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Our Nightmare on Rental Street: Evicting a Tenant

evicting a tenantFor over four years my wife and I have enjoyed the benefits that come with owning rental real estate. The extra income each month has allowed us to reduce the debt on our personal mortgage and help cash flow Mrs. Luke 1428’s recent grad school education and career change. Granted it has been one tough side hustle, no more so than this past spring when we were forced to maneuver through one of rental real estate’s darker sides…the process of evicting a tenant.

No one ever thinks about evicting a tenant when they sign the rental agreement. We trust our background research and intuition about the person we’ve selected to fill the property and we expect the tenant to honor their part of the rental agreement. We provide them with quality lodging…they pay us for that service. What could possible go wrong with such a simple arrangement?

Plenty. Especially when the tenant sees an opening they feel like they can take advantage of.

The Joy of Rental Repairs

One such opening came the day I received a phone call a few days after a new tenant had moved into one of our properties. He claimed there was no water. I immediately called our well support team who was there within the hour to investigate the situation. Perhaps it’s just a loss of water pressure in the well pump. That’s not uncommon and easily fixable.

Turns out it was a water pressure issue which the well company fixed that day.

However, upon closer inspection during the repairs we found that our shallow well was slowly dying of its water reserves because of multi-year drought conditions. We determined that over the long term, the only workable solution for the tenant and our property was to drill a deep well, hundreds of feet down into the bedrock where there is a virtually unlimited supply of water. We hired a company and the drilling and well installation took place within 2 weeks.

Major, unexpected dollars poured into our property. Thankfully, we had a business emergency fund for such issues. So problem solved, until…

The next phone call came a week later saying the toilets were continually running and the water flow from the several faucets was irregular. Evidently during the drilling of the well, silt had managed to be flushed into the water line between the well and the house. When the water was turned on, the silt flowed into the house and became trapped in the mesh of the faucet valves and in the toilet flow valves, thus causing them to function improperly.

Our plumbing support team quickly jumped on this issue and resolved it within days. After the repair, I heard nothing from the tenant as to further problems. In the meantime, we had a filter installed at the well pump in order to prevent the flow of silt to the house.

Rental life back to normal – until it wasn’t.

Show Me the Money

In May, I received no rent from the tenant. So as any good property manager would do, I gave him a courtesy call to find out what life issues had crept up that prevented him from paying rent on time. That’s when the excuses began.

At first, he apologized and said he would make arrangements to make payment the next day. No rent came the next day, so there was another phone call made. This time he said he hadn’t been able to get off work in time to make the payment.

Late fees are beginning to accrue now and red flags are flying around in my brain. “Too busy to get off work to drop the rent payment in the mail? C’mon.”

The next time I attempted to reach him, I only received busy signals from his phone. Uh-oh.

Several days passed before we spoke again. In that discussion, it was agreed that he would pay for May and June in a couple of weeks. He revealed he had fallen on some hard times but would have all the money for those two months once he finished a job at work.

At this point I began to document everything. I sent him a letter stating what he owed me and when.

More Property Repairs

A week later, I’m on vacation with my family and receive a call from our now irate tenant that the plumbing issues have resurfaced. Evidently, there had still been some silt left in the water lines to the house and were causing the same problems we had before. I gave him the number to contact our plumbing support team and told him I would be back in town in a few days. I then called the plumbing company, to let them know of the situation and to expect a call from our tenant.

Our plumbers actually reached out to him with a phone call that he never returned. (It’s awesome to have quality team members on your side.) I arranged for the entire house to be flushed. Exterior water lines running from the well pump to the house were drained, the water heater was drained, and all the lines in the house were drained. I even arranged for the washer and dryer and the dishwasher to be checked by a qualified appliance technician to make sure there had been no damage.

At this point, I’m entirely confident our silt problem has been taken care of. And I still haven’t seen any money for two months. Even though:

1) we were never negligent and responded quickly to correct each issue;

2) he had never been completely without water;

3) he was never forced to leave the residence.

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Go to Court

Our tenant continued to stonewall us with the rent. He refused to pay us on the grounds that he was being inconvenienced by the water issues (even though at this point they had been completely resolved). We had no choice but to send him a Notice of Termination of Lease letter. It stated he was in violation of the rental agreement for non-payment of rent and had one week to move out or pay the rent in full. If he did neither of those things we would file an Affidavit of Dispossessory with our county magistrate court.

Think we saw any money?

Actually we did, the next day – but only partial payment.

So a week later when we had not received our full payment by the given deadline, I made one last courtesy phone call in an attempt to collect our money. His response – I’m at work and can’t take off to see you.

I filed the paperwork to begin evicting the tenant the following hour.

It’s now July. No rent payment that month either.

Evicting the Tenant: Seeing the Judge

The court process took several weeks to unfold. When evicting a tenant in my state, the tenant is given a week to answer the claim brought against him – basically to state his case as to why he hasn’t paid. His stated reason for nonpayment of rent rested solely on being inconvenienced by the water issues. That statement was true enough but I knew from reading our state’s Landlord/Tenant Handbook that this reasoning did not provide him sufficient evidence to win the case.

So a court date was set.

There were many other court cases slated for that morning in early August. The first thing the judge did was to instruct the parties of all the cases to meet together before the actual hearing – in one last attempt to settle the disagreement. It’s really in everyone’s best interests – including the courts – if parties come to an amicable agreement on their own. So we stepped into the hallway just outside the courtroom doors for one final negotiation.

