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Preventing the Eviction Process: What to Do if a Renter Won't Pay Up

Nov 22, 2019 by Aly J. Yale
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Eviction can be a long and grueling process. There are numerous notices you have to file, lengthy waiting periods, and then, if all else fails, time-consuming legal actions to remove the tenant from the property.

All in all, it can take weeks -- sometimes even months -- to go through the process.

Even after all is said and done, you may still have work to do. From cleaning up and disposing of abandoned items to repairing damage to the house, the effects of an eviction can be lasting -- it’s a situation you want to avoid at all costs. 

Want to steer clear of the difficult eviction process, but need your renter to pony up? Here are six methods you can try first:

1. Reach out as soon as the payment is late

Ask questions, find out why the rent is late, and get an estimated date for the payment. Sometimes, there may simply be an error with their payment, or they've been out of town or dealing with an emergency. Give them the benefit of the doubt and reach out before taking any serious action.

2. Offer payment plans or splits

If you know and trust the tenant, you might consider offering some sort of payment plan or let them split the rent into two or three payments (with set due dates for each, of course). Be careful offering these options, though. They could take away the sense of urgency and make the tenant more willing to pay late again in the future.

3. Serve them a pay or quit notice

The pay or quit notice is essentially a pre-eviction move. It gives the tenant an ultimatum: pay up within a certain number of days or move out of the home. The length of time depends on what state you live in, but it’s usually somewhere between three and five days.

4. Pay them to move out

Really want that tenant to move out? Give them a few hundred bucks to do it by a certain day. It sounds like a last-ditch option, but it can actually be quite effective. If they’re hard up for cash, the tenant might jump at the chance for a little extra dough. (Plus, a few hundred dollars is nothing compared to the months of lost rent you’ll experience keeping them around -- or dealing with an eviction.)

5. Report it to credit bureaus

Always report any late or delinquent rent payments to at least one credit bureau (you can use tools like Experian’s RentBureau to streamline the process). Maybe a late payment isn’t a big deal to your renter, but once it starts taking their credit score down with it, they may sing a different tune. 

6. Take them to small claims court

Before starting a full-blown eviction, you might consider taking the tenant to small claims court instead. Ask the judge for interest on the unpaid rent, too. This can help offset any legal costs you incur for filing the claim in the first place.

A quick word of caution 

Don't change the locks, shut off the tenant’s utilities, or try to intimidate the tenant or their family members to get rent. These are all illegal tactics and could mean serious trouble or even jail time for you.

Moving toward eviction

The exact process for eviction varies from state to state. If your tenant won’t respond to your attempts at collection, you’ll likely have to take some or all of these steps:

  • Issue a pay or quit notice. This gives the tenant one last chance to pay up.
  • Give the tenant notice of your intent to evict them. They usually have a few days to appeal the action, settle their rent with the courts, or move out. This is sometimes called a "notice to vacate."
  • File your eviction lawsuit in court. Make sure you file in the county where the rental property is located.
  • Go to the hearing. The case may go before a judge or jury, depending on where you live. You’ll need to offer evidence as to why the tenant should be removed from the property.
  • If you win, the tenant will need to vacate the premises within a certain time frame. Lose, and you’ll need to appeal. (If the tenant doesn’t show up to the hearing, that’s a win, too.)

Sometimes, even with a court order, the tenant still won’t leave the property. If this happens, you’ll have to request a writ of possession from the court. This gives the sheriff permission to physically remove the renter and their belongings from your property.

Though forced removal can solve your problem, it often costs you. Sheriffs will remove the tenant and their belongings from the property, typically putting them on the front lawn or in storage. You'll need to dispose of these items yourself or pay someone to do so. If the sheriff’s department stored the items in a private warehouse, you’ll also need to settle up with that business, as well.

Safeguard from the start

If you want to avoid evicting a tenant, put safeguards in place from the start. Require automated rent payments that come straight from the tenant’s bank account and include clear-cut penalties and late policies in your lease agreements

On the other side of the coin, you can also reward renters for paying on time (or even early). Give them a gift card, cut 10% off their rent around the holidays, and don't raise their rent at renewal time. It costs a lot less to keep a good tenant than to evict a bad one.

Finally, be careful about who you rent to. Have a stringent screening process in place, check all applicants’ credit, and set strict income requirements that protect your bottom line.

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