Sometimes, you cannot avoid eviction: one or more of your tenants has to go. Preferably sooner rather than later. Evicting a tenant is one of the more draining experiences you’ll have to endure as a landlord. Evictions take time and money, but are there any other legal ways to get your property back? Yes!
Telling tenants to their faces that they have to leave is understandably anxiety-inducing, but issuing a written eviction notice can be just as nerve-wracking. Fortunately, there are other ways to get a tenant to move out. Join us below as we examine your rights as a landlord and some alternative methods to get tenants to move out without eviction.
Legal vs. Illegal Reasons to Remove a Tenant
Before embarking on a journey to remove your tenants, the reasons why need careful consideration. Unfortunately, not every landlord has the best intentions, and some laws protect a tenant from retaliatory eviction. As the property owner, you may feel you have the right to remove anyone, at any time, and for anything, but that is not the case. Therefore, to protect yourself from any dispute or accusation of unfair practices, never pursue any eviction based on the following.
Illegal Reasons to Evict a Tenant
- Discrimination based on any Fair Housing Protected classes
- Personal Vendetta, also known as Retaliatory Eviction
- Tenant Withholding Rent for Legitimate Reasons
Simply put, you cannot evict any tenant based solely on your feelings towards any Fair Housing Protected classes. Doing so opens the landlord to potential complaints and a justified lawsuit from the tenant. Protected classes will vary slightly from state to state, so be sure to research the laws in your area. Generally speaking, individuals are protected against discrimination based on the following:
Federally Protected Classes Under the Fair Housing Act –
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Added Examples of Protected Classes at the State Level –
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity
- Source of income
Personal Vendettas or Retaliatory Evictions
Evicting a tenant to get back at them for a dispute, or any disagreement, for that matter, is illegal. Aggravation is unfortunate, but not grounds for an eviction that will hold up in court. It may make you angry, but never attempt to evict a tenant based on them complaining or legally reporting you to code enforcement or the housing authority.
Tenant Withholding Rent for a Legitimate Reason
A landlord is required to make necessary repairs to maintain the property’s standard of habitability. If they fail to do so, a tenant can withhold rent in escrow until the health or safety issue is resolved. However, this is different than simple nonpayment of rent, which is an enforceable reason to evict someone through the courts properly.
Legal Reasons for Eviction and Your Rights as A Landlord
If you cannot avoid eviction but choose a route other than pursuing in court, it is vital to understand your landlord’s rights. While there are illegal reasons to evict, there are also legitimate ones. As a landlord, you have the right to pursue removing a tenant from the property for any of the following.
Legal Reasons a Landlord Can Pursue Eviction
- If you are selling your property
- To complete renovations to your property
- Tenants break or violate the terms of their lease
- Nonpayment of rent
- Tenants cause damage to the property
- A tenant does not leave upon lease expiration
How to Get Tenants to Move Out Without a Court Eviction
Once you have established a legal basis for wanting your tenants to vacate, it’s time to take action. Landlords who do not want a lengthy and costly court battle may choose to try a different tactic. Often, tenants know they are in the wrong and may be eager to accept an alternative to avoid eviction being on their record. Consider the options below!
- Offer an Incentive: Cash for Keys
- Offer Assistance
- Proper Communication
Offer an Incentive: Cash for Keys
Offering “cash for keys” can avoid eviction by getting your tenant to move out voluntarily. While this may not be the most immediately appealing of methods for handling tenant turnover, it is one of the more effective means of doing so. That said, it is going to cost you. However, it will likely prove to be worth it if you need the tenants out of the property as soon as possible.
Also, it is as simple as it sounds. Through this method, you will be paying your tenants to leave your property. In turn, this will allow you to avoid the lengthy eviction process and even save money in the long run. Follow these steps below when offering “cash for keys” to avoid eviction:
Steps to Offer Cash for Keys
- Explain the Situation – Tell your tenant in straightforward terms what the problem is, and explain that they cannot stay on the property any longer.
- Describe the Consequences – Calmly explain that they will be evicted with necessary court orders if they remain on the property. Additionally, they will be sued for damages.
- Offer Them a Way Out – Tell them that, if they leave of their own accord, they can avoid costly consequences and even keep their credit. Then, explain that you will give them cash that they can use for a deposit at a new residence.
