Evictions are an unfortunate event that is sometimes unavoidable. Understanding the legal process is the key to success when the only solution is to remove a tenant from the home. Legal evictions can be a lengthy process of notices, court appearances, and communications. To regain possession of their property as soon as possible, some landlords sway from the necessary legal steps. For landlords, the consequences of not following all proper steps to evict a tenant can be significant, including further delays, fines, and possible litigation. Join us below as we discuss some of the easily avoidable yet common eviction mistakes landlords make.
Reasons to Legally Evict a Tenant
Before we look at common eviction mistakes, it is vital to understand where the process begins. One of the main determining factors of a successful eviction is whether or not the reason for eviction is legal. It may come as a surprise to some, but landlords cannot simply evict a tenant with a signed lease whenever they want. So let’s review the legal reasons to pursue eviction below.
- Tenant is Behind on Rent or has Refused to Pay
- “Holding Over” or Staying Beyond the Expiration of the Lease
- Breach of Lease Provisions
- The Landlord Needs to Sell
- To Complete Necessary Renovations to the Property
- Tenants Cause Damage to the Property
If you still feel an eviction is necessary outside of the reasons below, we recommend contacting a qualified attorney before pursuing any action.
Common Eviction Mistakes Landlords Must Avoid
When it is clear that eviction is the only option, landlords want to get their property back as soon as possible. Unfortunately, to do so, some property owners resort to their own, often illegal, tactics. So, steer clear of the common eviction mistakes below to ensure you regain possession as efficiently as possible.
- Lacking Evidence to Support Your Complaint
- Not Giving Proper Notice
- Punishing Tenants for Legitimately Withholding Rent
- Engaging in a Self-Help Eviction
- Seeking Eviction as Retaliation
- Violating Fair Housing Laws
- Not Consulting with Professionals
Lacking Evidence to Support Your Complaint
Keeping detailed and accurate records is a vital part of any business. However, for landlords looking to substantiate an eviction claim, records play a vital role. The legal burden is on the landlord to prove in court that the eviction is both just and right. Therefore, having evidence to back up that claim will determine the success of your outcome. For example, some of the common pieces of evidence include –
- Copy of the signed lease agreement
- Documentation showing all served notices and delivery receipts for certified mail.
- Bank records or a rent roll showing the tenant’s payment history
- Copies of all tenant correspondence
- Records of any complaints from other tenants or neighbors
- Inspection checklists and photos of any tenant damage
These are just a few examples of what a court may need to decide your case fairly. Keep in mind that courts may require additional documentation depending on where your rental property is and local laws. For example, for most non-payment of rent evictions post COVID-19, landlords need to submit additional forms showing compliance with all CDC orders. That said, failing to submit proper evidence to back up your claim could result in delays, a dismissal, or corrective action against the landlord.
Not Giving Proper Notice
As mentioned, a legal eviction is a process, and landlords cannot attempt to skip over steps. Therefore, the first step before filing in court is to issue notice to the tenant. This “Notice to Vacate” informs occupants of your intent to pursue eviction and provides them with a certain number of days to vacate. In addition, this lets the tenant know why they are facing eviction and if they have an opportunity to remedy the situation.
The reason for eviction, for example, non-payment of rent versus the owner intending to sell, may require different notice periods under local law. Typically, this notice period ranges from 5 to 30 days, depending on the situation. So, it is essential for landlords to research these requirements, document their timeline, and fully comply. Dropping the ball at this stage could cost landlords time and money in the long run.
Punishing Tenants for Legitimately Withholding Rent
Owners have a responsibility to maintain a safe and habitable property. Therefore, landlords must complete essential repairs or maintenance promptly. Failing to address safety or repairs that could affect a tenant’s health can cause conflict with the tenant.
In many jurisdictions, the tenant can lawfully withhold rent in escrow until the landlord addresses essential repairs. The landlord cannot use this as an excuse to evict for non-payment. Instead, keep communication lines open with tenants and respond quickly to any repair requests. Even if it takes a few days to secure the appropriate vendor, keep tenants updated on your efforts. This open communication can go a long way in avoiding disputes.
