By Peter Shapiro, Good Landlord Consulting Services
To be or not to be – that is the question! With due respect to Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet line, this may not be the right “one question” to ask about eviction.
Because landlords describe on our message boards their agony over the decision to evict, here’s an approach that can help. By deciding early on to pursue eviction — while doing everything possible to avoid it happening — landlords can reduce financial risk and make resolution easier. For those whose experiences with eviction provide examples of what I’m going to describe, please feel free to post on our message boards so we can learn from you.
When your tenant falls behind on rent payments, you may be the kind of landlord that avoids serving notice, trusting tenants will pay up. You extend for months not only because you believed each promise, but to avoid court – until you reach the point where you’ve become so angry, betrayed and revengeful that you leap from play nice to no-holds-barred, do-or-die, full court drama! No middle ground!
Dealing with eviction, however, need not be an either-or experience! Although some tenants will pay in short order, others won’t until the pressure is on, while others won’t pay ever. When rent is late — not when the bank is broken — you can serve a notice, but take some of the sting out by reassuring your tenant that you both can benefit by talking it out — which you’d rather do – right up to court day.
For example, you can tell your tenant the following: “John, although I’ll be serving a nonpayment notice in the next few days, I remain in step with your stated intention to repay over the next two weeks. And if you need another week or so I’ll work with you, within the time constraints set forth by law. And if we’re making progress but trial day has arrived and you need more time still to complete your payments, within reason, let’s do it. I want you to succeed here but in way that keeps my financial risk in check.”
Not only will this approach reduce your rent losses, but you’ll more likely succeed if court is needed because you’ve worked so hard to avoid it.
Let me be clear — I am not arguing against court — but, in case you haven’t experienced the costly delays, tenant defenses, procedural challenges and uncertainties involved — avoiding it, until absolutely needed, is worth the effort!
Two points to consider: First, your tenant may stay in touch and ultimately pay up, months later, without a notice. Knowing when not to serve a notice is an important skill. This can be especially true if your renter experiences a sudden life event and there’s an assured path for them to recover from it.
Second, your tenant may react strongly at whatever point a notice is served – and however soft the blow. Finding a way past their reaction to keep negotiations going, often enough, will get you better results than relying on court process alone.
Before resigning yourself to a high stress waiting game that may cost you dearly, my message is clear: Consider starting legal action early on when you still have the kind of relationship and financial flexibility to be able to work things out with your tenant. Whether your tenant stays or goes, you’ll get better results.