What You Can (and Cannot) Do When a Tenant Doesn't Pay Rent

Being a property manager or landlord can be a stressful occupation. Unfortunately, tenants who refuse to pay rent can make the job even more disheartening. Luckily, there are legal options for a landlord who isn't receiving rent, and it's important to understand these options. Similarly, it's just as important to understand what a landlord can't do during an eviction process.



The Proper Process of Handling a Tenant Who Refuses to Pay Rent
When a landlord simply wants the rent that they're due, they have options in front of them. Unfortunately for everyone involved, these options often involve going through the eviction process. The good news is that this can sometimes end positively and may not even result in an eviction.

Send a Pay or Quit Notice
When a tenant hasn't paid rent, the first step to either getting rent or evicting the tenant is to send a pay or quit notice. This will inform the individual that they need to either pay their rent or vacate the property by a certain date. There are varying time limits on these notices, but there are legal resources online that provide the different rules for different states.
It's not enough to simply hand deliver or mail this notice to a tenant. After all, who is to say that they ever saw it? Certified mail should always be used to send these notices, and a return receipt should be requested. This receipt should be held onto in case the case ends up in court.

File for Eviction
If the tenant doesn't pay rent or vacate the premises, the landlord can file for eviction after the waiting period specified in the pay or quit notice has expired. At this point, a court date will be set up. The law will actually stay involved in the situation until it is resolved.
Keep in mind that filing for eviction doesn't mean that a landlord can take possession of a property. Nothing has changed at this point other than the fact that the courts will soon hear the case.

Attend Court Hearing
Even if it appears as if the tenant has vacated, it's still important to attend the court hearing. If a landlord cancels court prior to the judge granting an eviction, the tenant hasn't been legally evicted. Similarly, if the landlord simply doesn't go to the court date, a sneaky tenant may show up after making it look as if they vacated the property. In these instances, the courts will not issue an eviction order.

What Not to Do When Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent
It's understandable that a landlord may feel like drastic measures are called for when a tenant refuses to leave their property. After all, the tenant is basically living for free and preventing the landlord from making any money. Some landlords may think the courts will consider this when all is said and done, but nothing a tenant does can warrant the following actions from a landlord.

Shutting Off Utilities
Landlords who have control over their tenant's utilities may think that shutting them off would be a valid way to make a tenant leave. It's important to know that this type of action is illegal. The courts will likely fine a landlord who does this, and landlords may even be liable for damages such as those related to food spoilage or the need for the tenant to find temporary lodging.

Locking Tenants Out
Changing the locks at a residence seems like another valid option for tenants who won't leave, but this can cause more problems for the landlord. On top of potential fines, the tenant could even bring forward a lawsuit related to wrongful eviction, emotional distress, and trespassing.

Physically Removing Tenants
This can cause serious problems. A landlord who tries to physically remove a tenant could face criminal charges related to trespassing, assault and battery. This is on top of potential fines and lawsuits brought by the tenant.

It can be very stressful dealing with a tenant who refuses to pay rent. Fortunately, there is legal recourse for landlords in these situations. As long as they avoid illegal methods of removing a tenant, the case will likely be decided in their favor.


POSTED January 05 2015 11:45 AM

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