With the majority of pandemic-era eviction moratoriums lifted across the country, landlords are often cast as evil when they act to remove non-paying tenants, especially as rents have surged nationally.
More than a year after the national eviction ban issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was lifted in August of 2021, the eviction tsunami that many tenant advocates predicted hasn’t materialized.
The reason for this is market dynamics.
An average eviction costs a landlord $7,500 in legal fees, lost rent, repairs, and finding new tenants. The process is complicated, time-consuming, and grueling for everyone involved and may last as long as six months. It’s not surprising that property owners do whatever they can to keep themselves—and their tenants—out of housing court.
Still, there’s a saying in property management: The question isn’t if you’ll have to evict a tenant. It’s when.
Given that hard reality, landlords should do everything they can to avoid evictions and, once all other options have been exhausted, take steps to make the process as painless and expedited as possible.
Avoiding evictions upfront
Given the costs, avoiding evictions upfront is the best option. Here are four steps that can help:
- Run rental history screening. According to TransUnion SmartMove, previously evicted tenants have three times as many eviction and rental-related collection records as non-evicted tenants.
- Run criminal and credit checks. Avoid renting to individuals with serious criminal records and red-flag credit histories to avoid illegal activities and collections at your properties before they start.
- Scan for fraudulent documentation. Apartment application fraud has skyrocketed during the pandemic, fueled by fake bank statements and paystubs that are easily obtained online. Snappt’s leading-edge scanning technology can check the digital DNA of documents to ensure legitimacy.
- Incentivize staff to sign low-risk tenants. Basing employee bonuses on a property’s on-time lease payments rather than new leases incentivizes staff to take the lowest possible risk for the property while also benefitting them.
Steps to take before filing for eviction
Even with these preemptive steps in place, some tenants will fail to pay their rent. When they do, you can take the following actions before going to court:
- Spell out late fees in the lease agreement and enforce them strictly. This gives tenants a monthly incentive to pay their full rent on time and prioritize it over other bills they have.
- Include an eviction fee schedule in the lease agreement. Examples include a 5% court filing fee, a 5% court appearance fee, court clerk fees, and writ fees for the sheriff to serve notice. Check your local laws to ensure these fees are allowed in your area.
- Consider cash for keys. Instead of initiating an eviction, offer to pay tenants a fixed amount of cash to move voluntarily. That amount could be as low as $500, but more money may also be warranted given the $7,500 average cost for an eviction.
Pro tip: in case you can’t reach an agreement, start filing the paperwork for a formal eviction at the same time you make the offer to the tenant.
If all else fails
After you’ve unsuccessfully done everything you can to avoid an eviction, your next best option is to have the process move as quickly as possible.
Make sure you are prepared. The eviction of a tenant is often tricky because it involves removing them from their home. Judges will often look for any technical reason to delay it.
Hire an eviction attorney to oversee the process, especially if it is your first eviction. They can often be retained for a flat fee, as low as $500 to $1,000, and they know the nuances of rules and procedures in your area.
Avoid errors a tenant can use against you in court, including:
- leaving technical mistakes in the notice
- serving a notice twice (which starts the process again)
- entering the property without providing 24 hours’ notice
- turning off utilities
- accepting partial payment for rent during an eviction
- failing to maintain the property
- throwing away a tenant’s belongings
Even after an eviction has been granted, follow the process to the letter of the law, including working with the sheriff to remove the tenants and their belongings and documenting any damage.
While evictions are a last resort for most landlords, taking steps to avoid them in the first place is the best path forward for both tenants and property owners. When an eviction becomes necessary, bringing it to a conclusion as swiftly as possible will result in the least amount of lost money, time, and tears for all parties involved.