By: Charlie N. Jones
Evicting a tenant is never a happy experience for landlords. Evictions are the last resort to get a delinquent tenant out of your property. Apart from being a costly process, having to evict someone takes up your precious time and resources. Of course, sometimes you have no choice other than to start eviction proceedings. But are evictions always necessary? And what exactly are the cons of eviction? There are some cases when evicting a tenant can actually be a bad idea. Considering the time an eviction process takes and the costs involved, it makes sense to look for alternatives to evicting someone. For example, you may be able to negotiate with some tenants to stay in the rental unit and catch up on their late payments.
This article examines why it’s sometimes best to look for alternatives to evicting a tenant. But first, let’s look at the actual cost of evicting someone. Knowing how much evictions cost can be a powerful motivator to explore other ways of solving delinquent-rent problems.
The cost of evicting a tenant
The true cost of evicting a tenant is more than just a financial loss. However, the financial cost can be severe. According to some estimates, the total bill for getting the courts to serve an eviction notice can be upward of $4,000. Depending on the time it takes and the damage to your rental property, the cost can be even more.
But there are other factors involved in evicting a tenant. Think about the time it takes—after all, time is money. From the time you actually file an eviction action in your local court to the time you obtain the necessary court order can take up to three months. And even if you do file for eviction, there is no guarantee that the judge will rule in your favor.
Of course, it’s difficult to put a price on the toll that evictions take on your stress level.
Unfortunately, when a tenant is in breach of the lease agreement, most landlords have to start legal proceedings sooner or later. If they are months in rent arrears, have trashed the place, constantly disturb neighbors or cause the police to be called, evicting them is undoubtedly an excellent idea.
Let’s look at some alternatives to evictions and when it’s best to negotiate with your tenants.
Good tenants can fall on hard times
Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to evict a good tenant if they go through a rough patch. Maybe they lost their job or faced huge unexpected medical bills and can pay a couple of months’ rent. Of course, non-payment of rent is a breach of their lease. And technically, you have grounds to evict them. But is it worth evicting a good tenant?
Suppose you have a tenant who takes care of the unit and has historically paid rent in full and on time during the tenancy. And say they get laid off and can’t pay rent, but are actively looking for a new job. In that case, you could also work out a flexible rent payment schedule until they get on their feet again. Then you can negotiate a payment plan for them to pay the past-due rent in full.
This may mean taking a financial hit in the short term. But considering the cost of an eviction, filling a vacancy, and screening prospective tenants, it may be better to keep a good tenant in the unit rather than evicting them.
Remember to put any payment plan or rent payment schedule in writing and sign the document along with the tenant.
The process can be costly
Sometimes it makes sense to hold off starting the eviction process if it will be too costly. In most cases, landlords must pay for the legal fees involved with evicting a tenant. Additionally, there can be an expensive clean-up after removing someone from a rental unit. Even though you can sue for damages, there is no guarantee of success.
What can you do to avoid evicting someone? One solution is a “cash for keys” arrangement. Why not offer to pay the tenant to move out? If a tenant is in financial difficulty, the prospect of a cash lump sum to look for a new place can sound tempting. It is also in their best interest to avoid an eviction. After all, tenants with an eviction history find it challenging to find a new landlord.
Let’s say that you calculate that an eviction will cost over $4,000. Why not offer the tenant $1,000 to move out? Although it seems paradoxical to give money to someone who owes you money, it may be a better idea than a costly eviction
Evictions can land you in legal hot water
It is always a bad idea to evict a tenant if you don’t have any legal grounds. Generally, tenants can stay in a rental for as long as the lease allows them—assuming, of course, that they follow the terms of the agreement as well as applicable laws. So, before you start an eviction process, it is crucial to ensure that the law is on your side.
Here are a few scenarios when evicting a tenant is a bad idea:
Let’s say the tenant has complained to the housing authority about you, e.g., about safety issues or maintenance problems—valid, or not. It is not never advisable to evict someone just because you didn’t like what they did. If you file an eviction action within six months after a tenant makes a formal complaint, a judge may view the eviction as retaliatory (and even order you to pay something, rather than the tenant).
You can never evict a person based on their race, religion, family status, sex, color, national origin, or sexual preference. For example, you cannot evict a couple because you find out the wife is pregnant, and you don’t want a crying baby disturbing the neighbors.
Tenants can legally withhold rent or a part of it until you resolve a health or safety issue in the building or rental unit. In this case, you cannot evict them for nonpayment of rent.
Accepting partial rent payments
If you take a partial payment on late rent, then it could be a bad idea to evict them. This is because by accepting a partial payment, you may have given up your right to evict that tenant. If you have already filed for eviction, no matter how tempting it may be, do not accept a partial rent payment; otherwise, you may have to restart the entire eviction process.
These are just some situations when it may be a bad idea to evict a tenant. You may be able to work out a payment plan to keep good, responsible tenants in your rental unit. Offering a “keys for cash” deal often helps avoid the stress and cost of filing an eviction. However, if you decide to pursue an eviction, always check the law to ensure you have a legal basis for evicting a delinquent tenant.