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Breakdown of an eviction: what are the (real) costs?

Legal compliance & taxes

An eviction can mean losing future rent to the resident search and screening process, the cost of repairs and cleaning, and unforeseen costs if the resident ends up contesting the eviction. 

For this reason, it's good to know what to expect from the eviction process, depending on where the investment property is.

What can't be done

Even the most owner-friendly states require a notice that informs the resident that they've violated the terms of the rental or lease agreement. It's against the law to take measures to get a resident out of a property without a court order. 

Measures that can't be taken:

  • Changing a lock
  • Shutting off utilities
  • Harassing a resident
  • Removing a resident's personal property
  • Threaten to or use actual force to make your resident leave

The legal steps to an eviction

Step 1: serve an eviction notice

In most cases, you must serve a resident with a written notification after becoming aware that they've violated the rental or lease agreement. 

The most common resident violation is not paying rent, but all sorts of breaches can merit an eviction:

  • Keeping an unauthorized pet
  • Letting someone move in without permission
  • Noise problems
  • Intentionally damaging property

The vocabulary around evictions can vary from state to state. Even what the eviction notice is called can be different. Common variations include "Notice to Quit" and "Demand for Possession." 

The notice tends to give the resident the chance to correct or remedy the violation. The most frequently used windows of opportunity are five, seven, or ten days for failing to pay rent; ten, fourteen, and thirty days for other violations. 

Providing and serving your occupant with a proper notice is a prerequisite for a court-ordered eviction. If you're not using a property manager, then a qualified attorney or eviction specialist may be useful. 

Step 2: file in court for eviction

The eviction process can end with your occupant correcting the lease violation or simply leaving during their window of opportunity. But if the resident fails to fix the problem or leave, then the owner has to file an official complaint or summons with their local rent court. 

Which court that is used depends on the property's location, although more and more courts are open to online filing.

When going to court, bring a copy of the following documents:

  • Lease
  • Any addendums
  • Disclosures
  • Notices
  • Rent ledgers
  • All other relevant information

After this, the court will process all of the documents and schedule a hearing date. How long that takes varies between municipalities. It may take a week; in a larger city or county, it could be months. 

Either way, a complaint should be filed right after the notice period expires to avoid delays. 

Step 3: rent court hearing

Breakdown of an eviction: what are the (real) costs?

While no one wants to deal with an eviction, it's good to know what to expect from the process, depending on the location of the investment property. (Credit: Getty Images)

On the day of the eviction hearing, the owner or their representative (an attorney, agent, property manager, or eviction specialist) must be present in the court to explain the rationale for the eviction. 

By this point, the resident will already have gotten a notice to appear for the eviction hearing. While the resident will have the opportunity to give their perspective, they may opt-out of appearing at the hearing. It's on the owner or their representative to offer as much evidence to support the eviction as possible. 

The result of the eviction hearing is based solely on the judge's personal opinion. Even if the owner is justified by most metrics to force an eviction, the judge may require the owner to take other measures and file a second eviction hearing. It's in the owner's best interest or their representative to be differential, professional, and well-organized since these traits will impact the judge's decision process. 

Step 4: writ of possession

A "Writ of Possession" is the court's document that declares that a rental property must be returned to the owner. At this juncture, the owner should carefully read over the document to ensure they follow any steps that must be taken before having the tenant vacate the property. 

The Writ of Possession tends to be delivered to the resident by a sheriff or constable. By this point, the occupant will know that they have to leave the property by a particular date and time or be removed by force. 

Writs of Possession vary from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 

Step 5: eviction day

Known as the "put-out" or "lock-out" date, eviction day is when one would hope the resident leaves on their own accord. Sometimes, the sheriff or another authorized party will arrive at the pre-agreed upon time and oversee the owner's forced entry into the rental property, whether using their key or locksmith.

If the resident fails to vacate, the sheriff will remove them by force. It is then the owner's responsibility or their representative to remove the occupant's possessions. What's to be done with the occupant's things may vary from state to state, so be sure to determine what's expected. 

It's best to arrive early to the eviction with hired help to remove your resident's things faster. The locks should be changed during the moment of eviction to keep the one-time resident from re-entering. 

If a contractor is involved, they should get started on all maintenance and repairs right away so the property will be ready to show ASAP. This way, the vacancy period will be as short as possible. 

Bottom line on evictions

Regardless of whether or not a rigorous screening is performed, even the best of residents may have to be given the old heave-ho. And, the eviction process can be quite involved. 

Even in those instances where eviction takes less time, it still eats up resources. For this reason, some people opt for "cash for keys," which is paying a resident to leave the property. Sometimes it's worth it to pay someone $500 to skit-skat.

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