sure to follow the guidelines,” says Gulley. “If a five-day notice is required before you can ask for an eviction, be sure to give that notice. Otherwise, the judge will dismiss the case and you’ll have to start all over.”
Unfortunately, not all landlords observe the steps to a successful eviction. “Too often,” says Cain, “a landlord just shows up in court, unprepared. One landlord, for example, tried to evict a tenant who had not paid rent. The tenant claimed he had paid, so the judge said to the landlord, ‘Show me your ledger.’ The landlord did not bring the ledger into court, so the process had to start all over.” [See sidebar: To Evict or Not to Evict?]
You can avoid such mistakes by investing a little of your time. “Go to the local court that hears disputes between tenants and landlords,” says Gulley. “You’ll learn a lot by sitting and listening.” As a landlord, you may wind up in that court some day, so it is important to have an idea of what separates winners and losers.
TO EVICT OR NOT TO EVICT?
Every landlord’s nightmare is the problem tenant — the one who doesn’t pay rent and whose guard dogs terrorize the neighbors. Such frustration, though, should not tempt you to try the “self-help” eviction: changing locks while the tenant is out, shutting off the water, or putting the tenant’s property out on the curb. “Self-help evictions generally are not permitted,” says Aaron Larson, an attorney in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Such actions might give a tenant grounds to sue you, and you have assets to lose.” Instead of the above actions, Larson offers these pointers for getting rid of undesirable tenants:
Serve written notices of any lease violations. If a tenant keeps a dog, for example, in violation of a lease, a string of notices can support your story in case the issue comes to court and the tenant claims he was just dog-sitting.
Your notices should specify a fixed amount of time for the tenant to remedy the problem and invite a written response. A judge may be sympathetic to tenants who claim they immediately complied with the lease once the nature of the violation was known, but it becomes harder for tenants to make such an argument if they ignored a prior notice and deadline.
Don’t accept partial payments during the eviction process. In most jurisdictions, the acceptance of any rent payment will result in the dismissal of an eviction action.
If your action goes to trial, make sure that you have all of your documentation, and copies, before you go to court. Identify any witnesses that you wish to call to the trial and subpoena them to appear.
“Novice landlords probably should hire an attorney the first few times they bring eviction actions,” says Larson. “A local landlords’ association can refer you to a lawyer who’s experienced in these matters; an attorney who’ll be in court anyway, representing a commercial landlord, may give you a break on legal fees.” After you’ve been through