Becoming a landlord seems like an easy way to build equity in your property, pay off the mortgage or put some extra money in your pocket. The building itself really does all the work. You just collect the rent every month and cut the grass.
Managing your own rental property doesn’t seem so easy when a tenant stops paying rent. You can listen to the tenant’s story about being laid off or the unexpected medical bill that consumed his rent money. You can agree to terms that allow the tenant to make late payments and catch up on the rent in a couple of months. One day, though, you realize you are spending more time and getting less money from this tenant.
When tenants stop paying, for whatever reason, they usually don’t become good tenants again. It’s time to cut your losses and begin the eviction process.
What Is the Process of Evicting a Tenant?
As a landlord, your purpose for evicting a tenant is to stop losing money. Each month that goes by without paid rent is more red ink on your balance sheet. The law contains some protections for tenants, though, so you need to proceed cautiously.
- Learn about eviction law. The first step in evicting a tenant is to understand your legal rights and theirs. State law determines what you have to do to evict a tenant, so become familiar with the landlord tenant laws in your state.
- Talk to the tenant. This is an often-overlooked step that could save you a lot of trouble. Some people avoid confrontation, but when you are a landlord and manage your own property, you have to face these situations. Find out what the problem is and try to negotiate a payment schedule for your tenant to catch up on rent. Make sure your tenant knows that you know his rent is late. By avoiding this conversation, you are giving them permission to live in your building rent-free. Talking to your tenant face to face will create a human connection. Continue to follow up with the tenant regularly until you resolve the rent issue.
- Secure your documentation. Eviction is a legal process that requires documentation. Be sure you have a signed lease that clearly spells out your tenant’s obligations to you. If you don’t have a written lease, collect data to prove that the tenant pays you a certain amount of money every month. This paper trail will show that a verbal rental agreement is implied. Copies of canceled checks or a bank statement that shows monthly deposits will work. Also, gather any text messages or emails that include any temporary agreement from the tenant to pay a certain portion of the back rent by a particular date.
- Give eviction notice. Follow the details outlined in your state law for how to notify a tenant of eviction. You may need to send the notice by registered letter with receipt or have it served in person. Details are important in this step. Follow the law and collect documentation of your actions. A process server will give you a statement of when and where he served the notice to your tenant and describe what your tenant looks like to be sure the right person was served. Posting the notice on the door of the rental unit may also be considered sufficient notice in your state.
- Take it to court. If you tenant does not respond to the notice of eviction, file it with the court. Check with the court clerk to be sure you are in the right jurisdiction and have the correct form completed. Mistakes in the court process can cause long delays or invalidate your complaint, forcing you to begin the process again. You will be notified of a court date.
- Appear at the court hearing. Your case will be thrown out if you do not show. You may be awarded a default judgment if your tenant does not show. Be prepared to explain the problem and show documentation to prove what you say is true. The judge will ask you why you want to evict your tenant. It is a good idea to present just the facts and keep your anger or disappointment out of the discussion. You will have to present evidence that there is a rental agreement between you and the tenant. The tenant will then be asked to tell their side of the story. You cannot prove the tenant did not pay you. It is up to the tenant to prove that they did.
- Move the tenant out. No, do not touch your tenant’s belongings. You cannot change the locks on the apartment until the eviction is completed. Hire a moving company to do the eviction according to the law. You will have to pay the moving company, but save your receipt because you may be able to recoup these costs in court. Then, have a locksmith change the locks. This is not a suitable time for DIY skills. You will want the locksmith as a witness that you changed the locks only after the tenant vacated.
- Take photos. Any time a tenant moves out under adverse conditions, photograph the condition of the apartment before cleaning for the next tenant. You never know when you will need those photos to prove how the apartment was left. In many states, the standard is “broom swept” for vacating a rental unit. Your photos will show whether this condition was met.
- Find a new tenant. Every time you look for a new tenant is an opportunity to screen the applicants better and hopefully avoid another eviction situation. Once the rental unit is vacant, start by cleaning it thoroughly before showing to prospective tenants. A good-looking apartment will attract quality tenants.
How to Remove a Tenant from Your House
You have to have cause to evict a tenant. The eviction process is not fun and should be avoided if possible. You certainly do not want to initiate an eviction when you do not have a legal reason or sufficient proof. Although you hope it would not go to court, you should prepare your case as if it will.
When you have a tenant in your house, it is easy to develop a friendship. You should be careful what you tell your friendly tenants about your business and personal life. If you ever have to evict them, they will use anything they know to discredit your claims.
