Are you a DIY Landlord with a “Bad” Tenant?
You know what I’m talking about, right? You have a tenant who is:
- Not paying the rent on time (or at all)
- Failing to maintain the property
- Moving-in prohibited pets or unrelated guests
- Hosting loud parties and disturbing the peace
- Etc…etc… (any tenant behavior that isn’t in compliance with the terms of the lease and causing you to lose money and/or sleep)
Do you keep putting up with your tenant’s bad behavior?
Have you heard horror stories about the eviction process? It will take forever! It will cost you an arm and a leg! You’ll definitely need a lawyer!
Are you delaying needed action with your tenant because you don’t know what steps to take?
Do It Yourself Eviction
First, and you know I have to say this….Laws, rules and regulations VARY by State and Local jurisdiction, so please use this information as a guide and opinion piece, DON’T RELY ON THIS AS LEGAL ADVICE (see Disclaimer).
BUT, with that said, there is substantial information and self-help available for landlords who wish to pursue the eviction process themselves. If you are smart enough to understand the legal documents you signed to purchase and lease your rental property, you ARE smart enough to handle the eviction process on your own. Yep, I said it. No lawyer necessary. And here’s why…
DIY LANDLORDS CAN:
- Easily research their locality’s eviction process on-line
- Download documents and forms
- Get administrative help from the local Clerk of Court (usually at the “General District Court” for Landlord-Tenant matters)
How to Begin An Eviction
You want to begin the eviction process because you are either:
- Totally on-the-ball, nipping your tenant’s bad behavior in the bud, PRONTO!
or, like a lot of busy landlords….
- Finally addressing your tenant’s bad behavior that was too much of a hassle to deal with UNTIL NOW, BECAUSE YOU ARE SO FED UP!
Either way, young grasshopper, it’s time to begin…and the first step in your eviction education is learning the power of the Notice of Default. Although the Notice is usually just a one-page form, it holds the power to start the eviction ball rolling in most localities. You should be able to find a copy on-line of a Notice that is appropriate for your locality, and, according to your locality’s regulations, you can either:
- Mail the Notice to your tenant via registered mail
- Hand-deliver the Notice to your tenant; or
- Post the Notice at the property
The Notice of Default should get your tenant’s attention. Things are getting serious. In fact, delivery of the Notice may be enough to cure the tenant’s bad behavior without further steps. The Notice warns tenants that they have a certain period, such as 5 days, to comply with the terms of their lease. If they fail to comply in full (usually by paying overdue rent & late fees), then their landlord may terminate the lease and regain possession of the rental property. Pretty motivational, right?
But, if a tenant is isn’t spurred into action and continues breaking the rules of the lease, then its time for you to get familiar with….
Landlord Tenant Court
Don’t be too intimidated to exercise your legal rights! Your taxes support the legal system that protects your rights as a landlord – put them to work for your benefit.
You have two amazing resources at your disposal:
Go on-line to research your state’s “Code,” which is a compilation of your state’s “statutes” (laws). You can see, in mind-numbing detail, the laws covering landlord-tenant relationships in your jurisdiction. In addition to searching for laws covering eviction proceedings, you can also search for your local court information. The state/local court websites will usually contain legal forms related to eviction proceedings and the instructions for completing them. These forms are FREE (you don’t need to pay some legal-form website for them).
The Clerk of Court
If you don’t want to search on-line (or if you want administrative help filling out the forms you printed on-line), head to your county courthouse and find the Clerk of Court’s office. The Clerk can be your greatest resource in this process. The clerk is NOT your lawyer and will not give you legal advice, but the Clerk should be happy to:
- provide you with proper forms
- help you complete them administratively
- provide you the basic information you need to work through the eviction process
The eviction process usually entails filing a few specified forms, arranging for service of process, and paying administrative fees or “court costs.”
Typically the main form that you will be submitting to the Clerk is called a Summons, which is the court filing that initiates a civil claim (civil, because even if you feel like your tenant is a felonious scoundrel, eviction is just a civil matter – no jail time here!). You are going to be filing a Civil Claim for Eviction, sometimes called a Summons for Unlawful Detainer. It is usually one page (that’s all, just ONE) and it will require simply the basic information like: names, addresses, claim amounts (including unpaid rent, late fees and court costs).
The Summons must be “served” on the tenant. “Service of process” is just a legal term for the act of delivering and notifying, and it’s usually handled by your county Sheriff’s office. Once “served,” the tenant will have notice of the eviction claim and of the time and date of the scheduled eviction hearing. Service is also a way to tell your tenant, “hey, it’s going down for real.” Let’s face it, there’s nothing like uniformed sheriff’s deputies at the door to get someone’s attention!
You may be able to figure-out your fees in advance on-line, but you can also ask the Clerk of Court when you are filing your paperwork at the courthouse. The fees will vary by locality, but the total fees to file the Summons and for service of process will probably range from $100-$200. These costs can (and should) be included in the judgment request in the Summons, which means the fees will be eligible for reimbursement by the tenant.
The Eviction Hearing
If all the pre-hearing legal activity motivated your tenant into compliance with the lease, you can always contact the Clerk of Court and cancel the hearing. Otherwise, get ready to set your inner-lawyer free, because it is time for…
YOUR DAY IN COURT!
…which is not actually not that exciting. Sigh. Most likely, you will sit..and sit…and sit…listening to other cases in an open hearing session, waiting for your case to be called. It’s boring, but it does give you the opportunity to see how the process works and get a feel for the judge. When the judge does call your name (and your tenant’s name), you proceed to the front of the bench. Then the judge will likely ask you (and your tenant) a few straightforward questions. This is a time to be calm, clear and responsive. If you need any documents to prove your eviction claim (such as repair receipts), bring them with you and offer to present them to the judge. Otherwise, just answer the questions you are asked and keep your mouth shut.
The judge has discretion to grant, deny, or continue your eviction claim based on your Summons and on the testimony provided at the hearing. A claim might be denied if the tenant can prove compliance with the lease terms. It might be continued if the tenant can show good faith efforts to comply, but more time is needed and a new hearing is scheduled. Or your eviction claim could be GRANTED – with a judgement in your favor and the right to “immediate possession.” YAY!!!
But wait…..immediate possession is not actually “immediate” because, depending on circumstances, you typically have to take additional steps with the Clerk and the Sheriff’s Office to regain possession. These additional steps are important and again vary by location. DO NOT IMMEDIATELY LOCK YOUR TENANT OUT OR DISPOSE OF THEIR PROPERTY, BUT DO JUST FOLLOW THE RULES – which will usually require a little more paperwork and few more days’ time. Don’t worry, the ever-helpful Clerk of Court should be able to direct you, and very soon you will be rid of your problem tenant and on to better ones. All because you, my friend, are a DIY Landlord!
If you find this eviction information helpful, or if you have a question or comment, please let me know. Do DIY Landlord’s want more self-help legal information?