When I first became a landlord back in 2005 I quickly learned the hard way that not all tenants will work out the way I had envisioned. Fortunately we have a legal system that protects investors from abusive or irresponsible tenants. Hopefully you will never have to file an eviction but if you do, make sure to follow these steps to avoid any snags, or worse, lose your case.
1) Check Your Lease. I’m going to assume you have a written lease. If you do not you will need to give your tenants a written notice and depending on the violation a “reasonable” amount of time to allow them to correct the issue. If you have a written notice, then follow exactly what is states. For example, if the lease says “No Pets” and you find they have one, see how much time your lease allows them to rectify the issue. If there is no such language give them a notice and retain two copies, one for you and one to file in courthouse if you plan to move forward with the eviction. Sometimes you may just want the pet gone and not the tenants. If they get rid of the pet, problem solved.
2) Make Sure Violations Are Clearly Stated. Most lease violations are for non-payment of rent, pets or some other common issue. Always refer to your lease and see what the guidelines are and follow them to the letter. For non-payment of rent, make sure to file the eviction after the grace period is up. If the lease (or state law) requires you to give a notice before you file an eviction, make sure to do this otherwise your claim will get tossed out at court if it even makes it that far. While the law is on your side, I have found the judges will ensure fairness to all parties. Even if your tenants have trashed your home, doesn’t mean the judge will grant an eviction if you have not followed the language of your lease.
3) Get Proof. The easy one is for non-payment of rent. If they didn’t pay, you file for such and will testify under oath at court. I find the judges are good at getting to the bottom of an issue and will ask the right questions to both parties involved. Bottom line is you just answer their questions and not say more than what is asked. If the tenant shows up and denies it, the judge will ask them to show proof, which they will have none. If you are filing for a different violation like pets, then take pictures of the pet and print copies so you can take with you.
4) Give Proper Notice Before Filing An Eviction. Again refer to your lease and see what it requires of you based on the violation. In Louisiana , we are required to give a five day notice prior to filing an eviction. However, if you had your tenants waive the “right” you can go straight to the court house and file. From what I’ve been told in states like California such a waiver does not exist. Again check with state laws or simply follow what is on your lease agreement.
5) File Eviction Where Your Rental Is. If you live some distance from your rental there is a good chance the place to file is different. Always file with the jurisdiction of where your investment is. You can always start with your city court house and ask them where to file as they usually will know and can direct you to the right place to if it is not with them. You will also need to know what the court costs are. Some courts charge a flat fee regardless of how many tenants are named on the lease. Others charge on a per tenant basis. Make sure you find out before what the court costs are and who exactly to make it out to.
6) Verify Tenants Received Eviction Notice. When you file an eviction, the court will send a marshal or some other local official to put a notice on the tenant’s door letting them know they have to show up in court to defend themselves and where to go. Some judges will want you to testify if the tenant’s received this notice if they are not present in court. A simple drive by the morning of court can answer this question. If the notice is gone, then one can assume the tenants received it and simply decided not to show up for the hearing.
7) Don’t Take The Money. If you filed an eviction for non-payment of rent, it is extremely important you do not take any rent prior to the court date unless you want to allow the tenants to remain in the home. I do not suggest you do since the odds of you going back and filing again are way more likely. If you do want to allow them to stay, at least make sure you receive all back rent plus late charges and court costs in full. Taking just one dollar before the scheduled court hearing will result in the cancellation of your eviction proceedings and you will have to file again paying another round of court courts and a new court date. Don’t waste your money and turn down their money and start over with a new tenant.
8) Show Up To Court. Sounds like a no-brainer right? In my fifty plus eviction court appearances, there were a few times the landlord didn’t show up! The judge will automatically throw out the case and you will have to re-do the filings costing you more money out of pocket and more “loss of lease”. Make sure when you show up in court to have copies of your lease and any proof you might need to show the judge the tenant’s violations.
