There is stress that comes with property management and one of the worst situations one can find him or herself in is going through an eviction. I say that because I am sure a loss in property due to an uninsurable event could be worse. During my about 13.5 years managing my own properties, I have been through 3 evictions. The first one was a mistake in choosing the wrong tenant. We were not living in town anymore and we were a little bit desperate. We should not have been desperate but we let stress get to us, and we chose a bad tenant. The 2nd one was an older woman who lost her husband. I allowed compassion to reign with no regrets and waited for her life insurance to kick in before she started to make payments again. We communicated and it was going great, until she decided to go out of town visiting her relatives and stopped communicating. Her children took advantage of her and began living in the home. I think she was a bit fed up with it too. She counted on them making the payment while she stopped returning my calls or emails. The 3rd, the couple was getting a divorce and the majority breadwinner moved out. The husband could no longer afford rent. He struggled with it for a few months to get caught up towards the ends of the months and finally gave up. He stopped returning my emails and left me no choice. I want to share how I got through this and steps of the eviction because I think knowledge is power.
My mother called me with a problem she is having because she owes taxes in the six digits due to an accountant that decided she did not owe taxes for the last 3 to 4 years, she lives in Mexico. In Mexico, especially in small towns, it is difficult to find competent help. Even if competent, they may procrastinate or not give you the customer service you deserve. Trust me, it is common knowledge that one struggles. Many go to large cities to try to find better help with attorneys, accountants, etc. but still, one must be vigilant that work is getting done correctly. Even with that, it is a learning curve of what these professionals could get wrong, and the justice system is a whole new language from anything I have seen: from not being able to add criminal activity to an ongoing court case because it was not written in with the initial submission, to flat out being able to bribe for favorable outcomes. My mother has a solution to her problem in paying back the debt to the Mexican IRS, Hacienda. She just felt the stress of it one day feeling alone in her stress.
I shared with her my stress process with the eviction. I reminded her that problems are sure to be part of any worthy endeavor and that the way to combat them is to be prepared for them. Here is what I shared to make her feel better that day: The only way to avoid problems is to not have anything (but then we have that problem). We are not always going to be lucky with those we hire and you will always have something to do that could stress you out. It is part of living with purpose. But it is what we choose because it has the highest rewards. Those without problems, let them stay with the problem of no money. And you, accept your problem as part of your success and remember what the package gives you, lots of luxury, trips, and being able to give to others. I understand, it is quite an effort to not stress. But the true stress is not having the money or means to solve the problems that come with business. When you have the money and means, remember that you have it, and say goodbye to stress.
For me, the eviction process began with a lot of stress, I tend to over analyze things and figure out solutions before the problems could arise. At times, I go too far and I allow myself to worry before I need to. Other times, I see it as preparation. Nonetheless, I am imperfect because I live with insomnia when something is on my mind, and I am bored when nothing is on my mind, go figure. The way I calmed my stress is that I remind myself that I have the money and means to weather this eviction and that in the end investing in real estate is more profitable than not investing in it, even with these expenses. Viewing an eviction as another expense is very helpful. If there is something I can learn from this experience, I do, and I move on.
An eviction process varies by states. Be careful to know your state laws before purchasing real estate. Some states have crazy laws that allow a tenant to stay in the property for longer than you can stomach. Arizona is great, here is the process in Arizona where I have done mine. Normally a tenant starts to be late a few times before they give up altogether. Anticipating this, I send them a happy email stating that I will be sending a 5 day notice just as a courtesy but that they will have 10 days to pay from the date of the notice without any problem. This is called a 5 day notice and it is a notice of intent to terminate tenancy due to nonpayment. From the day that you mail it, the tenant gets an actual 10 days to account for mailing time even if the letter does not state that. If you send the notice on the 2nd of the month, the first day they are late, you can have them out of there within the month. My lawyer charges $50 to send the notice, otherwise it is under $4 to send it certified mail myself.
