How to Approach Evicting a Tenant
No one is sure when the COVID-19 crisis will ease or when eviction moratoriums will be lifted. Even so, knowing how to approach evicting a tenant is a skill all property owners must acquire, or at least understand. While evicting a tenant during the pandemic would be heartless, possibly illegal, and probably impractical, as housing courts may be closed for the duration, rent that went unpaid during the crisis will be due eventually.
Reread the Lease
The contract both lessor and lessee signed governs when and how eviction may happen. Some leases contain “force majeure” clauses that suspend normal lease provisions if events beyond the parties’ control make compliance impossible. But paying the rent may be exempted from force majeure provisions. Ask your attorney what the clauses in your lease require, and what action is or is not permitted under exceptional circumstances.
Tenants know they have to pay their rent. When they can’t, they know they could be subject to eviction. If you employ a professional property management company that provides tenant rental services, including convenient methods of paying rent, the management company will be the first to know if rent is late. They’ll also know what steps to take next. Your job as property owner is to speak with your property manager about what kind of arrangements you are willing to accept.
Whether or not you have a property manager handling the situation, negotiating a payment plan may be a better option than initiating eviction proceedings. Evictions are costly and time-consuming. A good tenant who has simply fallen on hard times is worth retaining if you can come to an agreement with terms you can both accept. Talk to your tenants about their situation, sympathize, but also explain your position. You still have to pay the mortgage and taxes on your property, along with maintenance costs. Tenants in distress might not consider that their landlord is facing hardship as well.
Whatever plan you come up with, make it specific, with deadlines, and put it in writing—a verbal agreement is as good as the paper it is written on. Run it by your lawyer before you and your tenant sign, because agreeing to a payment plan may affect your future right to initiate an eviction.
Provide Notice and Follow All the Deadlines
When a negotiated solution won’t work, return to the lease for specific eviction procedures. The lease will say what to do and when. Requirements will be governed by local and state landlord-tenant laws as well, but a key element of approaching a tenant about eviction will always be providing the required notice—either “pay rent or quit (move out)” within a specified time, or “cure or quit,” requiring the tenant to come into compliance with other lease provisions by a fixed date. In rare cases, local law may allow an unconditional quit notice for a tenant who has committed multiple or repeated violations.
If the tenant doesn’t comply with the terms of the quit notice, you’ll have to initiate a formal eviction proceeding in court. If you win, you’ll have to deal with enforcing the court’s ruling. Evictions are best left to law enforcement officers. Most landlords hope that day will never come, and taking a compassionate but firm approach toward tenants may mean it never will.