use 3 to 7 days.
2. Don’t delay in the notification.
One of the biggest problems that new landlords face during the eviction process is starting the whole thing in the first place. Often, they give extensions and exceptions to the tenant because they simply don’t want to launch the eviction. Remember that the more you wait, the more rent you are losing and the more your tenant is taking advantage of you. It’s up to you about making arrangements in certain circumstances, but evictions can take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks, depending on location. That’s a long time to go without rent, so don’t delay in sending that initial notice to get the clock ticking.
3. File the eviction at the courthouse.
If the deadline has passed and you haven’t been able to collect rent or otherwise feel the tenant will comply, go ahead and file the eviction with the clerk. You’ll have to pay a fee, and the clerk will schedule a hearing. The courthouse is also responsible for notifying the tenant about the hearing, so you don’t have to do anything on that end.
4. Think carefully about accepting rent after filing.
Sometimes, tenants are able to pull some or all of the money together and may offer to pay you after you have already filed with the court. While it is up to you whether or not to accept that money, you need to know what accepting a full or partial payment means. Collecting partial payment from the tenant actually forfeits your right to continue with the eviction. In other words, if the tenant doesn’t come up with the rest of the money, you will have to start the eviction process anew. You do not have to accept any money after the eviction is filed at court. If you want to keep the eviction process going, you can reject the payment and continue the process.
5. Never engage in a “self-help” eviction.
No matter what, landlords cannot oust a tenant on their own. Taking the eviction process into your own hands is known as a “self-help” eviction and such actions are actually criminal in many cases. That means you cannot change locks, move their belongings, threaten them, shut off their utilities, break their things, call the police to kick them out, or anything else to get them to leave. Only by going through the state’s eviction process will the law be on your side and support you in getting the tenants out. It may take longer and be more frustrating, but it’s the right way to evict a tenant.
6. Get an attorney or pay attention to details.
Many landlords use a landlord-tenant attorney for evictions, but it isn’t required. If you don’t, it’s important to pay attention to all the steps as well as the requirements for eviction as set up by your state. Eviction is a detailed process and cases have been thrown out of court because the landlord neglected to do something properly. For example, if a landlord fails to give the 7-day period after delivering a notice, and files with the court on the 6th day, the case could be tossed. Read up on the law in your state before you face an eviction and then double check all the steps again as you go through the process to make sure you are on the right track.
7. Wait for the sheriff to escort tenants off the property.
If the judge rules in your favor, the court will set a deadline for when the tenant has to vacate the property. If the tenant leaves before that time, make sure you confirm that the unit is abandoned and then you can take possession. If the tenant doesn’t leave on time, the local sheriff’s department will be the ones to physically remove the tenant from the unit. Never try to escort a tenant out of the rental property yourself—wait for the sheriff.
There’s nothing fun about evictions, but being unaware of the process and making rookie mistakes can make it even more miserable. Landlords and property managers who are educated about the eviction process in their city and state will be able to calm their fears and worries because they will have confidence that they are doing it right and know what is coming up around the corner.