It’s becoming more common place in today’s litigious world for tenants to fight an eviction filing. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, there are more tenant advocates offering low cost legal services to tenants who say they’ve been wronged, and more tenant attorneys willing to take on what they see as the stereotypical slumlord.
Also, rentals in many cities are getting harder and harder to find. The tenant who is facing eviction is also facing a daunting task in trying to find another place to live.
And, of course, there are those tenants who have learned how to survive in the “system” and live for free by delaying their pending evictions.
So what can landlords do to fight back?
Debunk the “Victim” Myth
Tenants who don’t have a good reason to fight an eviction may try to play the victim for the judge — and probably for their attorney as well. They’ll use any ammunition available, like having kids in local schools, a recent layoff from the factory, health problems — the list goes on and on — to try to get sympathy, and buy more time.
It’s sad when someone is facing hardship. But, there’s no reason why a private landlord should be asked to subsidize a tenant who can’t pay rent, for whatever reason.
The victim myth is also perpetuated by tagging the landlord as a monster — someone who has harassed the tenants or acted unprofessionally.
Make sure you have documentation detailing the communications with the tenant so you can debunk the victim myth. You’ll have to be proactive, and prove that you are not treating this tenant any differently than you would any other tenant under the same circumstances.
Another common way to delay an eviction is to argue that the property was not habitable. The tenant is angling to offset past due rent and discredit the landlord.
It’s extremely important to your bottom line to keep the property in good condition. Be prepared to show what the condition was at the time of the move-in. This is when a move- in checklist, signed by the tenant, can betray the tenant’s story. If all those conditions, like rats and bare electric wires, weren’t noted at that time, then it looks like the only deteriorated after the tenant moved in.
“But I Paid Rent”
“I paid cash,” is a common defense a desperate tenant will tell a judge. Landlords who don’t provide rent receipts for cash payments are most susceptible. Tenants in an eviction can get delusional about what they owe. Yes, the tenant left a rent check — but that was to cover the month prior! Maybe it was partial payment. Or, perhaps it was the fifth time in sixth months they paid late. Tenants may argue that you had a verbal deal to delay payment.
The tenant can try to warp the truth about what they’ve paid, but if you have a solid policy for tracking rent payments, a judge likely will take your word for it.
You Need Help!
Eviction rules can be tricky. Unfortunately, a tenant’s attorney will be watching for mistakes, like miscalculating the rules for serving the tenant notice. If you haven’t been through the eviction process before (kudos to you!) you may want to consider hiring an eviction attorney who can walk you through the process safely. The alternative — refiling a flawed case — is more expensive.
Documentation is key, this includes keeping secure copies of the rental application, tenant background check, forms of payments, all communication, and more. Running your rental business like a professional will increase the odds that you can sail through an eviction and make your rental property profitable once more. Before you know it the bad tenant will be out and you’ll be on your way to finding a new applicant, having them apply, and performing a tenant screening on them.