Rental property owners often find themselves in the unfortunate predicament of having to evict a tenant. More often than not, they learn expensive lessons that could have been avoided in the first place. Giving little value to a lawyer, they proceed to rent to tenants without the advantage of having one draft and review the lease and provide other valuable advice
The worse yet, try to evict a tenant by themselves. By the time landlords are able to remove bad tenants, they often lose considerable time and months of rent plus the costs of the eviction. Further, should the landlord want to pursue the tenant for the money owed, more money in legal fees must be spent?
While there are no fool-proof ways of avoiding bad tenants, certainly there are steps that can and should be taken to minimize the risk. Below are some steps to take and things to consider when renting your property.
Perform credit and criminal background check on potential tenants
Potential tenants will never tell you about their financial difficulties. Nor will they tell you that they recently were evicted from another unit for failure to pay rent or any other reason (e.g., noisy or destructive pets, more occupants than they originally let on).
Criminal activity may also because you trouble with the county or municipality, not to mention a homeowner’s association or neighbors. Once a tenant moves in, it could take many months to remove them – so be sure there are no obvious red-flags by checking their financial and criminal background thoroughly.
A search in your county’s public records or civil dockets may reveal whether or not evictions were previously filed against the tenant. It is also a good idea to perform the same background checks on spouses and other occupants. While this does not guarantee that you will be getting a good tenant, it will certainly avoid the bad ones that could have easily been detected.
Start the eviction process early and swiftly
Bad tenants always have, it seems a good reason for not being able to make the payment on time. In fact, there are books written that provide them with a slew of good reasons to give. Tenants frequently assure landlords that payments will soon be made and landlords have a tendency to believe them, rarely questioning them.
Before long, bad tenants are several months behind and landlords are then forced to dip into their own savings to make mortgage payments due on the property. Many times, landlords are hesitant to start eviction proceedings against tenants early on, hoping that they eventually pay and fearing that the posting of demand notice for rent is too adversarial and may cause the situation to worsen.
Allowing a tenant to fall too far behind in rent will inevitably result in an eviction
Once the Tenant falls a few months behind, the financial burden of bringing the rent up to date is too burdensome and they often make the strategic decision not to pay at all. When having financial difficulties, people naturally make the conscious decision to pay bills that will result in service interruptions if otherwise not paid.
In other words, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If the tenant can string the landlord along, but not other essential services, it is an easy decision for them to make. And before long, past-due rent becomes so high that it becomes almost impossible for the tenant to ever catch up. Soon, the tenant decides to simply stay as long as the eviction process allows – all at the expense of the landlord.
Use Properly Drafted Notices
Each jurisdiction has its own notice requirements. Thorough research must be conducted to determine whether or not your notice complies with your specific jurisdiction. It is highly recommended that you hire a lawyer to draft your notice. Our law firm, for example, will draft the notice at no additional cost if we are hired to file the eviction.
If a deficient or improperly drafted notice is used, you might later find that the judge dismissed your eviction complaint even though the tenant did not respond to the eviction complaint (this is particularly common in Broward County). Even if the judge does not unilaterally dismiss the case, should the tenant hire a lawyer, the eviction will easily be defended and the case dismissed when the notice is defective.
Also, be aware that there are serial bad tenants – referred to as “professional tenants” – that know the law well and go from unit to unit anticipating an improperly filed notice or eviction and use it to their advantage.
Be very leery of forms found on the internet – there is an abundance of inaccurate forms and information on evictions. Although this form is statutorily adequate in Florida, it may not comply with other state jurisdictions. And calculating dates and rents due without the assistance of a lawyer can be extremely risky.
Hire a Lawyer
Why go it alone? An attorney can draft and review air-tight leases and, should the need arise, file the eviction compliant – all at affordable prices with the expertise to gain quick results. A landlord can unknowingly prolong the eviction process by entering into a badly worded lease agreement, improperly filing an eviction or filing court paperwork (pleadings) at the wrong time. Although a seemingly self-serving statement, the hiring of a lawyer cannot be stressed enough.
Case in point, I once went down to my local courthouse and asked the clerk to provide me with the last 30 evictions filed that day. After looking through them all, I found that only four of them were properly filed. And those four were all filed by lawyers! Had a tenant in any of the other cases hired an attorney, the case would have been dismissed.
To add insult to injury, the landlord would have also been required to pay the tenant any attorney’s fees spent – before refilling the eviction again. When all is said and done, an experienced eviction attorney can be relatively inexpensive considering the potential for losing a considerable amount of time and money.