9) Answer Truthfully. Judges are smart and they know who is lying better than most. The law is on your side and if you follow the language of your lease and my guidelines you will win. Do not screw up your chances of winning by “fudging” the truth – it is not necessary. Judges cannot stand being lied to and will deny your eviction if they find just one technicality in your claim.
NOTE: The common sense approach will be the same from state to state but the filing of an eviction will not. Check with your courthouse and ask them what you will need when filing. Examples given in this article were from filings in the state of Louisiana.
written by C. Gabriel Lewis
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As a licensed Broker I have shown thousands of homes and apartments over the years for my clients. And over those same years I’ve found some low cost/high yield improvements anyone can do as long as you’ve picked up a screwdriver and a brush. Below are the most popular ones I’ve come up with even if you are on a tight budget:
1) Replace All Broken and Missing Light Bulbs. This might seem like a no brainer but I have shown other properties in the past where a closet light was missing, bathroom light dull or gone, etc. Folks who are looking at your house will mostly likely have some others to view and if they can’t see the home in full lighting – may want to pass simply because of the “feeling” it gives them. For a couple of bucks per bulb replace all light fixtures and make sure to leave them all on when you are showing! Estimated Cost $15-25.
2) Clean or Replace Ceiling Vents. I’ve have found when one thing is nice, the not so nice becomes more glaring. This is true when it comes to ceiling vents. After years of blowing air from your AC/Heater they will accumulate some not so attractive black dust or worse suet and you will want to take them down and soak or replace them. Estimated Cost $60-$80.
3) Replace Cabinet Hardware. This is a clever way to get your cabinets looking new again. Similar to ceiling vents, years of opening and closing those doors will accumulate oils and dirt from your hands and become unattractive. Getting a box of new hardware is cheap and putting them up is easy to do. I would extend the project to include all kitchen and bathroom handles. Estimated Cost $20-$40.
4) Getting New Floor Mats. May not seem like much but getting a new set of floor mats give your home an extra “boost” when showing. I find they are more inviting and are complimentary to everything around it. Make sure to get neutral colors and include ones at every bathroom vanity, kitchen and exterior doors. Estimated Cost $40-$50.
5) Replace Interior Door Hardware. Again, similar to the cabinets, your door knobs get a lot of traffic and I find these are commonly overlooked when getting a home or apartment ready to show. Over time they lose their finish and sometime functionality. For about $8 – $10 each you can purchase new knobs and they are easy to replace. This is also a good opportunity to replace outdated knobs with something more that are “current” and trendy. Make sure to include hall and closet doors. Estimated Cost $60-$80.
6) Replace Mini-Blinds. Now most of you might be thinking this is impossible because if you have purchased blinds before you know they can go for north of $50 a piece. However, since you are selling your home or renting it, it’s ok if you go with inexpensive blinds especially if the ones you have are old, dirty and/or damaged. Better to replace with inexpensive blinds then to hang on to better quality but less attractive ones. I buy Project Source at Lowes for about $6 each. Estimated Cost $70-$100.
7) Painting All Walls, Doors and Trim. This too should come as a no brainer. However, I find that most folks who paint are not sure what exactly to paint or not to paint and how to go about it. I find that most ceilings are fine and you can skip over unless there was a leak of some kind. If you are not an experienced painter feel free to paint the trim and doors the same color especially if you are on a time crunch. Also make sure to replace all electrical cover plates after you paint as the old ones will stand out and take away from the new look of the room. Stick with one color throughout the entire home and make sure it’s neutral. A new home buyer will most likely repaint it themselves soon anyway. Buy the first run of paint in a five gallon bucket and use this to estimate how much more you will need after it’s empty. You will need at least this much for an entire home and it’s cheaper to buy than separate one gallon cans. Estimated Cost $300-$400.
8) Clean Your Entire Home and Make It Smell Good. Common sense is not common and I am always shocked when I’m showing a home for sale and it’s not clean or smells bad. One automatically assumes a dirty home can have other “issues”. Make sure all of your toilets are shining, vanities nice and tidy, ceiling fans free of dirt, etc. Have a pet? Get rid of all dander and hair. You might be used to it but most everyone will not. Another good tip is to make the home smell good throughout. If your AC filter is in a closet, put an air freshener in front of it so that every time the unit kicks on it sucks the good smell and distributes it evenly into the home. Estimated Cost $ 30-$40.
