How to Expeditiously Remove a Tenant Who Refuses to Leave
Landlords often find themselves in a difficult situation when their tenants refuse to leave after the lease expires. The process can be expensive and time-consuming, full with regulatory red tape that is hard on both parties involved; but there are some steps that we'll help you take towards preventing this from happening again!
Accept that you have a holdover tenant
If you're a landlord, you may be familiar with the term "holdover tenant." This is a tenant who refuses to leave the property after their lease has expired. In some cases, the tenant may have simply forgotten the move out date or had difficulty finding a new home in time for the transition. However, in most cases, the holdover tenant may be deliberately trying to stay on the property without paying rent. If you find yourself in this situation, it's important to take action quickly.
Step 1: Do not accept payment from the tenant
When you accept any form of payment from the holdover tenant, you are signaling that you are ok this tenant staying in your property. In doing so, you will create either a tenancy-at-will or a tenancy-at-sufferance. Those terms may be new to you, but it's important to distinguish between them if you end up taking the tenant to court. Tenancy at will is created when a tenant occupies property with the permission of the landlord, but without a written lease. This type of relationship can be terminated at any time by either party, with or without cause. Tenancy at sufferance, on the other hand, arises when a tenant remains on the property without the landlord agreeing to it.
If you are using a property management software, make sure you cancel your rent payments immediately to avoid creating a tenancy at sufferance. If you're using Zelle, PayPal, Venmo or any of those consumer apps, you could be in more trouble as the tenant could send you $10 and create a tenancy-at-sufferance. You can read more here, as the best thing to do is use a professional landlord software, like Hemlane.
Step 2: Do not try to remove the tenant on your own
As a landlord, it is important to be aware of the various laws and regulations governing tenant-landlord rights. These laws differ from state to state, but here are things you must not do:
- Harass the tenant
- Change the locks
- Turn off the utilities
- Get rid of the tenant's belongings
The first one, harassment, is very ambiguous, but it's important to note that you do not want to be sending nasty messages to your tenant, as this may all end up in court. Violating the law could put you in a worse position than you are currently in, so it is important to proceed with caution.
Step 3: Decide cash-for-keys or court
While we never used to encourage landlords to offer cash to the tenant in order to get them to leave (also known as cash-for-keys), it may be the least costly option for you. Despite it setting a terrible precedent across the industry, the cost of evictions has significantly increased over time, as legal fees are more expensive and courts are often backed up. While you wait for a court date, the holdover tenant is staying in the property (rent free!), and you are losing precious time to turn over the property and get another tenant into it. So there may be a time and place for this negotiation.
If you decide to negotiate with the tenant to take cash in exchange for them leaving immediately, make sure that you're not offering an egregious large amount that you will regret in the future. Perhaps you offer part of the security deposit back, even if the cost to turnover the rental is more than the full security deposit.
Now, some states will allow you to take holdover tenants directly to court without serving a notice to quit. In these states, or states where evictions are less costly, you may decide to take the tenant to court and not even offer up the cash for keys option. Or, if a negotiation with the tenant is not successful, you'll want to start the eviction process immediately. The steps to start evictions vary by state, but you can view all the state laws here. Click on your state and scroll down to the eviction section to read the step by step process.
Step 4: Prepare to bring in a qualified tenant
From your rental advertisement to your tenant screening process, make sure you have a really defined and professional process. For example, you should be advertising your rental on most websites to get a larger applicant pool. And you should be going through a comprehensive tenant screening process, from the credit check to income verification.
It's an incredibly stressful process to not collect rent. It's even more stressful to have a tenant illegally living in your rental for free. Remain professional during the process and refine your property management to make sure you don't encounter this type of unfortunate situation again.