Handling evictions is no fun, but mishandling them can be a nightmare. Evictions are an emotionally draining, complex process that is riddled with unique requirements that vary by state and even, in some cases, local laws. When you know what you’re doing, you can make the process smoother. Here are 13 common mistakes to avoid when evicting a tenant.
1. Poor Language in the Lease
A poorly written lease can cause costly legal troubles. Hopefully, you’re not one of the plethora of landlords using unverified leases from the internet instead of a qualified attorney or the regional lease form commissioned by the regional/local department of real estate. When things go south with a tenant, your only recourse is your lease agreement so make sure it covers you. After all, it is the first line of protection to your investment property.
2. Waiting Too Long to Pull the Eviction Trigger
Waiting too long to evict is often a combination of wishful thinking (they just need a couple of weeks to get back on track), procrastination (ignore and it will work itself out), and fear (who wants to go through a lengthy, costly eviction process?). But after being burned a few times, savvy landlords learn waiting too long only compounds the problem. The bottom line is when you wait to evict, you’re giving bad tenants more time in the property. This can be especially bad news if you have a tenant that is damaging your property.
3. Failure to Have a Formal, Documented Process for Evictions
When it comes to evictions, documentation is your friend, especially if you need to go to court. A good article to read on evictions is called, How to Evict a Tenant: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide by Bigger Pockets. It provides a wealth of information broken down by state.
4. “Constructive” Evictions
Constructive evictions (such as turning off utilities to render the property uninhabitable) is not only a bad idea, it’s also illegal in all states. As a landlord, providing heat, water, electricity, etc. is your legal obligation. Fail to do so, and the tenant has the right to seek damages. Using constructive eviction as a tactic to get the tenant to leave on its own accord only exacerbates the problem.
5. Accepting Partial Payments
Did you know that by accepting anything other than the full, agreed-upon rent amount, you may be prolonging the eviction process? Some states (if you have filed for an eviction) make you restart the eviction process if you accept a partial payment.
6. Playing Favorites
If you own multiple rental properties and you grant an exception or give a favor to one tenant, guess what? By establishing different rules for different tenants, you could be accused of illegal housing discrimination. Follow the rules established in the lease and stick to them.
7. Being Emotional
It’s hard to stay unemotional when it comes to your property. It’s a huge investment, after all. No matter how hard, don’t participate in heated, verbal arguments with problem tenants. In the heat of the moment, you may say something that you later regret. Worse yet, you may say something that the tenant could use in a court of law as evidence of housing discrimination. Saying something construed as discriminatory will cost you in legal fees, fines, or settlement costs. And, you’re still stuck renting to the problem tenant. Talk about worst case scenario!
8. Improper Notification
Check with the landlord-tenant laws in your state in order to give the correct legal eviction notification. Many states require the landlord to use a special form to notify the tenant that you will begin the eviction process. The name of this form may vary from state to state, but the gist is the same—the tenant must either pay or leave or you will file an eviction lawsuit. This gives the tenant an opportunity to correct the problem before you can file your action to evict.How Well is Your Property Being Managed? Download this Scorecard to Find Out
9. Commingling Funds (i.e. Using/Threatening Security Deposit)
Security deposits, usually one or two month’s rent, doesn’t belong to the landlord. Technically, this money is on loan and you are required to return it at the end of the lease, provided there are no damages. Some states require that you provide interest at the end of the lease. If you commingle funds and you need to evict a tenant, the deposit becomes nearly impossible to validate in a court of law. Even worse, in some states, commingling funds can forgo your claim to any of the deposit.
10. Improper Access
Each state has their own set of laws that govern when, if and how you can access your rental property during the eviction process. Check with your state’s notice of entry requirements to understand your rights and the tenant’s rights. Some states require you to give the tenant a written notice that you plan to enter and inspect the rental property. In some states, tenants may sue the landlord for trespass. Check your state law!
11. Lack of Knowledge of State Laws and Regulations
So you have a tenant that has broken the lease agreement in some fashion and you’d like to start the eviction process sooner rather than later. Not so fast. Every state has different rules, so you must familiarize yourself with the landlord and tenant laws for your state. The Nolo website lists state-specific laws and regulations for landlords and tenants.
12. Improper Grace Periods
Grace periods are used to accommodate certain circumstances for late payment, such as: a tenant may get paid on the 1st and the rent is due on the 1st, payment might be in transit, a tenant may be traveling or on vacation when the rent is due, rent is due on a holiday and the bank is closed, etc. The recommended grace period is five days.
13. Not Using an Attorney
Many experienced landlords have learned the hard way that hiring an attorney is money well spent. Just one mistake can delay the eviction proceedings resulting in more lost rent. The possible ramifications of a mistake made by a landlord vs an attorney usually outweighs the cost of counsel.
When you have a tenant who repeatedly disrespects the landlord-tenant relationship, sometimes the only weapon you have is an eviction. We’ve all heard eviction horror stories. Don’t be one of them! Evictions can be managed effectively as long as you know what you’re doing.