Contrary to the image often served up in popular media, most landlords are reasonable people. When a tenant shows signs of trouble, many landlords want to give the tenant time to fix the problem. As events unfold, landlords who are involved from the start may believe they have ample information to justify an eviction – but they may move forward without the proper legal safeguards in place, jeopardizing their own position.
When you have to face the nasty fact of an eviction, avoiding these top five mistakes can save you a great deal of stress, frustration, and legal fees:
Mistake #1. Don’t wait too long.
One of the single most expensive mistakes a landlord can make is waiting too long to start legal action to evict a tenant. Perhaps the landlord believes the tenant really will send the rent, or the landlord has never gone through the eviction process and isn’t sure where to start. The longer a landlord waits, however, the more likely it is that unpaid rent, damage to the unit, and other costs will pile up – and the longer the landlord will have to wait to finally remove the tenant from the premises. Start the process as soon as you have reasonable grounds to do so in order to protect your legal rights and your pocketbook.
Mistake #2. Don’t rely on an informal or improper notice to terminate.
“I want you out of the end of the month” is a clear, concise statement – but it’s usually not enough to support a legal action for eviction. Make sure you know when and how you must give notice in your state, and follow the state’s requirements to the letter. If notice must be given using particular words or phrases, use them. If it must be provided on a particular state form, use the form. And mark your calendar – each state has a different notice period, and some states require different notice periods for different tenant problems.
Mistake #3. Failing to set a deadline for full payment of the rent – or to stick to it.
Landlords who are new to renting or who have only one or two tenants are far more likely to fall into this trap than professional management companies. These landlords will often accept partial payments of rent with the excuse that more is on its way. While being the “nice guy” may sound like a good idea, in fact it can entangle you in months or years of stories, excuses, and nonpayments. Set a date by which rent must be paid in full each month, write it into the lease, and give proper notice to terminate if you don’t have a complete payment by this date.
Mistake #4. Being available at all hours of the day or night.
Being accessible to your tenants seems like a good idea at the beginning. After all, if there’s an emergency that could damage the property, you want to know, right? If you must enter an eviction proceeding, however, this open communication channel can backfire easily. Establish professional lines of communication between yourself and your tenant or tenants, and stick to them. During an eviction, it may be wisest to hand all communication over to your attorney; add this to your list of legal issues to discuss.
Mistake #5. Failing to work with an attorney.
An attorney can handle an eviction quickly, professionally, and within the bounds of the law. If you have several rental units, are dealing with a particularly messy situation, or have not yet gotten yourself up to speed on the eviction laws in your state, an attorney’s help can be invaluable. At the very least, consider consulting an attorney with specific questions if you must move forward with an eviction.
Note: This article does not provide legal advice and should not be interpreted as legal advice. If you have a legal question, please contact an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your area.