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Dealing with the tenants from hell -- Page 2

Prandi says she starts with a phone call to tell a tenant he's violating the lease. That's always followed by a letter that recounts the phone call and includes a copy of the rental agreement with the violation highlighted.

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If the problem is related to late rent or a bad check and a phone call hasn't worked, Prandi starts the eviction process. Every state has a specific form that has to be delivered to the tenant, giving them a certain number of days to pay up or get out. For instance, in California, it's a three-day notice to "pay rent or quit." Other states give tenants up to 15 days.

This is where it's important to know the law in your state and municipality. Some states require that the letter be delivered by a disinterested third party, usually a process server or a sheriff's deputy, or demand proof that the tenant received the notice. You need to know if the tenant has three business days or three calendar days to respond.

One tip: Make sure you have signed leases for every adult in the house, and send separate notices to each of them. This avoids situations in which one spouse or housemate gets the notice and the other says he didn't know anything about it -- or filing to evict a tenant and discovering there's someone else living there with whom you have no lease.

Cure or quit
If the offense is behavior-related, the tenant needs to be sent a "cure or quit" notice. In layman's terms, he has a certain amount of time to fix the problem or face termination of the lease. If he shapes up, great. If not, then he'll face eviction. The exceptions to this rule include criminal behavior, Prandi says. If someone is selling drugs out of your unit or is violent against other tenants, for example, you can skip the notice and go straight to eviction.

If you're lucky, the offending tenants are nearing the end of the lease period and you can simply notify them that you're not renewing their lease. (Check the law in your state to find out how much notice you need to provide.) If lease-end is still months away, you can try to avoid the expense and time of an eviction by buying out the lease, which is essentially paying them to leave. To reduce the risk of property damage, make the payment contingent on the unit being in good repair.

"It may be less-expensive than going through the eviction process, especially if you're worried about property damage," Landon says. "That can be a lot more expensive than an eviction."

Prandi agrees.

"I've seen people tear money in half and say, 'When you're out all the way, I'll give you the other half,'" she says. "It worked. Money talks, as they say."

If the tenant flatly refuses to leave, it's time to file for eviction. The process is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but you want it to stand up legally, so you need to follow state and local law precisely. For instance, accepting rent from a tenant after you've filed for eviction can be construed as re-instating the tenancy, Brooks says. There are ways to accept money after you've filed, but it varies by state. It might be worth a visit with a landlord-tenant attorney to learn the ropes.

Trashing the place
One of the touchiest situations in an eviction is keeping tenants from trashing the place before they leave. As the landlord, you have a right of access, Brooks notes. He's seen some landlords begin an eviction by checking the condition of the unit. Take someone with you who is neutral, he says, and take lots of pictures. A court order enjoining them from doing damage to the unit "gives you the power of contempt and jail time to ensure nothing is done to harm the property while you go through the process."

Once the eviction is underway, though, Prandi recommends steering clear of the property and the tenant.

"Make sure you're not provoking anyone to get mad," she says. "Let the law handle things. If you're in the middle of an eviction, stay off the property and just expect that the place will need work."

-- Posted: July 21, 2005




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