Harvesting pot plant | Ivan Cuevas / EyeEm/Getty Images

Dear Real Estate Adviser,

I’ve had a lease-to-own agreement with a tenant for nearly 2 years, but he’s still not produced the deposit money spelled out by the contract. He also lied about his employment and said he’s instead waiting on a big marijuana harvest to cash in. His contract allows his small dog and girlfriend to live there, but she’s moved out and now all kinds of other people, kids and dogs have moved in. I tried to be patient but am at wit’s end. What can I do?

— Kristy

Dear Kristy,

I don’t know where to start with your “Tenant of the Year,” except to say that you need to get him and his growing menagerie of pals and pets out as soon as possible while the house — and your good legal standing — remain intact.

You don’t say in what state you live, but your guy may just work for a grower where weed is legal. But you should know that if he’s involved in illegal drug sales at your house and you’re aware of it, you could be held partially responsible by police for violating “Disorderly House Laws” or “Drug House Laws” in force in many states.

You also don’t mention the term of your lease-to-own agreement (usually 2 to 5 years) or any other fine print, or whether this dude’s stay is tied to his down-payment requirement. But this tenant with the green thumb has not only violated your contract with his payment delinquency — he has falsified his application and is housing unauthorized residents and pets and possibly violating other terms. For example, he may have been responsible for repairing the place during his tenancy as part of the deal and has failed to do so.

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Time to take drastic measures

Get familiar with your state’s eviction laws and how much notice you must give him. In California, the landlord must prove grounds for eviction. In that and some other states, the tenant can avoid getting kicked out by remitting the dollar amount owed. But be sure to make this filing about those other issues, too, to assure firmer footing.

I know it’s costly, but I strongly suggest the use of an experienced landlord’s eviction attorney because so many delicate issues are afoot. I also get the sense you’re intimidated by this person given his profession and the people associated with it. Some of them may have even moved into your house.

If your tenant-buyer has paid you any option fees or consideration fees, which is unlikely, or other monies as part the lease-to-own agreement, they now belong to you since he hasn’t performed. (In most lease-to-own deals, monthly payments are higher than standard rent, with a percentage of that typically put in escrow so the tenant builds equity. Your deal sounds as if it may be a bit different.)

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Steps to take now

Thanks for writing. I mostly read complaints from tenant buyers who are unfairly evicted for minor reasons so owners can sell a house to someone else for a better price. But you’ve been more than reasonable with this guy and he probably looks upon you as a doormat.

My suggestion going forward would be to sell the house conventionally or at least perform a far more thorough screening of any lease-to-own applicants, especially on job/income confirmation and criminal record.

I don’t envy the eviction process you must go through. Don’t listen to any more of the tenant’s hard-luck stories or promises. Let your lawyer deal with him. Be sure to screen at least a couple of eviction attorneys, too. Ask them if eviction is their specialty, how many they do per month, how fast they can usually get a tenant to court and how long an eviction usually takes.

Good luck! 

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