Most states have the forms for evictions and you can file yourself saving you lawyer fees. I am out of state so it easiest for me to hire a lawyer once my 5 day notice does not work. My lawyer charges $250 to file the special forcible detainer complaint that he files with the court. Once it is filed, the court date is set. My eviction was filed on a Monday and the court date was the following Monday. That day I would have gotten a judgement in my favor. A complication occurred when my tenant decided to show up to court just saying he was going through a divorce. Rather than dealing with it then, the judge decided to send it to court. It cost me $450 for my lawyer to take it to court the following Friday to get a judgement in my favor. A writ of restitution would then be filed the next Thursday. My lawyer had instructions to file the writ that Thursday and I even sent an email to remind him but he failed to do so. I thought the courts were closed Friday because of a holiday so I let it go until Monday. I was calling and emailing on Monday and finally called the court to find out nothing had been filed but that my lawyer had called that morning to file. After several unanswered emails, my lawyer answered his cellphone Monday afternoon to say the writ was filed. I was so excited. It was time to get things scheduled. Once the writ is filed, a constable contacts you to set an appointment to serve the notice which is the day you can have your house back. I called the court Tuesday morning to make sure I had the correct constable’s phone number because I had not yet heard from him. I was informed a writ was not yet filed. I contacted my lawyer’s office and reached the most unhelpful person. I basically told her, I needed to get my property back and I wanted to know where the writ was and if it would be filed that day. She said, she was not a paralegal or lawyer and that she could not answer my questions. Yes, not even if the writ was in the hands of their delivery driver. She said, “I will let the lawyer know to contact you and that it is urgent.” I went online and found the form for the writ, filled it out, and asked my sister to drive it over. I checked with the court one more time and it got filed in the afternoon by my lawyer. I called the constable, left a message and got a call back very soon after that day which was Tuesday. The next morning he went to the house at 10 am (by the way, a sheriff can also be hired but I heard they have a longer waiting time to schedule out). I hired a locksmith to meet the constable at the house. I arrived into Phoenix airport at 9 am, borrowed a sister’s car, met the locksmith to get my keys, and saw the condition of the home. Entering the home prior to serving the writ can be considered trespassing. Most evictions are a little faster than mine because tenants rarely show up to court and it does not get a new court date set in order to get a judgment. By showing up to court, he bought himself one more week and with my lawyer’s delays in filing the writ a whole weekend.
So what now? Most of the time tenants move out and leave the keys on the kitchen counter. But, with my first eviction, the constable showed up and my tenant was so surprised it was happening. He claimed he never received any notices including my 5 day notice. There was no mercy and he was told to gather some belongings and leave the house. I had a handyman scheduled to meet the constable and a locksmith that changed the locks. If they return to the home, they are trespassing and could be arrested. The handyman schedules a convenient time for him to get his stuff. What I could not remember was if we moved his stuff to the garage or not, I think we did but maybe I just had the handyman meet him there and wait while he got his stuff out.
One wants to avoid any chance the tenant would have to destroy the home so the best situation is to get someone trustworthy that can move everything to the garage and the tenant returns to pick it up within a day or two. This is a lot of extra work and not fun to deal with but in the end it guarantees they wont take their anger out on your house. It makes the time you have to see them a lot shorter too rather than having to wait around for them to pack inside their home. If you are moving their stuff, one must take pictures and carefully document in case tenant later claims any theft. Most everyone wants their stuff back and so they come get it pretty quickly and you are all done. But next, if for some reason they did not, you may need to move it to off site location if you need to empty the home. The tenant needs to pay for moving and storing fees before they can get their stuff if it gets moved offsite. Currently in AZ, you need to hold items for only 14 days before you can sell or dispose of it. If you sell it, you must apply it towards the judgment due.
