Written by C. Gabriel Lewis
When I first became a landlord back in 2005 I quickly learned the hard way that not all tenants will work out the way I had envisioned. Fortunately we have a legal system that protects investors from abusive or irresponsible tenants. Hopefully you will never have to file an eviction but if you do, make sure to follow these steps to avoid any snags, or worse, lose your case.
1) Check Your Lease. I’m going to assume you have a written lease. If you do not you will need to give your tenants a written notice and depending on the violation a “reasonable” amount of time to allow them to correct the issue. If you have a written lease, then follow exactly what it states. For example, if the lease says “No Pets” and you find they have one, see how much time your lease allows them to rectify the issue. If there is no such language in your lease, give them a notice and retain two copies, one for you and one to file in courthouse if you plan to move forward with the eviction. Sometimes you may just want the pet gone and not the tenants. If they get rid of the pet, problem solved.
2) Make Sure Violations Are Clearly Stated. Most lease violations are for non-payment of rent, pets or some other common issue. Always refer to your lease and see what the guidelines are and follow them to the letter. For non-payment of rent, make sure to file the eviction after the grace period is up. If the lease (or state law) requires you to give a notice before you file an eviction, make sure to do this. Otherwise your claim will get tossed out at court if it even makes it that far. While the law is on your side, I have found that judges will ensure fairness to all parties. Even if your tenants have trashed your home, doesn’t mean the judge will grant an eviction if you have not followed the precise language of your lease.
3) Get Proof. The “easy” eviction is for non-payment of rent. If they didn’t pay, you file for such and will testify under oath at court. I find the judges are good at getting to the bottom of an issue and will ask the right questions to both parties involved. Bottom line is you just answer their questions and not say more than what is asked. If the tenant shows up and denies it, the judge will ask them to show proof, and they likely will have none. If you are filing for a different violation like pets, take pictures of the pet and print copies so you can take these with you to court and present it to the judge.
4) Give Proper Notice Before Filing An Eviction. Again refer to your lease and see what it requires of you based on the violation. In Louisiana, we are required to give a five day notice prior to filing an eviction. However, if you had your tenants waive the “right” you can go straight to the courthouse and file. In states like California, such a waiver does not exist. Again check with your state laws and follow what is on your lease agreement.
5) File Eviction Where Your Rental Is Located. If you live some distance from your rental there is a good chance the place to file an eviction is in a different courthouse. Always file with the jurisdiction of where your investment is. You can always start with your city courthouse and ask them where to file as they usually will know and can direct you to the right place to file if it is not with them. Some courts charge a flat fee regardless of how many tenants are named on the lease. Others charge on a per tenant basis. Make sure to ask what the court costs are and who exactly to make it out to before you go to file the eviction.
6) Verify Tenants Received Their Eviction Notice. When you file an eviction, the court will send a marshal or some other local official to put a notice on the tenant’s door letting them know they have to show up in court to defend themselves and where to go. Some judges will want you to testify if the tenants received this notice if they are not present in court. A simple driveby the morning of the court hearing can answer this question. If the notice is gone, then one can assume the tenants received it and simply decided not to show up for the hearing.
7) Don’t Take The Money. If you filed an eviction for non-payment of rent, it is extremely important you do not take any rent prior to the court date unless you want to allow the tenants to remain in the home. I do not suggest you do since the odds of you going back to the courthouse and filing again are likely. If you do want to allow them to stay, at least make sure you receive all back rent plus late charges and court costs in full. Taking just one dollar before the scheduled court hearing will result in the cancellation of your eviction proceedings and you will have to file again paying another round of court courts and waiting on a new court date. Don’t waste your time and turn down their money and start over with a new tenant.
8) Show Up To Court. Sounds like a no-brainer right? In my fifty plus eviction court appearances, there were a few times the landlord didn’t show up! The judge will automatically throw out the case and you will have to re-do the court filings costing you more money out of pocket and more “loss of lease”. Make sure when you show up in court to have copies of your lease and any proof you might need to show the judge the tenant’s violations.
9) Answer Truthfully. Judges are smart and they know who is lying better than most. The law is on your side and if you follow the language of your lease and my guidelines you will win. Do not screw up your chances of winning by “fudging” the truth – it is not necessary. Judges cannot stand being lied to and will deny your eviction if they find just one technicality in your claim.
NOTE: The common sense approach will be the same from state to state but the filing of an eviction will not. Check with your courthouse and ask them what you will need when filing. Examples given in this article were from my filings in the state of Louisiana.
Gabriel Lewis is a real estate agent specializing in residential and association management. He is the owner and broker of Titan Realestate Services, LLC located southwest Louisiana and has been assisting homeowners for the last ten years. He can be contacted via email at [email protected].