It is the worst case scenario for every property owner. You rent to someone in good faith, you check and double check their references and everything checks out. But then somewhere along the line, things go wrong and the rent checks stop coming. So, what can you do? In most cases, not a whole heck of a lot.
The procedures for evicting a tenant should be clearly spelled out in the rental agreement that the tenant signed. Once they have missed X amount of rent payments, they have X amount of time to move out before you can enter their space, throw their belongings into the garbage and change the locks. But the rules are very, very different from state to state, and in some places, you need a court order to enter a tenant’s apartment or living space and remove their belongings, even if they have gone months without paying a dime in rent. If you are buying a new rental property in a state other than the one you currently live in, you will need to completely research the laws of that state and how they govern these types of situations.
Another good tip is to make out a list of “What To Do’s” when it comes to dealing with tenants who haven’t paid rent. The worst thing you can do is to treat tenant a one way and treat tenant b another way. If you have to take a tenant to court to get them thrown out, you don’t want any discrepancies on how you’ve treated the people who live in your building. Also, make sure you document everything you can so if the situation does result in a court date, you’ll be able to show the judge exactly what happened.
While it can be tempting to try to do things to make the tenant who isn’t paying rent uncomfortable, ie, turning off their heat, their water or their cable, harassment is illegal and violates tenant rights in just about every state. You also don’t want your tenant going to court and saying that they were harassed. Most judges don’t look too kindly on that. Simply go by the letter of your lease and serve the proper notices when the time comes. There really isn’t much more you can do (legally) than that.
One possible solution is to simply talk to the tenant who has stopped paying rent and find out why. This can work, but it can also be dangerous because you don’t want to get emotionally involved the lives of your tenants, especially the ones that aren’t paying rent. But if they withholding rent due to a problem in the unit they live in, it might be worth your while to give in and start collecting rent again than to go through the expensive process of eviction. Of course, take this on a case-by-case basis. You don’t want every tenant in your building withholding rent until they get a Jacuzzi installed.
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