The word "eviction" is scary for all sides. When it is talked about, it is often from the viewpoint of a tenant who is worried about how to avoid it.
However, landlords can find the word frightening as well. Nobody wants to evict a tenant, and doing it wrong can result in a lawsuit and even a reputation as a slumlord. In some cases, you might actually face trespassing charges even though you own the property. So, what should you do? First of all, you can help avoid having to evict by doing the following:
1. Screen tenants well in the first place so as to avoid bad risks. Make sure that you check your tenants' employment or income history, criminal record, and credit score. Be careful to avoid discrimination, of course. It's wise to come up with a way to assess income for prospective tenants who might not have a traditional job. Never rent to friends.
2. Go over the lease with new tenants so that they know the key provisions, rather than trusting them to read it.
3. Make sure your lease does not contradict itself, is clearly written, and will stand up in court. It's worth having a lawyer go over it, or even write it in the first place to make sure your lease is legal. Your lease should always contain a severability provision in case something becomes illegal or is deemed unenforceable. Try not to put your tenants in a position where they have no way to fulfill a requirement of the lease.
When you have an issue with non payment or with another serious lease violation, go through the following steps:
1. Make sure you have grounds to evict. If your grounds are nonpayment, then that is simple enough. However, if you are evicting for another lease violation you need to make sure that you have those grounds written down and that they are solid. You should always give tenants a fair chance to fix a lease violation before moving to evict.
2. Talk to the tenant. It's worth trying to reason with them, and in some cases if the issue is nonpayment you can resolve it. If not, a tenant may well leave on their own in order to avoid the effect being evicted might have on their credit score.
3. Give written notice to the tenant. This is called a termination of tenancy notice or a notice to vacate. Check the rules for your state. Some states require that the notice is hand delivered to the tenant in person. If you are evicting a tenant who has abandoned the property, the rules are slightly different. State laws require a certain amount of time for written notice and in some cases they will require a period during which the tenant can get rid of the illegal dog or fix the problem. Regardless, the notice should always include a deadline and the amount owed if any. It's a good idea to both hand deliver the notice and mail it, as the mailed version will show proof that you did it on the required date.
4. File for eviction. You should do so the morning after the notice period runs out.
5. Prepare for the hearing. Bring any evidence you have that supports your case against the tenant. As a minimum,you should bring the lease agreement, the payment records for that tenant, and any bounced checks. If the eviction is for something other than nonpayment, you should bring any proof you have that the tenant is a nuisance or violating the lease. For example, get complaints from neighbors about noise in writing.
6. Evict the tenant. You can't simply physically remove them yourself. In addition to being potentially dangerous, this can cause legal problems for you. They generally have anywhere from 48 hours to a week to actually get out. If they are not out, you should get the sheriff or police to escort them out and remove their belongings.
If you are planning on evicting a tenant, you should get legal advice from a lawyer familiar with tenant and landlord rights in your state and city. However, if you follow the guidance above, you should be able to avoid most problems. Remember that eviction should always be a last resort for dealing with a problem tenant.