Evictions are a landlord’s worst nightmare. If you’ve been through the process, you know this from experience. If you haven’t, you likely know from other landlords’ experiences.
There is nothing enticing about going through what can be a long, expensive, and drawn-out process to force a tenant from your rental. If it’s come to this, it’s a safe bet that you’ve reached your limit with them, but what is the true cost of an eviction?
For your tenant, an eviction on their record can affect their credit score and limit their options on rentals in the future. An eviction judgement will be available to future landlords, employers, or anyone else that would search their public records. The eviction will remain on their report for, on average, about seven years.
Those are a few things that it will cost the tenant, which can be a major hindrance to them moving forward (and a good deterrent to keep them from breaking the lease in many cases!), but what does it mean for you as the landlord and property owner?
Why Do Evictions Happen?
An eviction will, in most cases, boil down to a breach of some kind in the lease.
This can show in a variety of ways. Your tenant may be late in paying rent, be involved in criminal activity of some kind on the property, damage the rental property, or refuse to rectify some other action that they’ve taken in direct violation of the lease.
While they may have what sounds like a valid excuse for their behavior, the key is to keep things in perspective for your business. If they do not pay rent, there is a good chance that it will hurt your ability to pay on the mortgage or to keep up with needed repairs for the property.
A tenant that commits a crime on the property opens the landlord up to legal action against them as well as the tenant.
Damage can be done to the property in a variety of ways including, but certainly not limited to, unapproved pets scratching up floors, too many people living in the rental, smoking indoors without permission, and so much more. If you’re particularly unlucky, you may have a tenant that stretches the boundaries of creativity when it comes to the damage that they leave in their wake.
Noise complaints, threats against other tenants or neighbors, and other issues that are likely covered in your lease can cause a major problem for you as a landlord if they continue unchecked. In the end, if the tenant refuses to work with you or if the situation opens you up to liability, an eviction may become imminent.
Do’s and Don’ts of an Eviction
As with all legal processes, you will want to check your local eviction laws to make sure that you are crossing every t and dotting every i.
There are few things as exasperating as getting to the end of an eviction process (also referred to as an Unlawful Detainer Case) and having the case thrown out on a technicality, which will put you back at the beginning. In general (with the understanding that local laws may differ from state to state and sometimes even from county to county), an eviction process will look something like this:
- The tenant violates the lease in some way. What that violation is will depend on how you approach the next step.
- Provide your tenant with a written warning. While there may be a specific instance in which you are legally able to jump directly into the eviction process, most states will require a written warning that allows the tenant to rectify the problem before the eviction begins.
- If they do not correct the problem at hand, you will need to provide them with a Notice of Eviction. You will want to make sure that you follow your local laws on how this should be delivered and keep careful records.
- Eviction notices allow a time period for the tenant to cure the problem, but once the allotted time has passed, you will need to file the appropriate paperwork with your court system. (There will be fees involved here, but we’ll get to that in a bit.)
- Next you should get ready to attend court. Make sure to have everything filed correctly and all of your evidence organized. Even if the tenant doesn’t show up to the hearing, you will need to, and you will need to be prepared, with documents in writing and verification of the dates they were delivered.
- The eviction date will be set if the judge rules in your favor. In the best case scenario your tenant will leave by that date. You may need to contact the sheriff’s department if they do not.
- If the tenant owes you money, you may wish to try to recover some of those lost funds.
That is the best-case scenario. There are plenty of places in which a stubborn tenant can cause trouble and add stress to the process.
The thing to remember is that you cannot control them, but you can control your process, and one surefire way to set yourself back is by performing what is considered a Wrongful Eviction. Here are just a few things to avoid during an eviction so that you make sure to stay on the right side of the law:
- Never change the locks to the rental while the tenant is still occupying the unit.
- Never threaten or bully the tenant in any way.
- Never remove their property from the unit.
- Never shut off the unit’s utilities.
- Be careful about accepting partial rent.*
The Cost of an Eviction
Evictions can be costly with fees at every turn, loss of rent, and more. Even if you are on top of things and begin the eviction process the moment that your tenant is outside of their grace period for rent, you will still be out that rent plus what would have been owed for the duration of the eviction process. This could be anywhere from five weeks to three months.
