Being a successful landlord is not for the faint of heart. Despite your best screening efforts, you may find yourself dealing with a tenant who has fallen behind on rent or has otherwise violated terms of the lease agreement. You are within your legal rights to pursue an eviction in such cases, but should you?
“The first thing you must do when deciding whether to evict a tenant or not is to make sure you are following the law,” says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of Money Crashers Personal Finance, a website that frequently covers real estate topics. Although laws vary by state, Schrage points out that landlords can generally evict tenants for four main reasons: failure to pay rent in a timely fashion, property damage, illegal use of the property, or otherwise violating the lease agreement.
“But even if you are legally able to evict a tenant, it doesn’t always mean that you should,” says Schrage, citing the example of a person who has lost his job but has prospects for landing another one. “You may want to work with that person on rent payments instead of pursuing eviction.”
How to Handle Nonpayment of Rent
Marina Shlomov, a managing partner at ALH|Podland Realty and Rental Homes Property Management in Atlanta, Georgia, stresses the importance of acting quickly when a tenant falls behind in paying rent.
“If rent is due on the first, we give the tenant until 5 p.m. on the third to pay,” says Shlomov, an experienced residential builder, investor, and property manager. “On the fourth, we file a written demand notice, and if we haven’t heard from the tenant by the fifth, we start filling out the paperwork for eviction with the county.”
While remaining strict about on-time rent payment, you may still want to be flexible when extenuating circumstances arise. For instance, Shlomov says she’s willing to work with a tenant who gives advance notice that the rent will be coming a few days late, especially if they give a definitive date of when payment will be made.
“If the tenant otherwise has a good record of paying on time, then it’s not a problem as long as I get the rent on the date promised,” Shlomov explains.
In keeping with what Schrage mentions above, you may also decide to forego eviction when an illness or financial setback takes its toll on an otherwise reliable tenant. Shlomov encountered such a situation with a tenant who became ill and subsequently lost her job. When the tenant’s situation improved, the tenant paid her back rent and late fees in one lump sum. “She kept communicating with us, so we knew what was going on,” Shlomov says. “If the situation is legitimate, we’re more than willing to work with the person.”
Constant communication with the tenant provided assurance that she would live up to her commitment to pay her rent as promised. “People who communicate are usually not the problem,” Shlomov says. “It’s the people who don’t say a word to you that are cause for concern.”
A Costly Process
Pursuing an eviction could cost a landlord upwards of $3,000, which is why Schrage contends that it is not advisable to take that action for minor lease violations. “Generally speaking, there are other methods and strategies at your disposal, which are far less costly,” he says. “If the tenant is in violation of the pet policy, you probably do not want to tell them to get rid of the pet immediately or risk eviction. Instead, give them a timeframe, since finding a home for a pet usually isn’t an overnight process. If the tenant is in violation of your noise policy—say they’re playing loud music at late hours of the night—again, a simple but clear warning should be all you need.”
Shlomov likewise recommends considering other remedies besides eviction for lesser infractions. In the case of an unauthorized pet, for instance, you can require the tenant to remove the pet or perhaps you can modify your policy to allow the pet for a higher rent. “Different owners have different policies about pets,” Shlomov says. “If you make it clear the tenant will be evicted for keeping a pet, the tenant will likely take steps to comply.”
Another lease infraction that could easily be corrected is unauthorized alterations to the property, such as painting the walls without permission. “The tenant can rectify that by repainting the walls back to the original color,” Shlomov says. “The lease terms were broken, but not in a way that would require the tenant to move out.”
Schrage adds that just mentioning the possibility of eviction will often be enough to get the tenant back on track. “And you get to keep your hard-earned money in your pocket as a landlord instead of spending it on the cost of eviction.”
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