One of the biggest problems any landlord can face is a tenant not paying rent and won’t leave. When this happens, it can seem like the only recourse you have is to take matters into your own hands. But, that will only land you in trouble with the law.
How to Handle a Tenant Not Paying Rent and Won’t Leave
Every once in a while, a landlord will encounter a really bad tenant who stops paying rent altogether yet won’t leave the leased property. Considering there are only a few acceptable reasons for not paying rent — such as a landlord overcharging the tenant or an apartment deemed unsafe — landlords generally have the upper hand when tenants fall behind.
Initially, it can seem as though your options are scarce. But, there are actually a handful of possible remedies you can carry out.
1. Sit Them Down
If this is your tenant’s first time being late on rent, you might want to sit them down to find out what’s wrong. They might be going through a tough time right now and need a few more days. It is a good idea to do this either over the phone or face-to-face in a public place. Things can quickly get confrontational, so you want to make sure you’re in a safe space.
Be careful about making more than one phone call or meeting, though. Harassment is not included in the list of what to do if your tenant does not pay rent. And, if you pester them too much, a court may find you guilty of it.
2. Send a Pay or Quit Notice
Landlords should know what to do when a tenant does not pay rent. Among the first recourses you have is to send them a notice of late rent. While this might work on some tenants, others will remain steadfast in their non-paying ways. In that case, the next notice you should send is a pay or quit notice. Essentially, this gives the tenant a chance to settle their unpaid rent or leave the property.
Sending your tenant a pay or quit notice shows them that you’re serious about taking legal action. After all, sending this notice is usually the first step when evicting a tenant. You can deliver this notice in person, though it is better to also have it delivered via certified mail. This way, there is proof that the tenant received the notice.
What should a pay or quit notice include?
- Your intention to evict the tenant if they don’t pay
- How much your tenant should pay (including any applicable late fees)
- When they must settle their debt by
While you can find pay or quit notices online, it is a good idea to seek help from an attorney. Your attorney can also brief you on the laws in your state or city when it comes to eviction proceedings. Some jurisdictions require landlords to follow certain procedures to qualify for an eviction.
3. Go for a Cash for Keys Exchange
Some landlords might feel like a cash-for-keys setup puts them in a terrible spot. After all, does it make sense to pay someone who already owes you money just so they would pack up and leave?
But, offering cash for keys is a common practice among many landlords. It is also a simpler (and, sometimes, cheaper) alternative to evicting a tenant. If you want to know how to get rid of a tenant not paying rent, consider a cash-for-keys exchange. Just make sure you and your tenant put this agreement in writing.
4. Start Eviction Proceedings
Can you be evicted for paying rent late? The short answer is yes. Nonpayment of rent is perhaps the most common cause of eviction among landlords and tenants. Usually, it begins with the landlord sending a pay or quit notice (explained above).
If the tenant still doesn’t pay their rent or leave the premises, eviction proceedings can officially begin. State laws vary on when you can start the process. For instance, California law gives tenants 3 days in between the notice and the initiation of eviction proceedings.
Filing an eviction, though, is not as easy as it seems. You will need an attorney to help you prepare everything, including all supporting documents to prove your claim. Attorneys don’t come free, but they are worth the money since they already know the eviction laws in your state or city.
Can Landlords Use Self-Help Methods?
What if the tenant refuses to pay rent? Can landlords take action on their own?
It is generally not recommended that landlords use self-help eviction methods. Self-help is when a landlord regains possession of a leased property without going through the proper eviction channels. This can include changing the locks on tenants (i.e. locking them out of their apartment) or removing a tenant’s belongings from the property.
Self-help is illegal in most states and cities, so using it to get a tenant out can put you in legal trouble. You could find yourself paying thousands of dollars in actual and punitive damages.
The best course of action is to evict the tenant legally. If a court rules in your favor and the tenant still refuses to vacate the property, leave it to local law enforcement to physically remove the tenant. Even with a court order, self-help (such as removing a tenant’s belongings yourself) is still not advisable.
How to Recover Delinquent Rent
By the time you have successfully evicted a tenant, they would have likely accumulated months’ worth of unpaid rent. Is there a way you can recover any or all of these?
Sue the Tenant (or Ex-Tenant)
There are two instances wherein a landlord can sue a tenant for unpaid rent:
- A tenant breaks a long-term lease before its expiry and defaults on rent payments
- A tenant with a month-to-month lease vacates the property without giving proper notice
What happens if you don’t pay rent and move out? Even if a tenant moves out, a landlord can still go after them for unpaid rent. Again, you can do this by filing a lawsuit.
Turn to Insurance
Most standard landlord insurance policies don’t cover unpaid rent. But, if you purchased rent guarantee insurance, your provider may cover up to 6 months’ worth of rent per year.
Eviction Most Likely
A tenant not paying rent and won’t leave is one of a landlord’s worst nightmares. These tenants are typically stubborn and hard to deal with. While you might be able to get them to leave by sending them a notice or offering cash for keys, most cases end with eviction.
Do you need help with collecting late rent and evicting tenants? Turn to a property management company today. Start your search for the best one in your area using Rental Choice’s comprehensive online directory.
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