How should landlords begin the tenant eviction process?
If you are an active real estate investor who builds a good sized portfolio, and holds long enough, or even flips a good amount of properties, sooner or later you will likely run into a tenant who needs to be evicted. It’s just a numbers game and part of the business. How you handle those defaults can make all the difference in the costs, time and process. Ultimately, it will directly impact your profitability and how much you enjoy or loathe being a landlord.
How to Start an Eviction
When it comes to actually evicting a tenant the process is really officially started at the county courthouse. You’ll have to file a suit to evict. This doesn’t have to be too complicated. Your property management company will often handle this all for you. If the eviction is uncontested by the renter, then things can go smoothly and it may only cost you a few hundred dollars. Of course, it can get far more expensive than that too.
However, there are cases in which the law may require an attorney to file the case on your behalf. This may be especially true if the eviction is contested by the renter or occupant, or the property is owned in a corporate name.
VIP: Note that every jurisdiction is different. Every state has its own laws. Every county can differ in how those laws are applied. Even individual judges may show more favor for either landlords or tenants. Be very careful to know the local laws before starting. One slip up and you could give the tenant a lot of ammo that could wind up bankrupting you. Even the individual sheriff and deputies involved may play a significant role in how an eviction request plays out.
So, if you must file for a full eviction, know the local landlord-tenant laws, use the right professional to file at the courthouse, and be ready to pay the filing fees, process server fees per occupant, and for the sheriff’s writ of possession.
Before You Begin the Tenant Eviction Process
Before you get to the step of actually filing for an eviction, you will probably be required to begin with one or several notices to the occupant or renters. You may have a 3 day notice, 7 day notice, or 10 day notice. Mess this up and you can be in expensive legal trouble.
Whatever you do, do not start harassing the tenant or try to squeeze them out by cutting services. It will not go well for you in court.
Document these notices as best you can for a good defense in court.
Avoiding a Tenant Eviction Situation
Acing the tenant eviction process really begins with avoiding getting to that stage at all. Many very active investors have successfully managed to avoid going the distance by having good systems and approaches in place in advance.
This begins with choosing the right tenants.
There are a lot of tools online for screening tenants today. You can do background checks (where legal), pull credit, and check out their social media. However, even being diligent there can be renters who look awesome on paper, but are the worst kind of ‘professional’ tenants. It’s not so much credit scores, incomes or criminal backgrounds, but knowing how to read the lines. It can take a lot of experience and an intuitive manager to nail this. So, tenant screening is number one.
Then it is great communication, relationships, setting the right expectations and smart leasing. A strong lease, being clear upfront and having convenient ways to pay rent online can make a world of difference in tenant defaults. Be clear that you are not going to let delinquency slide, no matter what the story. Provide as much help and other resource contacts as you can, so there is no excuse for not coming up with the rent. Structure late fees so that they motivate on time payment, but do not make it impossible for tenants to catch up after falling behind. Aim for not too high or too low.
How Long Does it Take to Evict a Tenant?
There can be a dramatic difference in the time it takes to evict a tenant in default. It will mostly depend on the state you are in, and whether the tenant contests and puts up a fight, or just moves on.
An eviction can take just a couple days if the tenant willingly moves on. This is ideal. It’s the least costly. If they dig in, and want to drag it out, it can take months, and cost you thousands, not including property damage.
If they move out on the first late notice or are on a month to month lease, you should be free in a month or less. If you’re in an annual lease or longer, or you’[ve made mistakes they may stay for months for free. They may even be entitled to large amounts of compensation, as well as their non-occupant family members who become ‘emotionally distressed’ about the situation. You could risk running out of money. Or if you have neglected services or repairs, you could lose the property to eminent domain.
If you get to this stage, it is far better to offer them a deal to move out, and help them. Offer to pay for the moving truck and find a new home for them. They won’t qualify to move anywhere after you’ve filed the eviction. So, keep that in mind. If they have nowhere to go, they’ve go nothing to lose by putting up a fight.
The process can also get reset from the beginning in some states if they pay the rent, or you even accept partial payments.
Ultimately, the smartest way to handle tenants and evictions is to use professional property management from start, and have smart processes to lower risk from before choosing the tenant in the first place.