9) Replace Stove Drip Pans. If you are like most cooks you like to use your stove a lot and may cut corners when cleaning it. For about $7 a piece you can change out each of the drip pans. This will give the stove a new look and may even be necessary since they tend to become rusty over time and are impossible to clean. Estimated Cost $30-$40.
-This article was written by C. Gabriel Lewis
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Over the years I have learned a lot about searching for new tenants. When my wife and I purchased our first rental property over ten years ago we had to learn the hard way about what it takes to find good tenants and starting off on the right foot. Below are ten things you can do to avoid some major headaches:
- Never take just their word. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had folks lie to me with a smile. Some are even good at it to the point they should be professional actors and actresses. Have them fill out an application and get copies of ID’s and pay stubs. This would be a good start in verifying if they are being truthful or not.
- Never accept work in lieu of rent payment or deposit. I have found this is one of the mostly likely to go sour with landlord/tenant relationships. They will either not do the work, or worse, do the work to poor standards. This will especially get tricky if you have to evict them later.
- Never show a property to a surrogate. Yes we live in a busy world, yes they even may be out of town or off shore, but there is NEVER a substitute for the person who will actually move in and pay the rent. Parents are notorious for this when searching home’s for their kids, but unless they are paying the rent and deposit, don’t waste your time showing it to the them, friends or loved ones. Ultimately it needs to be a relationship with you and the actual person living there…no exceptions.
- Never sign a lease electronically. Unless you have a state of the art authentication software do not accept applications or sign a lease electronically. There is too much cyber theft going on and I would always want to see the person applying, match the face to the name on their ID, and match the ID to their paystub.
- Never leave any adult names off of the lease agreement. If there are two adults moving in, make sure there are two names on the lease. If there are four, then four names on the lease, etc. If they say that the other person doesn’t “need” to be on the lease or “comes in from time to time”, then you may want to kill the deal right there. This is common for those who are trying to sneak in a relative or friend with a checkard past.
- Never accept money after signing the lease. The old saying about “money talks and ____ walks” is true to form with regards to making sure you get all monies before or at lease signing. I learned early in my real estate career that folks don’t always follow through with their word and I was left “holding the bag” with a now vacated apartment and no monies. To make things worse, I had to file an eviction to get them out which added to my loss of lease and more monies out of pocket for court costs.
- Never accept a personal check for the security deposit. You may find this hard to believe but there are folks out there who don’t care if you lose money. I remember having a gentleman pay a $1000 deposit only to stop payment on it when he changed his mind. Unfortunately I had yet to deposit it and when I did, I didn’t get a notice from my bank until ten days later. Needless to say it cost me almost a full month’s worth of rent. Try getting them to pay using a cashier’s check or money order.
- Never wait for your tenants to switch over the utilities. Out of sight, out of mind. It may not be intentional but tenants will milk every megawatt of power you leave on for them. Tell them at lease signing the utilities will be shut off the next day (or two if you are feeling nice) and immediately call your local utility company and schedule the shut off after lease signing. If the tenants do what you told them to do then they will have no interruption of services. If they didn’t do what you told them to do, shame on them.
- Never make empty promises or threats. Credibility is key when dealing with tenants. If they feel you are not being truthful, or worse, that they can push you around, it will be a long lease period for you. If you say no pets allowed, make sure you don’t allow pets. If you say the home will be ready by a certain date, make sure it’s ready by that certain date. If you follow through with your word, tenants will respect and trust you.
- Never hold a property without a full deposit. Even if they are the “perfect family” do not fall into the habit of holding a property for someone who wants it. I always tell folks it’s on a first come first serve basis. If they really want it, or better yet have the means to pay, they will do so. Do not enable folks to take advantage of you.
written by C. Gabriel Lewis
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