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What You Need to Know About Eviction Lawsuits

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As a landlord or property manager, you’ve doubtlessly experienced a bad tenant or two.

Whether it’s consistent late rent, noise complaints, or other violations of the lease, a bad tenant can severely interrupt your rental operations.

Eviction is often your best remedy for situations like these. However, navigating eviction lawsuits requires diligence and expertise. If you don’t know how to carefully carry out each procedure, an eviction can quickly become more costly than you realized.

Read on to learn what you need to know about eviction lawsuits. 

  1. They take time.

If you have a tenant behaving badly enough to warrant eviction, don’t expect the process to be quick.

On average, an eviction takes anywhere from several weeks to several months. This is because there are multiple obligatory waiting periods, including the notice period, the time between the court summons and the hearing date, and the time allotted to the tenant to move their belongings after the verdict. 

These waiting periods are built-in to the law in most states to give tenants as much time as reasonably possible to prepare for the eviction or find alternate housing. It also ensures that tenants aren’t being evicted without good cause. 

For these reasons, patience is required during the eviction process. If a tenant is truly causing enough harm to warrant eviction, it’s usually worth the wait. 

  1. They are expensive.

Another reason to avoid evictions when possible is that they’re expensive.

There are a variety of costs associated with evictions, including serving and filing fees, legal fees, court costs, sheriff fees, missed rent, and tenant turnover costs.

The cost of hiring an eviction lawyer alone makes up most of the cost. Lawyers can charge per hour or a flat fee, but it often depends on where you are and how involved the eviction turns out to be. For an uncontested eviction, don’t expect to pay any less than $500.

Missed rent is another of the highest costs associated with eviction. During the two to three months the eviction is in progress, you’ll miss thousands of dollars’ worth of rent payments. Plus, you’ll still need to take time to find and screen a replacement tenant.

Altogether, most evictions cost between $3,500 and $10,000. 

  1. They are state-specific.

Another important thing to know about evictions is that they’re highly state dependent. 

Each state has its own laws and rules for evictions, down to which eviction notices you can send, how long the notice period is, and what the text of the letter should say. If you aren’t familiar with your state’s regulations, your eviction could be set back weeks or even months.

For example, a pay rent or quit notice is 10 days in Colorado but five days in South Carolina. Some states even have a mandatory grace period you must wait out first. In Massachusetts, landlords must wait a minimum of 30 days after a tenant fails to pay rent before imposing any late fees or delivering an eviction notice.

In addition to researching your states’ laws ahead of time and hiring a knowledgeable lawyer, it’s generally advised to use a state-specific eviction notice template. This will ensure you’re including all the required details and that your case can proceed as smoothly as possible.

  1. They have strict procedures.

Eviction procedures are strictly defined regardless of which state you’re in.

It’s never a good idea to skip steps or take eviction matters into your own hands. So-called “self help” evictions are actually illegal. Any of the following ways of “forcing” a tenant to move fall outside the legal guidelines and are illegal:

  • Changing the locks
  • Removing a tenant’s belongings
  • Shutting off utilities
  • Harassing a tenant
  1. They are necessary.

Despite the costs associated with them, evictions are necessary. 

At the end of the day, your relationship with your tenant is a strictly legal one. You can’t expect to run a successful rental business if your tenants don’t hold to the rental agreement, and your tenants can’t expect to live in your properties if they won’t agree to follow the rules.

No matter how hard it seems, don’t let your feelings interfere with the decision to evict.

  1. Many are preventable.

The eviction remedy is your right to claim. But fortunately, there are many preventative measures you can take to limit evictions.

Thoroughly screening your tenants can help you avoid tenants who are likely to default on rent. This means verifying sufficient, reliable income, a healthy credit score, and a clean background and eviction check. You should also follow up with landlord and employer references to verify the information a renter provides in their application.

If a tenant was a reliable renter initially but suddenly defaults on rent, it’s worthwhile to talk to the tenant first before perusing eviction. Proactive communication may allow you to discover that the tenant is merely experiencing a temporary setback. It might be worth negotiating with them (e.g., accepting partial payments) rather than risk undergoing an expensive process only to lose your best tenant. 

Conclusion

Eviction lawsuits are complex, and there’s much you need to know to be successful. By understanding these six simple principles, you can make evictions as straightforward as possible.

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