Tenant Eviction – Sooner Than Later

Landlords often struggle with tenants who are falling behind in the rent. Landlords, while having a somewhat tarnished reputation, generally try to work with tenants to help them get caught up, and may do other favors, in hopes that the tenant can get back on his or her feet. This is truer for privately owned units, not so much corporate owned apartment buildings which do not fool around with eviction issues.

Many landlords have compassion for tenants who have lost their job, have been ill, or have undergone a life-changing situation that has caused them to fall behind. Sometimes, situations are extremely difficult, and children or disabled individuals can be involved, complicating the situation. Some tenants fully recognize their situation, and have tried everything they can to remedy it, with no lasting benefit to them or the landlord.

As time goes by, and the tenant is not able to find work, or they have incapacitating illness or other crisis, the landlord may find that he or she is unable to pay the mortgage, as the rent from that unit has stopped. By the time it is apparent that the tenant will need more help than the landlord can provide, both time and money have been wasted. The landlord may find that they are in a mess themselves, and must pay out even more money to file eviction through the court system.

It is similar to saving a person who is drowning. The question becomes, how far out should the rescuer swim, before they both drown? The answers are not always easy. Boundaries and time-lines come and go, and the landlord may find that he or she is tapping into savings or credit cards to cover the unpaid rent, just to pay the mortgage.

Some tenants are able to get back on their feet in a month or so, but in many cases, it doesn’t happen. In tough economies, jobs are hard to come by. If the tenant has other difficulties, such as a drinking problem, drug use or mental illness, the picture becomes very dim. Another complication is problem tenants who may lie about what is happening, and present false hopes about getting a job ‘next week’ or money that is supposedly being sent by a nonexistent relative. The ‘carrots’ that are held out in front of the landlord, with the purpose of encouraging the landlord to wait longer, fall into every imaginable category. By the time the landlord realizes that these are all fabrications, more time and money has been lost.

Unfortunately, there are tenants who have done this method for years, and are quite good at it. Background checks may or may not indicate problems, especially if they are from out of state. False job verifications, local reference checks and the rest, can all be from bogus sources, and for those items that do not quite match up, there is an excuse, and it all may sound legitimate. Prospective tenants may present so well, that a background check seems unnecessary. That should never happen. Always, always check references and verify income. Do criminal background and eviction history checks, regardless of what the tenant tells you. Also do credit checks. That can be very revealing. Local real estate companies usually will offer these background checks for a reasonable fee, if you do not have the program yourself.

Landlords cannot be the saviors for a bad economy, lost jobs, lack of family, lack of money, misfortune and life crises. Some landlords, who have tried very hard to help, have ended up losing their property to foreclosure, along with their retirement money. Bad tenants aren’t simply an inconvenience, they are often a disaster to landlords and property owners.

Eviction, while uncomfortable, humiliating and traumatic for everyone to some degree, serves an important function. When the eviction is delayed, that function is rendered impotent. A timely eviction can save the landlord thousands of dollars, unlimited damage to property, self-esteem and wasted time. Even in those circumstances where the tenant can start to get back on his or her feet, it will take months, if not years, to catch up on late rent payments. How does this benefit the landlord? It doesn’t. One way or another, the landlord will end up paying in dollars, time, stress, guilt or repairs. During the time the landlord may delay eviction, the relationship also tends to change. The landlord may become ‘the enemy’ who is now wearing the hat of a bill collector. The landlord isn’t always aware that they are being viewed differently, and that their role as bill collector has negatively influenced motivation.

Early eviction, while uncomfortable, is in alignment with a properly signed lease. When payments are not received within the designated time frame, it should be spelled out on the lease when eviction will begin. This should be made clear at the very beginning, at the signing of the lease by both parties. This helps avoid misunderstanding and limits expectations. If eviction is stated to start fifteen days after payment is not received, that is exactly when it should start. This gives the individuals time to secure money with which to pay, or to find another residence.

If the tenant truly wishes to stay where they are, and are capable of finding monetary or residential resources, they will. If they are not, they won’t, and no amount of landlord help is going to change much. Long-term tenants that have proven themselves to be reliable over years, may have a month or two in which they stumble, but they always come through. These are cases that must be taken on an individual basis. Money flow does fluctuate, most people fall behind at one time or another, but are able to catch up. Most people have family or friends that can help. If family and friends are not available, or are unable or unwilling to help, then that is another clear signal to not wait.

It bears repeating – clearly stated conditions at the time of the signing of the lease can avoid unrealistic expectations on the part of the renter, and makes it less personal. This also helps the tenant seek help from other sources early if needed, to pay the rent on time.