What are the alternatives to eviction?
If a tenant wants to stay and is able to pay or correct the problem, you can suggest arbitration or mediation to resolve the issue. Arbitration and mediation are two common alternative dispute resolution methods, both typically move faster and cost less than getting an eviction or lawsuit through the court. You can agree to using one of these methods with an Arbitration Agreement or Mediation Agreement, which can be part of your lease or signed after a dispute arises.
It may also be possible to negotiate your tenant's relocation or repayment, either through mediation or informally. If the tenant had a temporary financial hardship, a pay-and-stay plan can help them catch up on past due rent while protecting your right to evict if they miss future rent payments. If they can no longer afford the rent, they may not want to stay, but their options may be limited.
Depending on the laws where the property is located, you may be entitled to collect all or a portion of the remaining rent even if the tenant is evicted. However, waiving these charges can serve as a big incentive for the tenant to move out. This can help you quickly rent the unit to a new tenant and start to recoup your losses sooner.
Cash-for-keys arrangements are also common, especially if you have a difficult tenant or strong renter protections in your area. With cash-for-keys, you agree to pay the tenant cash when they clear out the unit and hand you the keys. The advantage to cash-for-keys is that even though you pay a tenant who owes you money, you avoid losing more money by getting them out sooner and not paying the costs to evict. Before getting started, it's smart to ask a lawyer about potential legal issues and risks with a cash-for-keys arrangement so you don't make a costly mistake.
How can a tenant get rental assistance to stay?
There are rental assistance programs available, usually through state or local government, or local nonprofit agencies. This can include permanent assistance for those with low incomes, programs that cover temporary hardships like a job loss, and special programs like those created for the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, you or your tenant will need to fill out an application and submit supporting documentation. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the programs available in your area so you can let struggling tenants know about them.
Some landlords may want to consider providing their own rental assistance solutions that offer a discount on rent for performing certain services or duties around the property.
Can my tenant catch up on rent with a Rent Payment Plan or assistance program?
It's up to you if you want to pursue an eviction or give a tenant additional time. If you decide to work with your tenant on a Rent Payment Plan, get a signed agreement outlining payment amounts, deadlines, and consequences for missed payments. You don't want to waive your right to charge late fees, collect timely rent, or evict due to future nonpayment by not enforcing your lease or not having a formal agreement in place.
If you use a Rent Payment Plan, check local rules such as limits on delinquent payments or whether COVID-19 relief protections give tenants a certain amount of time to catch up. If your tenant uses an assistance program, its rules may vary on whether funds can be used for back rent or how far back those funds can be applied. If you need help figuring this out, ask a lawyer to explain the requirements for your area or specific program.
Does the eviction moratorium apply if a tenant can afford rent and just doesn't pay?
Most eviction moratoriums, including the CDC moratorium, require a tenant to have a financial hardship. The problem is that tenants generally just need to submit a form saying they have a hardship, and the landlord can only dispute it during eviction proceedings. Some courts still aren't processing evictions due to local temporary pandemic policies, so a landlord may not have the opportunity to dispute the tenant's hardship claim. Even where courts are accepting eviction cases, they are severely backlogged, and it will take some time to get in front of a judge. However, when your eviction case is heard, you can seek the back rent as part of the case.
An alternative in this situation, where the tenant has willfully stopped paying despite being able to and the courts in your area are not accepting eviction cases, may be to file a breach of contract lawsuit that seeks to recover the back rent payments but does not seek eviction. This may be a legal way to apply pressure and get the tenant to communicate with you, but consult with an attorney first to make sure doing so is legal under state and local laws and to assess the costs and benefits of this approach.
Why should I pay my tenant to move out?
When you have a tenant who is not paying rent, you need to consider a few numbers: the rent owed, the rent you will lose until they move out, the cost of finding a new tenant, and the legal fees needed to get the tenant out. It's also not a certainty that you will recover what the tenant owes even if you get a favorable court judgment. Paying the tenant to move out can help you move in a new tenant, cut your losses, and start generating income again.
If you're unsure about the process, start an Eviction Worksheet to get organized so you can evaluate whether a cash-for-keys deal makes more sense than paying legal fees and court costs.
What can I do about income losses due to the eviction moratorium?
Other than demanding payment and filing a lawsuit, make sure you and your tenants are taking advantage of the available relief programs. For example, California is covering up to 100% of COVID-19 back rent for qualifying landlords and tenants. You may want to consider increasing the rent annually, or as allowed by your lease or under the law. Small annual increases that tenants can afford can really add up over time to help you recover past losses. Lastly, don't forget that there may be positive tax benefits for a loss in income.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.