7 Common Eviction Mistakes (And How Property Owners Can Avoid Them)

Eviction is a worst-case scenario, for both tenants and rental property investors. It’s something that no one really wants to take part in or have to experience. Dealing with a tenant who isn’t paying rent or has caused severe damage through negligence or reckless behavior can be a nightmare. It can be expensive, time-consuming, and mentally or emotionally taxing. 

That being said, if you play your cards right and follow best practices, you can maintain evictions as an anomaly or avoid them all-together. You won’t have to worry about having to have that difficult conversation with your tenant. Here are seven of the most common mistakes relating to eviction – and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Rushing to rent out your property

You’ve made a budget and accounted for unforeseen expenses. But your plan only works if you have a rent-paying tenant. The longer your rental property stays empty, the longer it will take you to be able to turn a net profit. But in some cases, you could wind up losing far more money from a bad tenant than you would from an empty home. Damages, criminal activity on the property, and unreliable rent payment are all things you want to avoid.

As a landlord, you are entering into a partnership with your tenants once they hand over the security deposit. If the relationship is a bad fit, the consequences could be costly. Some tenants prefer to move in and won’t call you even if the roof caves in. Others will contact you with every little problem they have. Even if it’s something that falls outside of your legal responsibility, you might feel obliged to provide excellent customer service. After all, a happy tenant is a long term tenant. You don’t want to spend all your time on service calls, but you certainly need to know about problems before they get out of hand. 

All of this is to say: You simply can’t rush tenant placement. A careful screening process and a thorough overview of what maintenance falls under the tenant’s domain and the homeowner’s domain can be the difference between a great relationship and a legal battle in court. For example, you’ll need to define who is responsible for lawn maintenance and any guest policies or parking requirements unique to the property.

Mistake 2: Renting on a handshake

It can be said that the lease agreement is the most important document for a property owner. It should clearly define all the necessary details and contingencies, including rent collection, penalties for late payment, and on-site rules the tenant is expected to abide by. If you don’t want smoke or pets damaging your property, having these guidelines clearly stated will protect you and give you cause to evict should the unfortunate scenario ever arise. Clearly define your requirements so that you know exactly where to point to when you and your tenant have a disagreement. 

When you sign the lease, take some time to review it with your tenants so they know exactly what everything means and what they’re agreeing to. Even if your tenants are leasing month to month, have them sign an agreement that keeps you legally safe. A thorough, detailed lease doesn’t make you the bad guy – it helps protect everyone who signed it.

Mistake 3: Managing things from afar

Self-managing properties can feel like having a full-time job, even if you’re just down the street from all your investments. If you own property in a different city, keeping up with it on a day-to-day basis can end up feeling like a lot to manage. You might consider handing over some responsibilities to your tenants such as having them schedule their own repairs, but plumbers and HVAC repair crews get expensive quickly. Your tenant’s primary concern won’t be to save you money and you have to take them on their word unless you’re there to see things with your own eyes.

Mistake 4: Skipping the property assessment

Things get hectic when move-in and move-out dates are tight. But you still need to walk through and fully assess the condition of the property. Otherwise, it can be impossible to tell what damage was caused by each tenant, while essential maintenance needs get skipped. Not only does this lower the value of your property, but your tenants can use it against you if eviction proceedings are initiated.

Take the time to make an inspection and fix everything you can before a new resident moves in. Have your tenants fill out a checklist of any damages and make the repairs they request as well. Make sure they return it within thirty days to prevent any confusion. If there is major damage to your property, you need evidence of the state it was in when the current occupant moved in. When it’s done right, the walk-through and inspection benefit everyone.

Mistake 5: Relying on verbal communication

Communication with your tenants is essential. While calling to resolve an issue is great to avoid any miscommunication that may occur from email or text, follow up with an email or text message to keep written documentation of your agreement. Similarly, if your tenant violates the lease agreement, send them a written notice with the appropriate section of your contract highlighted. This is a professional way to remind them of the agreement and keep the exchange from getting emotionally charged. If you need to schedule repairs or maintenance, mailing a written notice with the date of scheduled service is prudent. 

Keep a record of all important communication between you and your tenant, and make sure you always provide written notice of failure to pay rent or any lease violations. By keeping your verbal interaction limited to pleasantries, you avoid the risk of veering outside of a professional relationship with your tenants. You don’t want to say anything you might regret – or something they can use against you in court. 

A written record will prove useful if the relationship ever sours and lawyers get involved. But more importantly, written communication can help prevent the relationship from deteriorating to that point. Again, the goal is to make life easy and stress-free for both you and the resident and to protect your relationship.

Mistake 6: Accepting partial rent payment

When a tenant is facing hard times financially, especially a renter you’ve had a long-running relationship with, it’s hard not to sympathize. It might seem like the best route is to accept what the tenant has to offer and hope for the best. But if you end up unable to cover your own costs, that’s bad for both you and the resident. 

Although it’s not necessary, a lease clause spelling out your exact policy on partial payments can help. More than anything, It gives you something to point to in the agreement if needed. If you’d like to provide tenant leniency, you are more than able to, but if you’re not in a position to be able to do so, you’re able to point to the lease agreement. One thing to also keep in mind is that accepting partial payment can prevent you from beginning eviction proceedings in some states. Make sure you specify a definite due date for the remaining rent in writing. Let them know if you are prorating or waiving their late fee. It should also be clear what will happen if they don’t make the next payment.

Mistake 7: Forcing the tenant out

Let’s say you find yourself in a position where you have to follow through with an eviction. Maybe your tenant keeps missing due dates, or they continually violate the lease agreement in different ways. Deciding to evict someone is a difficult decision that no one wants to necessarily make. If you do have to do it, make sure you do things right and hire an expert that knows the process.

You should never threaten or otherwise intimidate the occupant. Shutting off the utilities or changing the locks when your renter isn’t home may seem like the quickest way to solve the problem. However, there is no state in the country where this practice is legal – and it’s a quick way to escalate an already-tense situation.

The Bottom Line

Again, no one wants to see a tenant evicted. That’s why it’s so crucial to make sure you find the right residents in the first place and set safeguards for yourself if you ever find yourself in a position of needing to evict a tenant. If you find yourself in need of tenant placement and property management assistance, Great Jones can help you through this in the best way possible: using data-driven analysis and screening to find high-quality tenants that are a good fit for your policies and preferences. Our placement process has resulted in a zero percent eviction rate on occupants we place. Get in touch today and curb your eviction worries for good.

Noah Jeong

Noah works on the Growth Team at Great Jones. He's just as frustrated as you are with the status quo in the property management industry and is passionate about making contributions towards raising the bar for property management.

Suggested: Hiring a Property Manager Property Maintenance Rental Income