So how did it go? First, I want to say I could have done this eviction living out of state. I was already arranging for my handyman to meet the locksmith and get the key. I would have had him leave a lockbox for cleaners etc and handle everything. I happened to be going into town anyway and decided to make my flight a day earlier than I needed. The house was dirty. The weeds were overgrown to the tune of $210 landscaping fees. There were dirty dishes overflowing the sink. Most of the cabinets were empty. Some bags with clothing were left. Some not so nice furniture was left. There were maggots by the back sliding door. A child’s dirty underwear was left attached to his dirty pants. My son likes to do this, take both off at the same time, then I have to pry them apart, so I get it. But yes, the house was dirty with someone leaving in a hurry not bothering to return to get everything. It cost me $250 in cleaning fees. $140 in moving items to garage fees. And $225 in carpet cleaning fees. I also had the landscaping fees. These are all fees I expect my tenants to pay when they are moving out and they are to leave the house clean and ready for the next person. I also paid an extra $95 to get two blinds replaced that were looking very old and to have my handyman purchase fire alarm batteries. I paid $70 to have my gutters cleaned, which is something I like to do once in a while. Besides that, I told my new tenant to turn in a receipt for light bulbs and a new filter. But that is it. Not so scary. The house looked nice. There may have been a few extra nail holes. The carpet did not look as bad as I expected being 13 years old. I had a tenant lined up sight unseen to rent the home. I got the home back on Wednesday. Utilities were turned on by Thursday morning. Everyone including movers, cleaners, carpet cleaner, and my tenants scheduled their own pest control went in on Thursday. The move in date was set to Friday. I left AZ on Thursday afternoon and when cleaner sent invoice, I called tenant to make sure it was clean to her satisfaction. Apparently, they thought they could leave in a hurry and did not finish up too well in the kitchen. They offered to go back Friday morning but my tenant said it was fine and agreed to return the home clean when she moves out.
Had it only been a month he owed and had it not gone to court, the cost would have been only $1400 rent, $439 filing fees, $166 locksmith fees to include new mailbox key, $30 new garage door opener, $825 moving and cleaning fees (not counting the $165 I would have paid for gutters and blinds). Total $2860 and I had a $1700 deposit. I was actually out an extra $1591 due to lost rent and the extra court date of $450. I sent the 5 day notice on March 21 and I got the house back April 24. I had over a week delay due to my tenant showing up for court, they normally don’t do this. And then I should have been able to get my house back on the 19th of April if lawyer had filed paperwork on time. My first eviction had a few more items damaged, we changed carpet, repainted, and fixed a few things around the house, in the end this one only cost me about $3000 in repairs. My second one was pretty minor. Mostly what is found is what I mentioned here. I have been lucky not to get the angry tenants damaging on purpose. But that is why it is so important to screen tenants.
After all of this, one decides if to take them to court for what is due. Normally, I let it go because most of it is covered under the deposit they left. But I was on a cruise to Asia and decided to wait until my return to send the notice. I was 20 days late in sending it and with all the delays I am going to have my home back approx one month and a couple of days after sending the 5 day notice. I don’t regret it. I was enjoying myself and decided it was not worth stressing about it but it cost me getting him out well into the 2nd month he was late.
Although my contract states I can keep deposit if they move out early, by law I have to apply deposit to judgement due. My lawyer suggests to write into a lease that you are giving them a discount on rent and that if they default on the lease they have to pay back the discount. That way, you can keep deposit for your troubles. My lawyer can file to garnish wages in a percentage basis for what he is able to get back to you. What is the process like, Is it worth garnishing wages? Not to me.
This is why evictions complicate everything: Normally, I can show the home when I get a 30 day notice to vacate from a tenant. This gives me the right amount of time to get a new qualified tenant. In fact, my normal process is I move out one tenant on the 31st of the month and I move the new tenant in on the 1st, the very next day. It has been my experience that I can always have someone ready to move in even the next day after showing the home but these tenants are normally desperate tenants that are not quality. The good tenants are responsibly looking approximately a month before move in and they sign a lease with enough time to give their 30 day notice to their current landlord. Or if they were given a 30 day notice, the good tenants are looking and secure a home right away with a move in date at least 20 days after they sign a lease. These tenants don’t typically get turned down from an application unless there just were so many qualified renters, but they plug away and find something quite rapidly anyway. I will say the rental market has been extremely difficult for even good tenants because the demand is higher than supply, but nonetheless, most good tenants have backup plans and move in with family while they look, not having to move in the very next day they contact you.