On top of this you will have the court fees to pay. These can range anywhere from an average of $400 to $750 or more, depending on your state and local process, and that is just for the fees.
If you’re considering hiring a lawyer to help with the case, you may be looking at anywhere between $500 to as much as $5,000 if the tenant decides to try to contest the eviction in court.
If you let your frustration get the better of you and chose to wrongfully evict the tenant (also referred to as a “self-help eviction” because the landlord takes it into their own hands to force the tenant out without going through the legal process), you will find yourself back at the beginning of the process all over again, paying the same fees over, and possibly be required to pay the tenant’s fees as well.
Once you have won the eviction case, you are still not done.
There will be a time set by the judge that the tenant must be out by, but if they’re not, you may have to contact the sheriff’s office to have them escorted off the property. That could cost you around $50, depending where the rental is located.
Once they’re out, the cleanup begins. It’s a fair bet that if you have had to remove a delinquent tenant that they will not go to any great pains to leave the rental in the same state that they found it in. There will be tenants that may even leave some of their possessions behind, and in many states you are not allowed to simply toss or sell these items. You are required to store them for a length of time in case the tenant comes back to reclaim them.
You will also need to change the locks, which can range depending on if you hire a locksmith or do it yourself. With storage fees, cleaning fees, locksmith fees, and any repairs that you have to make to damages done, even if you have a security deposit from them you can see how it starts to add up in a hurry, and that’s after the eviction judgement has been passed and you’ve shelled out potentially thousands of dollars to go to court.
Evictions are expensive, though it’s not limited to a monetary expense. If you are a single landlord without the support of a property management firm behind you, you may feel overwhelmed by the stressful situation.
Evictions cost time, energy, and they take focus away from other things that need to be done.
You will need to set aside time for collecting evidence, for the court date, and all of the other little details you will need to make sure you have put together. If you have never been through an eviction before (or even if it’s just been a while), and you choose not to hire an attorney to help, you will need to make sure that you take the time to thoroughly research the laws in your area or you may find yourself right back at square one, which as we mentioned earlier, will cost both time and money to go through the process again.
You may receive phone calls at all hours from frantic tenants that realize that they’ve let the situation go too far and are now angry with you or they may shut off communication altogether, leaving you to worry about the state of your rental that they are still living in. Even if they are difficult to reach, you’ll need to make sure not to harass them, though, or you’ll open yourself up for trouble in the eviction process.
What Are Your Options?
All in all, evictions are a nasty business. The tenant is being forced out of their home and you are being put through the financial and emotional stress that comes with an eviction and finding a new tenant to fill the unexpected vacancy. If there is any chance that you can avoid the eviction, you should.
The first step to avoiding an eviction is a thorough, detailed tenant screening. This should include a credit, criminal, and eviction report to give you a well rounded view of the rental applicant’s history and reliability. You should collect references from the tenant, verify employment and income, and watch out for the warning signs of a potentially poor tenant choice.
Once you accept a tenant that has been vetted, you will need to make sure that you have a solid lease. You should never allow a tenant to move in without first signing the lease with them, legally binding you both to the landlord-tenant relationship and safeguarding your business. The lease will detail out what is expected from both parties, including rent, policies, maintenance expectations, etc etc… If eviction becomes inevitable, a solid lease will help you in the legal battle.
Your diligence should not end when the tenant moves in. You will want to remain aware of any signs that could give you a heads up that your tenant will break the lease. If your tenant cuts off communication with you suddenly or you see signs that they are making a move long before their lease is up but they haven’t said anything, you’ll want to be ready.
There may be select times in which it is more financially reasonable to offer to pay your tenant to leave rather than go through the eviction process. Depending on the situation and how much the tenant is willing to accept to keep their credit history in a bit better shape, this can prove to be a reasonable option to consider.
In the end if the tenant is costing you money and won’t leave you may not be able to avoid an eviction. It’s part of the rental business and managing your own properties. The key is to learn from the experience. Your first eviction process may feel like you’re shooting in the dark, but it’s a learning experience. Take a deep breath, do your research, speak to other landlords that have been through similar situations, and seek legal advice if you’re unsure of something.
* Some local laws may stop you from accepting partial rent during the eviction press or supplementing that lost rent by subletting any part of the property