Managing Evictions and What To Do When a Tenant Stops Paying Rent
Evicting a tenant is a scenario you hope you never have to deal with as a landlord. But if you ever find yourself wondering what to do when your tenant stops paying rent, you’ll be glad you took a look at our advice on how to manage the situation. Here are some tips on what to do — and what not to do — when you need to remove tenants from a rental property because the rent payments are overdue.
Contact Your Tenant at the First Sign of Trouble
Once the rent is overdue and the grace period has expired, it’s time to take action:
Communicate with a paper trail. Written notice — delivered by courier, U.S. mail or e-mail — should clearly state that the tenant is responsible for paying rent on time. By sending the notice with a request for signature you can help to prove delivery of notice and review the tracking number details to verify receipt. Emails can also be sent with a return/read receipt requests.
Be understanding, but firm. Empathize with the tenant in your correspondence, and remind them that it’s their legal obligation to pay in a timely manner otherwise they may face late fees or eviction.
Avoid insults or derogatory language. Keep your emotions in check and stick to the facts, the tenant will be more likely to respond positively if you don’t make it personal.
Refer to the lease agreement terms. Site applicable sections of the lease and state each party’s responsibilities. Your tenant may see that there’s a contract to abide by and act more quickly to pay the rent.
Play hardball. Give them the option to exit the lease early, but they’ve got to be out within five days for you to void the contract. If they haven’t paid the month’s rent in that time, mention that you’ll be filing legal documents and delivering formal written notice of your intent to evict. That may be enough to motivate them into action. The idea of moving in such short amount of time is usually incentive enough to get the funds together for a rental payment.
Understand the Legal Ramifications of Missteps
Failure to legally follow the eviction process can sometimes result in the tenant living rent-free in your unit for many months. Stiff fines and/or penalties can also result. Be sure you’re complying with state and local laws before you take action, and verify with your real estate attorney your actions legal to the letter of the law.
Deliver "Pay or Quit" Notice
As a landlord, you’ll be required to deliver written notice to your tenant when the rent is late. It’s now when you need to carefully review the lease agreement and operate according its terms. You may be allowed to get this notice to your tenant via e-mail, which can help save you time and that can reduce vacancy time. Here are a few typical points made in a Pay or Quit Notice:
- State that the rent is late
- Let them know this will affect their credit report if it’s not resolved quickly
- Identify a deadline by which the rent is due — usually five to seven days from the date of the notice
- State that you will terminate the lease and legally force the tenant out of the space if no action is taken
- Mention that they’ll be forfeiting their security deposit, per the rental agreement terms
Save Time and Money by Paying Your Tenant to Leave
Once you’re aware of the real cost, in stress, legal fees and lost rent payments — because your tenant refuses to leave — it may be wise to consider a less expensive and quicker alternative to solving the problem. The “cash for keys” method has worked for landlords seeking a streamlined answer to a tough problem. Paying the tenant to vacate the property might be the right move. By giving them a few days to move out, you'll have time to seek a well-qualified tenant sooner which may resolve the issue a month or two before any eviction action can legally occur.
Filing an Eviction Action
It’s here where knowing what not to do is really important. Never lock your tenant out of their rental. This is considered a “self-help eviction” and is illegal in most states. Your tenant may be able to seek legal action against you if they’re prevented from entering their rental unit because you’ve violated landlord-tenant laws. It could come with a hefty fine. And don’t shut off their utilities when they’re legally allowed access to the rental space either.
If your tenant is still unwilling to leave, you’ll need to get over to your county courthouse and file eviction paperwork. This will result in the setting of a date for your eviction hearing, usually around three weeks to a month and a half after the date of your filing. Remember to bring your “Notice to Pay or Quit” documentation with you.
Your filing fee will be added to court costs you incur, so it’s wise to keep careful notes on expenses, as the tenant will eventually be made to pay these in small claims court. Another good piece of advice is to review your lease agreement to be sure that all costs, fines and fees related to an eviction proceeding will be the responsibility of the tenant and that the landlord can seek legal action to recover those funds.
Depending on your jurisdiction, you may have to deliver the tenant’s subpoena to appear in court yourself, or the courts will do it for you.
Show Up on Time for Court
It’s important to know upfront that being a bit late can delay your day in court by weeks, if the judge has a busy schedule. And that may just extend the vacancy even further. Get there early, and have your documents organized so you’ll be able to easily find files as they’re requested by the court. Bring your Pay or Quit Notice, your lease agreement and any correspondences related to the issue.
Hire a Lawyer and a Property Manager
Evicting a problem tenant can be stressful. When situations like these arise, you have options if you’re not up to the task yourself. Employ a property management group to take on collecting rent, enforcing terms in your lease agreement and even dealing with the day-to-day operations of maintaining your rental. It may cost you more up front, but the benefits are many. Tenants are usually more responsive to business-like rental groups, and may take paying on time more seriously when dealing with a property manager.
Notes from attorneys — specifically legal notices and court orders — are also likely to get your tenant’s attention. You may find consistent rental payments are worth the expense when your lawyer’s delivering a notice to vacate.
Just because the idea of handling an eviction may be unpleasant, insuring your real estate investments doesn’t have to be. Our knowledgeable American Family Insurance agents are experts at crafting you a policy that carefully insures your property and they make the whole process simple to understand. Get the coverage you need today and with it, find the peace of mind so you can to keep focused on growing your business.