Unlike signing a lease agreement, a legal process so informal sometimes it’s done online, an eviction is a court process. A process that can be as acrimonious as a divorce.
Tenants are afforded legal rights that, when abused, can be used to delay the eviction for months.
First, the tenant has the right to contest the grounds for the eviction. The landlord will claim that the lease was broken, or a law was violated. Either way, the judge must be convinced that there is good cause to boot the tenant. If the judge grows sympathetic to the tenant, they may continue to live in your rental unit.
To begin the eviction process, notice must be given to the tenant — even if they disappeared or are refusing to accept service of the notice. If there is the slightest defect in the notice, it’s thrown out. A new one must be served, and the clock reset.
After being notified of the pending court case, the tenant has the right to challenge the eviction. While that commonly consists of a sweeping denial of whatever they are accused of doing, the tenant also can raise defenses at this time. That means challenges to the habitability of the unit, failure to make repairs or unfair treatment. Often, this is the first time any of these complaints have come to light.
If the tenant has made a reasonable-sounding denial, the landlord must then go to court and prove each aspect of the eviction claim. Without sufficient documentation, that won’t happen.
If you’re successful, the order you receive is just that — an order for the tenant to vacate. Now come the logistics. That order must be served, and a move-out date and time scheduled with the local sheriff’s office. More time spent.
Many courts separate out the eviction order process from any claim for unpaid rent or damage to the property. The logic is to speed up the eviction, but the effect is more time and money spent returning to court to pursue a judgment against the deadbeat tenant.
And finally, if money is owed, it must be collected.
If all that has you wondering how to avoid these consequences, then you’ll understand why some landlords negotiate the return of the rental unit by offering some incentive for the bad tenant to vacate — cash for keys. Maybe that sounds like giving in to a ransom demand, but from a purely business standpoint, it may be cheaper in the long run.
An important precaution is to run a tenant check, including a prior eviction report, on each applicant.
It should be clear just how important it is to have the right landlord forms, so your lease is airtight when you need it, and your rental application contains the clues that will lead a collection specialist to the money that is owned to you.
Lastly, keeping contemporaneous records on all applicants and tenants is the only way to protect yourself if you do wind up going to court.
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