You’re stuck with bad tenants. They abuse your property, and now they’ve stopped paying their rent. You’ve already lost your rent money, and now you have to pay more to get them out?
Even experienced landlords will end up with rotten apple tenants occasionally. You aggressively screened the tenants by verifying their employment and income, running credit and criminal background checks and verifying their rental history. Nonetheless, they ended up defaulting, and now you’re stuck trying to clean up the mess.
Landlords need to treat their rental business as a business, which means collecting the rent, in full, every month, and immediately taking their customers – tenants – to court if they fail to pay for the provided service.
Here are some tips on how to evict a tenant without going broke.
First, What Not To Do
Remember, it’s just business. Don’t take an eviction personally, and react out of frustration or anger. Don’t take matters into your own hands. In the United States and Canada, it’s illegal to change the locks, shut-off utilities, remove the tenants’ belongings or physically remove the tenants.
There are plenty of stories about landlords acting badly, and many of them revolve around evictions. Don’t end up on the six o’clock news.
Next, What You Should Do
Before the grace period expires, try contacting the tenant. If you have always been on good terms, call them or choose to meet in a public area. Carefully and calmly, remind them they haven’t paid their rent. Sometimes, it really can just be an oversight. In other cases, the tenant may choose to leave on their own, avoiding the entire eviction process. If they do ask to leave, get it in writing, with a move-out date.
Landlords should understand how to evict a tenant legally before they actually need to do so. Each state and province has its own set of rules, requirements and timelines. Follow them closely in order to avoid legal problems down the road.
On the day the grace period expires, serve your tenant with the proper eviction notice. It should be sent by certified mail or served in another manner allowed by local law. Make sure to keep your receipt in case you need to file the eviction with the courts. You don’t need a lawyer to draw up a legal notice, but there are legal requirements in each state and province; you can find state-specific eviction notices online without spending and arm and a leg.
If the required waiting period passes and your tenant fails to pay or leave, you’ll need to move onto the next step: filing the eviction with the courts. You will be charged a fee, but you can do it yourself, no attorney needed. The hearing date will be set, and your tenant will receive a summons directly from the courts.
At this point it may be worth considering a “cash for keys” offer, where you offer the tenant a few hundred dollars if they vacate the property by a certain day and leave it clean and in excellent shape. It may stick in your craw to make such an offer, but in many tenant-friendly jurisdictions where the eviction process takes months, this can be a much cheaper and easier option. You should not cancel or postpone the eviction hearing date for any reason however: this is your leverage over the tenant.
Once the date of the hearing arrives, you can represent yourself, or send a legal representative. Many landlords do it themselves, as the proceedings are simple. The courts will want to see all of your documents, such as the lease agreement and eviction notice and with proof of service. If your reason for evicting the tenant is non-payment of rent, bring any documentation you can to support this claim, such as a bounced check.
Finally, if all goes smoothly, the courts will allow you to schedule an eviction date. Tenants may plead, cajole, threaten and offer plausible-sounding reasons why you should extend the deadline, but never cancel or postpone the eviction date, it takes too long to repeat the process. If they are still there on the day of eviction, you can have a sheriff escort them off the premises, and then you can legally remove their belongings and change the locks.
Once they are gone, you will finally be able to relist your property and find a new tenant. You may also have the chance to collect unpaid rent from the evicted tenant by taking them to small claims court or by hiring a collections agency. You may never see that lost money, but it’s worthwhile to try.