How to Know When It’s Time to Evict a Tenant

I hate to do evictions. Do not get me wrong, I do one if I have to. But I find evictions to be costly, confrontational, and just an all-around drain. I much prefer to work with a tenant rather than evict — as it is often less expensive, less of a hassle, and it leaves a less-bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. Sometimes, however, eviction is the only option you have. So: how do you know when it’s time to evict versus trying to work your tenants? Here are some thoughts.

First, Notify the Tenant

The first thing you want to do is notify the tenant that there is a problem. If the rent has not been paid or if some of your house rules have been broken, you need to let the tenant know that there is a problem that needs to be resolved, quickly. This can be done with a quick phone call or a more formal letter. Often, this will work, because that non-payment of rent may have been a mix up between roommates, or the dog that appeared unannounced may find a new home. Whatever the problem, if you quickly notifying the tenant about it, you may be able to quickly resolve it.

The Circumstances

You can screen and screen and screen to find the best tenants possible, but sometimes bad things will happen to otherwise good people. They may get laid off from a job. An accident can leave someone impaired. Cancer can strike — as it does to over 1.7 million in the US each year. These things are going to happen to your tenants, and it’s going to impact their ability to pay rent.

Other times, a tenant will just go bad. They may fall off the wagon or the circumstances maybe unclear. Whatever the cause, I think it is a good idea to determine the circumstances behind the problem if you can. Can you legally evict a person who just got diagnosed with cancer and can’t afford both the treatment and the rent? Yes. Is it right or a good idea to do so? I think not. But how much of a social service agency should you become? That is up to you. Learning the circumstances behind the problem and working with the tenant may actually lead to a better solution for all.

The History

Another item to consider is your history with the tenant. Have they been consistently on time with their payments in the past? Have they followed your rules and been a decent tenant? Or, have they been one of those few who are always causing you problems? Your past history with the tenant is going to play a role in if, and how much, you decide to work with them.

What Does Working With the Tenant Mean?

What could working with a tenant mean? It could simply mean a good talking to or a stern letter to resolve whatever issue has come up. It could mean the development of a payment plan to allow the tenant to catch up once they find a new job. Perhaps you can go the cash-for-keys route, or move them to a less-expensive unit. It could also mean that you force them to face reality and either get help or move on.

Two Things That Will Force An Eviction

There are, however, two things that will force my hand. First, if the tenant does not follow an agreement we have worked out. Second, if the tenant stops talking to me.

How much of a social service agency you want to be depends on you and your circumstances. I suspect that most of you will want to help someone who has had a string of bad luck, but none of us can let that go on forever. We might be agreeable to waiving some rent and late fees or setting up a payment plan for someone who has been a good tenant and hit hard times (get it in writing if you do). But if they abuse or take advantage of my kindness, then they are out.

Secondly, if my tenant stops talking to me, if they stick their head in the sand and try to ignore me, I will have no other choice but to file to evict. Even then, I will still try to avoid the outcome. I still try to avoid the courts and the set out. Sometimes, that notice form the sheriff will pull those heads out of the sand. Sometimes a move-out deal can then be worked out. Not always, but sometimes.

In sum, knowing whether to work with a tenant or evict them comes down to the circumstances, how I have been treated by my tenant, and most importantly, if they are working with and talking to me. As I said in the beginning, I try hard to avoid evictions. But I’m not afraid to lawyer up if I have to.

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