The #1 concern for any property manager is a tenant who fails to pay rent. When a tenant fails to pay rent or breaks the terms of a rental agreement, it is easy to say, “Well, go ahead and evict them!”. Much like firing someone from a job, every eviction should follow a clearly defined process that follows the rules set by the law.
Before beginning the eviction process, it is important to understand what you are getting yourself into. Evictions are considered serious legal situations, and you or your property team could get into a mess of legal fees and stress if not handled properly.
Although it is always important to consult a legal professional in your area (since laws vary state to state), read on for a general overview of what to expect with a successful eviction process.
The first step in any successful eviction is letting the tenant know you plan to terminate the rental agreement. This communication typically comes in the form of a written notice that outlines the breach of the rental agreement. The most common breaches include failing to pay rent or violating one or more terms of the rental agreement (i.e. failing to take care of the property). The notice should clearly state why you are starting the eviction process and steps the tenant can take to resolve the issue and avoid eviction by a certain date.
The written notice must be delivered in person or left in clear view to be legitimate.
There are many reasons a property owner or property management company may decide to begin the eviction process. Providing a Quit Notice allows a property management company to clearly define what the tenant is doing to violate terms of the rental agreement and what the tenant can do to rectify the situation before needing to vacate the property.
A Cure or Quit Notice can be given when a tenant violates any term or condition within the rental agreement. For example, the tenant may own a dog that is kept on the property when the rental agreement clearly states a ‘No Pets Allowed’ policy. This notice allows a property owner or property team to give the tenant a certain amount of time to fix the situation or leave the property.
A Pay Rent or Quit Notice is pretty self-explanatory. This notice is served when a tenant has failed to pay rent for one or more months. Although the standard grace period is 3 to 5 days, this notice allows you to set a certain date that rent is expected, or the tenant must leave the property.
An Unconditional Quit Notice should be used only in the most unfortunate circumstances. This notice removes the chance of rectifying the situation or allowing a grace period and is ultimately asking the tenant to vacate the property by a set date. To stay on the safe side, this type of notice should only be used if there is proof the resident has broken the rental agreement many times, has failed to pay rent for many months, damages the property, or is participating in illegal activity on the property.
After a Written Notice or Quit Notice is issued, the tenant has a set time period to solve the problem or vacate the property. If the tenant fails to rectify the situation (or move out), you can then take the situation to District Court. By taking the situation to District Court, you are filing a Landlord-Tenant Complaint to request possession of your property – as well as payment for missed rent or damages. To keep the legal playing field fair, the tenant will have the chance to counter your claim. For this reason, it is very important to have a property management team that is well-versed in tenant-landlord laws or have legal representation.
Both you and the tenant will then present your case in a District Court hearing. You will each tell your side of the story and cross-examine each other before the judge’s ruling. If the tenant has a strong defense, it can prolong the situation (and legal fees!) for months. The tenant could also argue that the rental agreement was not clear or that your business practices are unethical. If they have any evidence to stand on, this will turn the focus away from the eviction situation and directly onto you and your business. Before taking the eviction process this far, make sure your rental agreement and other documentation is organized, ethical, and accurate.
Vacating the Property
If all goes well and you win re-possession of your property, you are now able to enforce the possession and give the tenant a set amount of time to vacate the property. If the tenant continues to occupy the property, a law enforcement officer can and will present the resident with an Order for Possession. This order creates an understanding that if the tenant fails to vacate, law enforcement officers will return to do so forcibly.
No rental property owner or property management company wants to go through the eviction process. Total eviction-related expenses for property managers average at $3,500 with the process taking up to 4 weeks. Thankfully, there are many preventative measures that allow a property team to find the right tenants, in hopes of avoiding situations like this in the future (a strong tenant screening process, for example).
However, there will always be ‘bad apples’ and unfortunate circumstances. It is best to be educated and prepared for the worst while still hoping for the best. Since an eviction is considered a serious legal issue, following the law is crucial. Without knowing what to expect, it is just as easy to find yourself or your property in a world of trouble!