Therefore, it is safe to say that for the best scenario, one wants to market the home 30 days prior to it being vacant. With an eviction, that means you will most likely have a vacant home for weeks before someone moves in costing you even more than the judgement against your former tenant.
These are the things I did on my 3rd eviction that could either be considered worrying before you should worry or good ideas:
- I contacted utilities to see if a stop order had been issued to know if he was still in the home.
- Advertised the home for rent as soon as I knew the court date was up and coming for the judgment. I got a ton of people wanting to view the home, and I told them the situation on a cut and paste email or text message. The ones that hung around got to apply once I had the judgement in hand. Most wanted to view the home, one man was willing to take the home sight unseen. He was not the best man but I had a deposit and application and a move in date for approx 5 days after I was suppose to get home. Because I knew it could have delays, he was told that the move in date could be delayed and I would not be liable for any fees incurred by him for it. I also would not charge him until move in date but he must move in when the home is ready after the scheduled move in date of contract. The reason I decided to do this is because even though I could have gotten someone more qualified, I did not want an empty home when dealing with an eviction. Plus being out of state, it made sense for me to deal with possible problems later and get him in now. I vetted him and he has been making on time payments for 5 years so mostly that was what matters. The main issue is a 200 lb dog. I rationalized this because it will be time to change my 13 year old carpet by the time he moves out and really it would be time now. Here is how it paid off. Having a vested interest, my new tenant informed me that he went to the house and utilities seemed to be turned off due to doorbell not ringing. He spoke to neighbors and found out my tenant had been moving out starting Thursday and through the weekend. I confirmed with utilities they were shut off and the day I got the writ, I had them turn utilities on which took about a day having them on for cleaners to work. This helped me because I would have needed to pay all the utility turning on fees in order to clean up the home promptly.
- I had a locksmith on hold for the time it would be served.
- I contacted cleaners to also have an idea of schedule
- I contacted handyman who would walk through home and do the move out if needed. This handyman also was going to do the carpet cleaning and stretching. But when he quoted me the price, I went with a company for about half the price.
- I contacted the constable to get an idea of his schedule but never got a call back. They don’t seem to call back until they have a writ in hand so this did not help.
- I called the court to find out lawyer had not filed writ even after he said it was filed. Followed up and put pressure on them to file.
- I called a landscaper to get a sense of schedule but was not so concerned because work can be done after a move in when it is outside of the house.
- I called animal control to find out what would happen if a dog was left at the property as I would not be able to take care of it. I called twice. One lady said they come to the home to pick up the animal. The other lady said they don’t pick up and it would need to be taken to their shelter. She said there was a surrender fee and then there would be fees for the owner to get him back. I am not sure who was right, but these were things I thought of not knowing if my tenant would have moved out by the time the constable shows up.
- I found out what I would need to legally do with the items left behind. I sent my tenant one last email to let him know I was taking things to storage and there would be fees involved if he did not pick up his stuff in 2 days. Never heard back.
So what did I do with the stuff left over? Lawyer solution, leave items in the garage if the home will not be inhabited and call the tenant to pick them up within 14 days. In my case I was renting the home 2 days after I got it back. That would require renting a storage unit, moving the items, waiting the 14 days, cleaning out the storage unit, and paying moving and dump fees. If the tenant wants their stuff, they have to pay the moving and storing fees so it is unlikely they will ever contact you again. Instead, I asked my new tenant if it was ok to store the items on one side of the garage until the 14 days were up. I asked them not to touch anything for 14 days. I next would have posted an ad on Craigslist with pictures saying it is free but only if you take it all. Everything would have been out the day I posted it. Most people would have paid a handyman to take it to the dump. My tenant actually said she would dispose of everything. There was enough stuff of value in there for her that she figured she would throw away what she did not want.
Tenants being evicted could cause great problems to plumbing etc. Most likely they don’t because you did a background check, they aren’t criminals, they just are in a bad financial situation. If they damage your home, you can go after them for the cost of fixing and depending on the cost, it could be even criminal charges.