- Finalize – Inspect the property, retrieve the keys from the tenants as they leave, and hand them the cash. Immediately change the locks and be sure all utility companies involved are satisfied. If applicable, return the tenant’s deposit.
In some ways, using the “cash for keys” method can be seen as a bribe. But by doing so, you can avoid the stress of involving law enforcement and waiting around as troublesome tenants continue to avoid paying rent or further damaging your property. The sooner they’re out, the quicker you can start collecting rent from more reliable future tenants.
Being helpful and understanding while your tenants are being instructed to leave the property can mean the difference between a rocky road and a smooth transition. So, if you have access to cheaper rates on moving trucks or cleaning supplies, offer them to your tenants. If you have your own moving truck, allowing them to use it for free is an even better option for gently nudging your tenants out the door.
As a landlord, you may also have connections to other rental properties in the area. Tell your tenants you can help them find a new place to live. You may even want to provide them with business cards and phone numbers to other property managers and landlords in the area who have comparable price ranges. If you approach your tenants with this more positive, helpful attitude, they’ll feel more comfortable with the idea of leaving. Consequently, they may even be more apt to speed up the process.
Sometimes, the most direct way is best, and you can simply ask the tenants to move out. Most people like the idea of avoiding conflict, especially if it means keeping good credit. That is why calmly (but firmly) explaining the situation can lead to positive results. If there is no way for the tenant to stay due to unacceptable behavior on their part or extenuating circumstances beyond your control (i.e., building renovations, change of ownership, etc.), giving a thorough explanation is critical. Most importantly, you want there to be no question as to why the tenant must go.
If the situation is more flexible – say, a matter of missing rent or violation of lease policies – there may be a way to reach a new arrangement with the tenant that changes the situation completely. Try talking to them to understand their situation better. That way, if you find that they can pay again in the future or solve a problem, keeping them around could potentially be a better alternative to evicting them. Remember that allowing for open channels of communication between yourself and your tenants at all times is extremely important. Tell them everything they need to know upfront and remind them occasionally of their responsibilities. Doing so prevents tenants from growing careless in upholding their end of the bargain.
Avoid These Mistakes When Trying to Get Tenants to Move Out
When you find yourself desperate to remove tenants from your properties, you may consider some more extreme measures. Some landlords make the mistake of attempting to rid themselves of their tenants without respecting lease agreements. Others use self-help eviction methods where they retake possession of a property without using the eviction process. Avoid using any of the following methods to force a tenant to leave your rental property:
Example of Illegal Self-help Evictions
- Changing the locks while the tenant still lives in the property
- Removing the tenant’s property
- Failing to pay included utilities like water, cutting them off
- Threats of any kind
- Direct orders to leave
Landlord Consequences of a “Self-help” Eviction
If you do use any of these methods above, you could easily find yourself in hot water. A lawsuit is the last thing anyone in business should want to deal with, and any of these could be offenses that could lead to your tenant rightfully suing you and damaging your business.
Every state has rules that all landlords must follow when removing a tenant from their property. Below we compare four different areas to demonstrate the potential consequences landlords face for taking the law into your own hands.
Consequences of Self-help Evictions
- Maryland – Landlords must not resort to self-help evictions. The court can determine damages to be awarded to the tenant.
- Pennsylvania – Self-help evictions are not permitted. The courts can determine damages; however, they see fit.
- Washington DC – A landlord may not engage in self-help evictions. Courts will award both actual and punitive damages.
- Virginia – Not only are self-help evictions illegal; landlords can find themselves paying the tenant actual damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. In addition, statues allow for the tenant to remain in the home.
By treating both your tenants and laws with respect, applying alternative strategies for tenant turnover does not have to be a draining process. If you’re at your wit’s end with a tenant, consider the tips outlined above before you begin the eviction process. Have you tried other methods to avoid eviction, and your tenant still will not move out? Well, pursuing a court-ordered eviction may be the last resort. If you find yourself overwhelmed at the thought, consider hiring a seasoned team like Bay Property Management Group. Our highly experienced staff can handle the filing and eviction process while also working to address maintenance concerns and remarket your property to find a qualified new tenant. We have offices in Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, providing 24/7 support for property management services. For more information, contact us today!