What are the most frequent mistakes landlords make when evicting tenants?
There are four common mistakes landlords make when evicting tenants:
- Improper notice.
- Insufficient documentation of lease violations.
- Making mistakes in paperwork or legal procedures that delay an eviction.
- Engaging in self-help by forcing a tenant to leave without a judge's order.
Below, you can learn how to avoid these common mistakes to ensure your evictions do not end up costing more money or taking more time than they should.
What type of Eviction Notice must I provide a tenant?
In an eviction, you need to deliver an Eviction Notice to a tenant stating the reason for the eviction. In some cities and states, depending on the reason for sending the notice, it is either common practice or a legal requirement to give the tenant a chance to fix the violation before proceeding with an eviction through the court. Generally, landlords may want to ask a lawyer what type of Eviction Notice they must provide as the requirements vary from state to state and often from one city or county to another. Additionally, a lawyer can provide advice on what sort of documentation or proof will be required if the case goes to court.
If the tenant owes back rent, one type of Eviction Notice will give tenants three days to either pay or quit (leave) the premises. This notice means that they have three days to pay the rent plus any late fees or move out. If they do not pay the late rent within three days, the landlord can then file for eviction.
For some lease violations, you may provide the tenant one to two weeks to fix the violation or move out. For major violations, you may only want them to move out. If the tenant does not move out, you will likely need to go to court to complete the eviction process.
What happens if I provide the wrong Eviction Notice?
Not providing the right Eviction Notice may lead to a considerable delay in the eviction process and cost more money. It might be helpful to prepare an Eviction Process Worksheet before sending an Eviction Notice, and to speak with a lawyer to make sure you get it right.
Failing to comply with local or state requirements may result in:
- Having to start the process over.
- Paying the court’s filing fees again.
- Potentially being on the hook for the tenants costs in defending against the improper eviction attempt.
- Losing the opportunity to turn the rental unit over to a new tenant.
For example, if the Eviction Notice states the incorrect reason for eviction, or simply lists the wrong amount of unpaid rent, the tenant may have a legal defense against that reason or may be able to say they were not properly notified of the actual violation. Additionally, some states or cities may require that an Eviction Notice have specific language in the notice to inform a tenant about their rights.
Can I change the locks or shut off services if a tenant won’t leave?
It is typically not permissible to change locks or shut off utilities if a tenant refuses to move out. Doing so may be considered self-help or an unlawful eviction, and lead to severe legal consequences. It may also be a criminal offense in many cities and states.
In order to force a tenant out, you usually need to get an eviction order from a judge that says you can retake possession of the premises. Even then, if the tenant refuses to leave voluntarily after the judge orders it, a landlord cannot personally remove the tenant from the property. Landlords will generally need to have the court order enforced by local law enforcement.
Can I continue accepting rent after providing an Eviction Notice?
Under some state and local laws, accepting even partial rent after providing an Eviction Notice may terminate your eviction rights, especially if non-payment of rent is the only reason provided in the notice. In some cases, you may need to expressly state that you are not waiving your right to evict before accepting rent. Talk to a lawyer before accepting further rent payments from tenants you are trying to evict.
Does the amount of late rent need to be included in the Eviction Notice or eviction filing?
Depending on where the property is located, it may be required to include the specific amount owed in an Eviction Notice sent to a tenant that is behind on rent. Once you go to court, the filing may need to state the amount owed, and you will likely need to show documentation to support the delinquent rent and fees. Late fees or interest that may continue to accrue should also be included in the notice or filing. If the eviction is the result of something other than the nonpayment of rent, it may be smart to talk to a lawyer about what sort of documentation or proof you will need to show the court.
To learn more about what you need to do to avoid these common mistakes or to get help evicting a tenant, ask a lawyer.
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.