Unfortunately, friendship with a tenant sometimes does not work the other way. If your tenant runs into financial trouble, they will not be sure the rent gets paid out of loyalty to you as a friend. Most people, when faced with a crisis, follow the path of least resistance. It may be because of your friendly demeanor that your tenant thinks it is okay to go late on the rent and spend the money on something else instead.
It is best to keep your landlord-tenant relationship on a purely professional level. Sometimes in business, things do not go as expected. It will be easier for you to evict a tenant with whom you do not share a friendship. When it is time to serve a notice of eviction, keeping the communication brief and non-emotional will make it go more easily.
How to Start the Eviction Process
It is unpleasant to evict a tenant, but if they are not paying rent and refuse to leave, you don’t have a choice. Renting property is a business, whether you have one rental unit, four or 24. You became a landlord to earn money with your property. You provide a clean, well-maintained home and the tenant pays you for that. It is a business arrangement that works when both parties hold up their end.
As soon as there is evidence that the tenant is starting to slide on the rent, it is time to think about eviction. The eviction process really starts at that point, even if you do not end up evicting the tenant. You need to begin learning how to evict a non-paying tenant, what your local law says about eviction and collecting documentation so that if removing a tenant from your rental property is warranted, you will be ready to move swiftly.
How to Make Eviction Easier
No one wants to be that stereotypical evil landlord who throws people out into the street. There is an emotional component to evicting a tenant from your property that can be difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, if your tenant stopped paying rent, you have no choice but to evict.
An eviction is seldom cut and dry when it is directly between a landlord and tenant. A tenant not paying rent and making excuses can make you angry. You want to give them a break, but then they take advantage of your kindness. By the time of the eviction, you’ve expended a lot of time and emotional energy.
Here are some tips to make evicting a tenant easier.
- Use a written rental agreement. When your tenant moves in, they should sign a written agreement. In that lease, you need to clarify the procedures for late rent payments. Charging a penalty fee for late rent will make tenants take this deadline more seriously. Spell out the eviction procedure in the rental agreement. Your tenant’s signature on this agreement will constitute their acceptance of these terms and give them notice of what to expect they don’t pay their rent.
- Send late rent notices. Any time rent is late, send a written notice to the tenant documenting the delinquency and referring to the terms of the rental agreement. Never let late rent slide. Tenants need to know you are serious about the rental terms and that late rent will not go unnoticed.
- Learn the law. Read up on rental property laws in your state now, before you need to know. Understand the terms of eviction and the legal process for how to remove a tenant from your property. Find an attorney who can explain it to you or go to the local court and ask the clerk some questions.
- Screen tenants carefully. Require potential renters to fill out an application and wait for you to verify their information before agreeing to rent to them. Call their references to be sure they are legitimate. Credit score is an important indicator of how likely a potential tenant is to pay their rent on time. In fact, 56% of landlords won’t rent to someone with a bad credit score no matter how much they like them. Talk to their employer about their work ethic and work history. Talk to a previous landlord about their behavior. Do a background check to be sure they do not have outstanding collections issues or other red flags. Interview tenants when they come to look at the property. Make a note of what questions they ask. People give a lot of signs about whether they will be good tenants. You just have to know how to read them.
- Maintain your property. A rental agreement is between two parties. The tenant has an obligation to you, and you have one to the tenant. Always uphold your obligations to maintain the property and the apartment in good repair. If you are responsible for cutting the grass and plowing snow, make sure you do it in a timely manner. Do not give your tenant any reason not to uphold their end of the rental agreement.
- Price it right. A clean, well-maintained property will attract good tenants. The other advantage you have is the rental price. A cheaper rent will help you get a tenant faster, but it won’t help you keep them. Instead, use the price to attract better tenants. Pricing your rent a little higher, especially after going through an eviction, will help bring in renters who are financially responsible. The people who can afford a higher rent are making more money and may have a better job or longer work history. Be patient and wait for the right tenant rather than renting for less to the first person who expresses interest.
Eviction is a time-consuming and stressful process, but it’s something that happens around two and a half million times in a single year in the U.S. Taking these steps can help you avoid becoming one of those statistics. If you do need to evict someone, the process may be easier if you have a property management company. A property manager can collect rent, keep track of late payments and handle the eviction process when necessary.
A professional property manager can also maintain your property for you. They can interview potential tenants, draft rental agreements, and handle those late night calls when the heat goes out. A property manager will communicate with tenants when rent is late or they are parked on the lawn, keeping you out of uncomfortable situations with your tenants.
For all your property management needs, including tenant eviction, contact AHPM today.