One of the biggest risks related to owning investment properties is dealing with an eviction. If a tenant doesn’t pay rent, the simple answer is to evict him.
To a seasoned investor, however, it’s never that simple. Actually evicting a tenant is an extremely complicated and expensive process, and one that should always be avoided.
An eviction is an official legal proceeding, complete with a formal process that needs to be followed exactly in order to have your tenant move out and relinquish the property back to you. Failure to follow your state’s laws on a legal eviction can result in delaying the eviction date, losing a court hearing or owing the tenant money.
Rental property owners will benefit from understanding the legal eviction process in order to protect themselves from breaking the law should they ever go through the process. I also hope to instill the idea that addressing an issue with a bad tenant takes a lot more energy than simply evicting him. I want all investors to understand the importance of finding good tenants and sticking to the lease terms, so you can minimize the risk of dealing with an eviction.
Let’s first take a look at the difference between an illegal and a legal eviction.
An illegal eviction involves:
• Changing the locks.
• Putting your renter’s belongings on the curb or in the garbage.
• Threatening the tenant with an eviction or increased fines.
• Turning off utilities or other services.
A legal eviction includes:
• A court order.
• Official notices.
• Appropriate communication.
• Adherence to state laws.
What Is An Eviction?
An eviction is a lawsuit, sometimes known as an unlawful detainer lawsuit, that a property owner files against a tenant in order to regain possession of a property. Once an eviction lawsuit is filed with the court and a judge rules in favor of the eviction, the property owner can work with law enforcement to remove the tenant by an agreed-upon date per the eviction ruling.
In order for a property owner to win an eviction ruling, the property owner must prove that the tenant violated a lease term, that he gave proper notices to the tenant to fix the violation and that the proper eviction process was followed.
Reasons To Evict A Tenant
A tenant can lawfully be evicted for:
• Failure to pay rent.
• A lease violation (like illegal use, subleasing, unauthorized pet, etc.).
• Damaging the property.
• Threatening the safety of other tenants, neighbors, the property or community.
• Breaking other local housing laws, as outlined in the lease agreement.
A property owner cannot evict a tenant because of personality clashes, minor disagreements or annoying behaviors. If you establish a reasonable need to evict a tenant, you should act immediately and follow your state’s guidelines for a legal eviction.
The Eviction Process
Here is a general overview of the standard eviction process:
1. Establish a legal need to evict a tenant:
Tenant violates a lease term, like failing to pay rent.
2. Notify the tenant:
Landlord provides an official notice to Cure or Quit to the tenant. A Cure Or Quit Notice notifies the tenant of the violation and tells the tenant to either fix the violation within a certain amount of time (cure) or move (quit). This notice should be taped to the door and mailed via certified, first-class mail. You will need to prove in court that you did your best to notify the tenant of the potential eviction proceedings.
In some cases, a property owner or manager can file an eviction with the courts without giving the tenant time to remedy the problem. Such is the case if the property or other people are in immediate danger.
3. File with the court:
If the tenant does not fix the violation outlined in the notice and does not voluntarily move out, the landlord can proceed with filing an eviction lawsuit.
After filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the local courthouse, you will receive a date for your eviction hearing and the court will notify the tenant of the summons. Depending on which state you live in and how busy your local courthouse is, this hearing can be anywhere from one week to a few months from your filing date. If it takes a few months for your eviction date, you have to let your tenant continue to live at the property until a judge rules otherwise. Often, a tenant will not pay rent during this time. If this is the case, let’s hope you have a good lost rent policy with your landlord insurance provider.
4. Court hearing:
At the court hearing, you will need to provide proof of the reason for eviction, and that you gave the tenant an official notice to cure or quit. It is also a good idea to bring copies of the lease, rent payment records and records of all communication you have had with the tenant.
If the judge rules in your favor, you will be able to move forward with an eviction by contacting your local law enforcement to escort the tenant out on an agreed-upon date, if needed.
5. Regaining possession of the property:
On the date determined by your eviction hearing, you will officially regain possession of the property. You are allowed to change the locks and proceed with managing any abandoned tenant property per your state’s laws at this time.
As you can see, moving forward with a legal eviction involves a lot of time spent dealing with your local courts. You have to be patient with the court’s timelines and rulings. You also must keep all your communication with your tenant professional during this time, which can be challenging if you are frustrated with your tenant’s behavior.
Evictions are risky because of the unknown timeline from the filing date to the date a tenant will actually be required to leave the property per the court order. The time and money associated with moving forward with an eviction demonstrate the need for approving only the most qualified tenants for your property, minimizing the risk of eviction.