Engaging in a Self-Help Eviction
One of the most detrimental and common eviction mistakes landlords make is attempting to evict a tenant themselves. At no time should a landlord take matters into their own hands. In fact, this can actually make things worse and become a potentially dangerous situation. That said, removing a tenant through threats, intimidation, harassment, or physical altercation opens the door for tenants to pursue criminal action against the landlord. In addition to these examples, some of the actions you cannot take include –
- Locking out the tenant so they can no longer gain entry
- Removing the entry doors so the property is not secure
- Shutting off vital utilities such as electric, gas, or water
- Forcibly removing the tenant’s belongings from the property
Property owners cannot predict how a tenant on the brink of losing their home will respond to an eviction. Therefore, keep your distance and serve notice in accordance with local law. This is the safest, most efficient, and professional way to handle an unfortunate situation.
Seeking Eviction as Retaliation
Along with self-help evictions, one of the common eviction mistakes owners make is retaliating against tenants. This is also highly illegal and will only lead to more complications. In addition to pursuing eviction, landlords cannot arbitrarily increase rent or withhold agreed-upon services in retaliation. Some of the following reasons for eviction are retaliatory and are, therefore, illegal –
- The tenant filed suit against the property owner.
- An occupant is a member of a tenants’ organization
- The tenant filed a complaint with local code enforcement or other housing agency against the landlord
- The tenant consulted an attorney involving their rights or is threatening suit
Violating Fair Housing Laws
Fair Housing Laws are designed to protect individuals and families from housing discrimination. It helps ensure everyone has an equal opportunity for safe and habitable housing options. The federal level has seven “protected classes,” including race, color, sex, national origin, religion, familial status, and disability. However, there may be additional classes at the state or even local level that property owners must know. Landlords cannot evict tenants solely based on any of these discriminatory factors. Moreover, to comply with Fair Housing laws, landlords cannot –
- Outright refusal to rent to anyone based on their protected class
- Representing housing as unavailable to anyone in a protected class
- Setting different standards, terms, or privileges for rental housing based on the occupant
- Advertise vacancies in a discriminatory or non-inclusive way
- Threaten, coerce, or intimidate tenants who exercise their rights under Fair Housing Law
A discrimination claim can ruin a business and the owner’s financial wellbeing. However, the fix is simple – treat everyone fairly, respectfully, and professionally.
Not Consulting with Professionals
An eviction is a legal process with many moving parts. Thus, making knowing the applicable rules, requirements, and laws is critical to a positive outcome. One of the most common eviction mistakes is thinking you do not need professional advice. Especially now, with new COVID-19 regulations regarding non-payment evictions, understanding your rights and responsibilities as a landlord is critical.
If you employ a property management firm, they will likely handle the eviction process from start to finish. If you do not, we recommend consulting an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant law to review your specific eviction needs.
What is the Legal Eviction Process for Landlords?
Now that we have reviewed the common eviction mistakes let’s talk about how the process should go. Keep in mind, not following proper procedure could result in losing the eviction case and even being responsible for court costs. So, if you have a situation that warrants legal eviction, follow the steps below –
Steps to a Lawful Tenant Eviction
- Serve Notice of Termination to Tenants – Before landlords can file for eviction with the court, they must notify the tenant. This notice informs the tenant of the reason and timeframe to vacate the premises.
- File a Complaint through the District Court – If a tenant does not vacate per the terms of the notice, the next step is to file for formal eviction through the District Court. This involves submitting a written complaint showing an owner’s legal standing to evict the tenant.
- Summons Issued by the Courts – After a complaint is filed, a hearing is scheduled, and the sheriff will send a summons to the tenant. The landlord and tenant need to appear on the scheduled date to plead their case before the judge.
- Attend the Hearing – On the day of the hearing, tenants and landlords present their evidence so the judge can make their decision. After hearing both sides, ideally, the judge will grant the eviction. From there, the tenant usually has several days to vacate the property.
- Removal Through a Warrant of Restitution – Ideally, the tenant will accept the court’s decision and vacate in the allotted timeframe. If not, property owners must ask the courts for a Warrant of Restitution. Thus, allowing the sheriff to physically escort the tenants from the property.
Processing Evictions Made Easy
Evictions are a stressful and complicated undertaking for landlords. While it is an unfortunate situation, a clear understanding of all applicable laws is critical. However, property owners do not have to fight the battle alone. Hiring a qualified property management firm means owners have expertise on their side.
Bay Property Management Firms handles all daily operations for our clients, including helping them avoid common eviction mistakes. While we have less than a 1% eviction rate for tenants we place, we understand that it is sometimes necessary. Our team of dedicated property managers ensures detailed records are kept up to date, and all requirements are met through the court. If you are an owner facing the need to evict a tenant or just need help handling the daily stresses of your rentals, give us a call today.