Deciding when to evict a tenant is tough.
Let’s get a disclaimer out of the way. I am not an attorney. Nothing said in this post should be interpreted as legal advice. Speak to an attorney. Do not take anything said in this post as legal guidance, at all.
To any renters/tenants that stumbled across this page, keep reading. Knowing when a landlord should evict a tenant, might help you. (Teaser: talk to them!)
Table of Contents
Evictions are not fun
Evictions are no fun for anyone. The only person that benefits is your attorney. In a perfect world a tenant and landlord could work out something that benefits both of them, such as breaking the lease.
That said, evictions still need to occur. Tenants do not always respect their lease, and they are not always willing to move out on your terms.
What is an eviction?
The eviction is when the sheriff removes the tenant. For the sake of this post, I am referring to evictions wrong because almost everyone who isn’t an attorney refers to the process of taking a tenant to court as an eviction.
Just accept that the real definition of an eviction is the sheriff removing the tenant and that I am referring to the process.
How to know when to evict a tenant
One of the most critical things to screen for is communication. If you and the tenant do not have good communication chemistry when they are interested in renting from you, then do not rent to them.
The thought is if they can’t communicate when they want something from you, then what’s it going to be like when things aren’t going well? I offered flexibility with tenants, but in a bend but don’t break way.
I also communicated with tenants almost exclusively through text and email. When the tenant stops communicating with you it is time for you to notice red flags waving.
My rule of thumb if the tenant is two months late on rent, and/or isn’t answering texts/emails, then it’s time to start the eviction process.
The process takes a while. Get the ball started.
When I have not pursued evictions
- Neighbors complaining. Some neighbors complain. Listen to the neighbor’s complaints. Tell them you will try to address the situation. Speak to the tenant. Explain to both the tenant and the neighbor that it’s their job to get along. They are neighbors. As a landlord, there isn’t much you can do unless the lease is broken. For what it’s worth this is a good reason to avoid duplexes and multi-family rental houses For the most part, neighbors are fine.
- When there is a pet I didn’t know about. Tenants having pets is something that will happen, often. Do you really want to go to court over it? Try to get doggie rent instead. Unless the pets are exotic, just deal with it.
- When the tenant smokes despite the lease saying no smoking. Don’t waste the court’s time. Plus the tenant can just say they stopped. Then you’re left with a strained relationship with the tenant until their lease is up.
If you start an eviction, finish it (unless the tenant has completely resolved the situation)
Be careful about being too nice. If the check is in the mail, wait for it. They forced you to engage an attorney. Let the attorney do their job.
There are other situations that lead to evictions
- Illegal Activities
- People not on the lease living in the house
These are all tricky, though, because you need to prove they are happening. (once again, I am not an attorney, and the law surely varies depending on where you live)
Alternatives to evictions
Evictions are a problem. They drag out a bad situation. There are other options that sometimes work.
- Payment Plan: Have the tenant come up with a plan to get caught up. Make it realistic and attainable. Have the plan of dates in it that they provide. Make sure they understand the penalty for missing of those deadlines. If they develop the plan instead of you, they are more likely to come through.
- Offer the tenant relief. Give them a deadline. If they are moved out by that deadline, you will not pursue lost rent, damages, or whatever you want to negotiate If you do this, consider having a clause that is contingent on the house being left in decent condition.
- Offer to pay the tenant to move. If you do this, do not pay them until they have moved!
Every landlord has their own own eviction stories. Here are some of my highlights. Do not be scared off by these. They were inconveniences, but are part of doing business. I had 7 houses for a few decades. I do not have many stories.
In fact, I only had 2 true evictions the entire time. I’ve taken a dozen or so tenants to court, but I’ve only had the sheriff out twice.
In both cases, the tenant was already gone.
The Blue House
This is one where I pursued the eviction before the tenant even moved in.
Lesson learned: I changed future leases to have a clause that if the tenant did not take possession of the house by the move-in date, the deposit and possession would be forfeited. This tenant actually accused me of dog abuse.
They said the previous tenant was abusing their dog in the house and I knew about it. Bizarre. I like dogs. I called the previous tenant. They passed along a letter from their dog’s vet saying they had seen no evidence of abuse.
The tenant kept complaining about insects and slugs. I called the exterminator over several times.
Finally, the exterminator called me and said: “Look, stop wasting your money with us. There are no insects, spiders, or slugs”. There was surely more going on that i didn’t know about.
My attorney personally served her. She tried to extort me at that point. She told me she was going to sue me for all of back rent. This actually kind of freaked me out.
She didn’t. Instead, she moved out.
Bottom line on when to evict a tenant
It’s time to evict a tenant when communications stop, or when you know the situation is not going to improve. Talk to your attorney!
To all the renters that read this, please note: Talk to your landlord!