Common Eviction Mistakes Landlords Make
An eviction can feel like a failure. Landlords may wonder whether something went wrong in the tenant screening process. Sometimes, life circumstances change suddenly and drastically, affecting previously reliable tenants. Evictions are delicate and unpleasant. Inexperience on the part of the landlord, however, can make them worse. Landlords contemplating evicting a tenant should inform their attorney and seek advice about eviction law and proper procedure. This will help them avoid these common mistakes landlords make.
Losing Your Cool
Eviction is an emotional process, and tempers can flare. Landlords initiate evictions because tenants have failed to meet their responsibilities, and the tenant facing eviction may have been a difficult tenant for quite a while. However, it’s imperative to remain professional with tenants heading for eviction— landlords mustn’t let emotions get the better of them during the process. It would be a huge mistake to let frustration boil over and risk saying something that could a tenant in trouble could perceive as discriminatory or threatening.
Landlords make a big mistake if they assume that because they own the property, they can enter an apartment at will and toss the tenant’s personal property into the street. All this will accomplish is a furious and possibly violent response from the tenant, a probable visit from the police, and a lost court case. Tenants still have rights under the lease agreement they signed, even if they’re being evicted.
The proper way to remove a tenant from the premises is to obtain a court order under established laws and procedures. If a court grants the order, law enforcement—not the landlord—enforces it.
Turning Off Utilities
Making the premises unlivable in an attempt to coerce tenants to leave is called “constructive eviction,” and it’s illegal. Landlords must not shut off water, gas, electricity, or other services to the premises such as cable or Internet.
Changing Locks or Removing Doors and Windows
These tactics are also illegal forms of constructive eviction. On top of being illegal, they’re expensive. Your tenant doesn’t have to repair damage a property owner causes. It’s essential that landlords respect the legal process required to pursue eviction. Taking actions patently calculated to harass or coerce a tenant is a good way for a landlord to find themselves defending a lawsuit.
A Poor Lease Agreement
A handshake lease agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Leases should specify the conditions under which eviction may occur. A good lease will spell out notice requirements about late or unpaid rent and define exactly what will happen if the tenant breaks the lease. It will also define notice requirements according to applicable laws. A vague or incomplete lease agreement won’t get a landlord very far in a formal eviction proceeding in court.
Allowing Partial Payments
When a landlord gives a tenant the leeway to make partial payments, they’re giving the tenant (and their lawyer) the gift of an argument against eviction. Accepting partial payments is an especially bad idea if there are multiple tenants, as some will get this accommodation while others won’t. It looks like favoritism, and it can result in accusations of discrimination. The tenant may argue that you broke your own lease by accepting the insufficient payment as rent. Landlords who make these exceptions can end up in an endless loop, getting strung along by tenants who perpetually fail to pay in full.
Failing to Comply with Notice Requirements
Local, state, and federal laws—as well as the lease the tenant signed—impose notice requirements about eviction. Often, giving notice to a tenant is a multistep process. The landlord must first provide formal, written notice to the tenant that they must pay the amount due or vacate the premises within a specified time, or the landlord will initiate eviction proceedings. Landlords have to give tenants a chance to come back into compliance with their lease. If the tenant fails to pay up or leave by the date the landlord (or the lease) specifies, then the landlord can initiate eviction proceedings.
When the eviction process begins, there are usually additional notice requirements. These include how the notice is to be “served,” meaning how the landlord informs the tenant that eviction proceedings have started. Eviction laws will specify what types of notice are acceptable: sending certified letters, sending a sheriff with a notice, or tacking the notice up on the door. By the time a landlord initiates formal eviction proceedings, their lawyer should be thoroughly involved to advise them on how to comply with all these requirements. If a landlord notifies a tenant the wrong way, they may have to start the process all over again.
Lacking Proof of Nonpayment or Damage
Making it all the way to the courtroom to stand before a judge without sufficient evidence is a waste of the landlord’s time—and the court’s. Overworked judges don’t appreciate unprepared plaintiffs. Landlords must provide evidence that there are legally acceptable grounds for eviction. This means providing bank statements showing failure to pay rent, a copy of the lease, records of when the tenant was supposed to pay the rent, and the notice provisions that the landlord followed—including copies of the notices themselves. If there was correspondence between the landlord and the tenant that relate to the eviction, the landlord should be prepared with copies of that as well. If the landlord is claiming physical property damage, they should also provide photos with the dates the landlord took the pictures. Documentation of alleged illegal tenant activity or multiple complaints from other tenants might also be necessary.
This is another area where a landlord can inadvertently weaken their case. If the lease says something will happen within a certain number of days, then it has to happen on time. Failing to follow up within established time frames makes a landlord look like they’re not serious. Moreover, if a landlord has reached the point of contemplating eviction, assuming the problem will go away on its own is mere wishful thinking.
Threatening to Keep the Security Deposit
The security deposit is the tenant’s money. Landlords keep security deposits in separate, often interest-bearing accounts for their tenants. Laws specify only a few circumstances where a landlord may retain a security deposit, such as breaking the lease or damaging the property, and the landlord must provide documentation of costs incurred.
In Georgia, rental property owners can avoid these common eviction mistakes landlords make by hiring Alpharetta rental property management companies such as Excalibur Homes. Excalibur can also provide property management across the entire metro Atlanta area. Excalibur Homes stands behind the tenants we place, which is why we have a 12-month leasing guarantee—if a tenant moves out for any reason before the initial 12 months is up, we’ll re-rent it for free. We also offer all our clients a free eviction protection plan—if a tenant we place must be evicted, Excalibur will pay the fee to file the dispossessory warrant, the court costs of an attorney, AND the fee to file the writ of possession at no charge to the homeowner.