When tenants go bad, a landlord who knows how to tip-toe around an impending legal battle has more to gain by keeping the law on his or her side. For a common-sense approach to managing unwanted tenants, pay keen attention to these rights and limitations of landlords related to residential rental housing.
Eviction Actions to Avoid
1. Don’t change the locks on property entrances! There are times when tenants do things that are so infuriating that landlords lose their heads, especially when it involves property damages. In times like these, take a moment and think before acting.
2. Don’t put the tenant’s property out on the streets! Not only is this action unlawful, but any damages or losses suffered by a tenant as a result of a landlord's malicious actions will be felt hard in the pocket, in addition to other penalties.
3. Don’t disconnect utility services to tenants! As satisfying as it may seem for landlords who assume responsibilities for utilities to simply disrupt services to hasten a tenant’s departure, it’s never worth it. Tenants can not only sue landlords for food spoilage and other depravities suffered due to lack of services, but they can also sue for several months’ rent.
4. Don’t try to forcibly remove a tenant! Self-help evictions in most states are serious violations of the legal system with disastrous consequences. Attempts to throw out tenants on the streets can also escalate into public brawls and violence. Picture both tenant and landlord wrestling on the lawn as a flashing patrol car pulls up at the gate.
5. Don’t evict a previously “good” tenant for recent non-payment on a lease! Think hard before evicting a tenant whose recent lack of payments is due to job loss and an unstable economy. Since any new tenant is an unknown “rogue” element, removing the pressure off an existing tenant by reducing the rent, short term, may prove a wiser decision.
Legal Eviction Procedures to Heed
Essentially, there are three types of eviction notices that landlords can deliver to terminate a rental contract. However, each state dictates its own procedures as to how these eviction papers must be written and delivered.
1. Pay Rent or Quit Notices. A landlord can serve this type of notice when a tenant neglects to pay rent within a five-day period. In most states the tenant has 3-5 days to pay the rent or move out.
2. Cure or Quit Notices. This type of notice is usually given when a tenant violates a condition of the lease, such as a “no-pet clause.” The tenant gets a certain amount of time to “cure” or correct the violation, after which they face possible eviction if warnings go unheeded.
3. Unconditional Quit Notices. A tenant has no chances to correct a violation when this type of notice is delivered. In most states an unconditional quit notice is warranted, only if:
i. Rental payments have been late, repeatedly
ii. Violations of the rental clause occur, repeatedly
iii. Illegal activity, such as drug dealing, occurs on the premises, or
iv. Damages occur to the property
In most states, the first step to carrying out an eviction, legally, is to file a complaint in court against the tenant. This “unlawful detainer lawsuit” filed by the landlord becomes the legal hand by which a summon is served to the tenant.
In the end, eviction cases are an unwelcome but looming reality for landlords and, as such, a contingency plan on the legal actions to pursue is both an essential tool and secret weapon. Don’t take it lightly.
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