What legal situations as a landlord require you to hire a lawyer?

You run into many legal situations as a landlord, from creating a rental contract to evicting tenants. Throughout the course of your property management career, you may run into complex legal situations that require you to hire a lawyer. While some of these situations could be handled without lawyer intervention, bringing in a lawyer makes it much more possible to receive a quick, positive outcome as opposed to handling it on your own.

"Professional" Tenants
These tenants have been through several evictions and similar legal situations in the past, and they know every trick in the landlord-tenant legal book to delay eviction. Obscure loopholes and technicalities in paperwork are two ways "professional" tenants delay or completely derail the eviction process. A lawyer can help you stay one step ahead of these tenants, avoiding many of the pitfalls that can draw out the eviction process.

Filing for Bankruptcy
A bankruptcy filing makes an eviction process more complicated, as the tenant receives an automatic stay from creditor action as part of bankruptcy. You can't start bankruptcy proceedings or continue with eviction already in progress while the automatic stay in place. You need to file a relief from the automatic stay to continue with the case, or to file the eviction. If you're unfamiliar with the process, a lawyer can help you file the paperwork with the bankruptcy court.

Constructive Eviction Lawsuits
If a tenant feels you are forcing him out of the property by creating an uninhabitable situation, he may choose to file a constructive eviction lawsuit. The tenant can argue for constructive eviction if you failed to fix a problem after proper notification, interfered with the tenant using the property by coming over constantly or harassing the tenant, or failed to meet the legal requirements of a habitable home. You need to prove that you did not create conditions to constructively evict a tenant, which can be a complex legal situation. If you try to do it on your own, you may fail to provide enough evidence to dispute the tenant's allegation, resulting in a judgment against you.

Tenant with a Lawyer
If a tenant retains a lawyer for a lawsuit, it's a good idea to retain your own to increase your chances of successfully winning the suit. Bringing a lawyer to the table is a more expensive prospect than handling everything yourself, but arguing against the tenant's lawyer in court will be difficult if you don't know the eviction process inside and out. Highly experienced landlords with many evictions under their belt may consider going up against a tenant's lawyer, but, in most cases, it makes sense to retain legal counsel to avoid major problems.

Discrimination Lawsuit
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on protected classes, such as race, disability, and sex. If a tenant files a discrimination lawsuit against you, retain a lawyer to help you prove no discrimination occurred. The civil penalties for rental discrimination are substantial, and may total over $100,000 if the Justice Department gets involved in the case.

You don't need a lawyer for a basic eviction against a tenant, but with more complicated legal situations benefit, you could greatly and save yourself a lot of grief with professional legal counsel. You want to spend your time managing your properties, not defending yourself against tenants in court. Bring in a lawyer to help you avoid the legal pitfalls and loopholes in complex lawsuit situations.

POSTED October 19 2015 12:15 PM

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