I showed him the amount he now owed us, which was substantial, with months of accumulated late fees. Of course he didn’t have the money. I explained to him that according to our state’s landlord/tenant law he had no case and would lose if he forced me to present my case to the judge. The verdict against him would probably lead to the garnishing of his wages. He tried to come up with more excuses and sounded like he was willing to put our disagreement to the test.

“Who needs this?” I thought.

I had reached the point where I simply wanted him out of the property. It was time to move on. Clearly he was not a good fit and even if I had pressed the court case against him and won the judgment, I was positive he would be a continuing issue going forward for the remainder of the lease term. So I offered him a deal he could not refuse.

Complete forgiveness of all debts provided he was gone in two weeks. If he didn’t move in that time frame, I’d file another court order so I could hire the sheriff to come and forcibly remove him.

He didn’t think twice before signing.

Twenty minutes later we had filed the paperwork with the clerk of courts, talked to the judge about our settlement and wished each other well.

Two weeks later he moved out and I had my rental property back.

Evicting a Tenant Lessons

What an ordeal! In retrospect, I don’t view it negatively. Yes, I didn’t enjoy it when I was going through it. But the experience forced me to grow up as a landlord and taught me some valuable lessons. Here is what I learned through evicting a tenant:

1. Document every potential issue that comes up. Keep a running file on each tenant with summaries of conversations, issues and disagreements. This documentation can be used as a reference in court when evicting a tenant.

2. Fulfill your obligations as the landlord to complete repairs in a timely fashion. Refuse to let things slide that you need to take care of. Be prompt and responsive to the tenants needs so they can’t claim you’ve been negligent.

3. Keep records of all receipts and work orders that prove work was done at the property.

4. If you can’t afford to miss 3-6 months of rental payments from the tenant, you shouldn’t be investing in real estate.

5. The court system exists to back you up as a landlord. Utilize it. Evicting a tenant is a hairy process so be prepared to present your case. But don’t bluff your tenant by saying you will take them to court if you are not fully committed to going there.

6. At some point, landlords have to be a bit cold-blooded. I believe in being fair and even generous at times. But this is my side business and I want it to be successful. If a tenant flaunts the rental agreement, they need to go.

This experience didn’t irrevocably scar me from being a landlord. I still love the business and the ability I have to help people meet their housing needs. And it shouldn’t scare anyone else from investing in rental real estate.

But nonpayment of rent is a reality of the business that most people don’t consider. Ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable with evicting a tenant?” If you don’t have the fortitude to handle such a crisis, you’re best to invest your resources in some other way.

Questions: Any other landlords have experience evicting a tenant? Does my story change the way you view rental real estate? What’s your worst landlord/tenant horror story?

Image by Kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Comments

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    Allan Foglio recently posted…City of Fresno Suing Landlord – Fresno Landlord LawsuitMy Profile

  3. Stapler Confessions says:

    #4 is so important! I’m astounded by people who rent out their property so they can have help covering the mortgage payments, but don’t have the ability to afford a few months of downtime, which can happen not just if a tenant isn’t paying but also in-between tenants. Renting a property is a small business, and should be treated like that.

    • I know sometimes people get into rental situations because they have no other choice. Like when they have already moved but haven’t sold their previous property. That’s a tough spot to be in, especially if you are paying mortgages on both properties. Even in that case, you have to treat it like a business and be financially prepared to cover the costs.

  4. Hey Brian,
    I’m a landlord and I’ve been very lucky with my properties. In some states it takes like 6 months to evict someone, glad it didn’t drag out.

    • Fortunately for us, Georgia law is landlord friendly. I’ve heard horror stories about what it takes in other states to remove a tenant. Just have to make sure you know the law for your state and be mentally prepared for what it will take.

  5. #4 is so, so very true! This story is exactly why we have property managers. I am not ready to evict someone or even chase them for rent, although I suppose I’ll get there at some point. I asked our property manager about evictions before we bought our rental, and her experience was very much like yours. The first time is horrible, and the tenant tries to make it your fault in some way, but the best thing to do is get them out of your house. Angry tenants can destroy things and leave in the middle of the night, so I totally think you did the right thing. You have to take the good with the bad with any sort of investment, but I still think owning rentals is a great way to meet your financial goals if you do it the right way.

    • Property managers serve a great role for those who want to be invested in real estate but want some of the pressure off their hands. Of course, you have to pay them for their services (which eats into profits but could be worth the money to avoid dealing with conflict. It’s an individual call.) Fortunately we didn’t suffer any damage to the property. I will have to give our delinquent, non-paying tenant some props in that regard. He kept the place looking nice even after he knew he was leaving.

  6. Wow, what an unfortunate situation but what a great post! This is such a great lesson and it really sounds like you handled everything extremely professionally. I’m with you. More than anything I would have wanted him out of the property.

    • This feels weird to say but in the end the money just didn’t matter. My quality of life was being affected by the continual pressure and stress this issue was putting on me.

  7. Alexa Mason says:

    This is definitely one of those stories that make you think twice before purchasing a rental property. I still want to purchase a rental in the near future and hopefully won’t be stuck with a tenant like this the first few times around.

    • I knew it would scare people! 🙂 People cannot go into rental real estate with a ho-hum attitude. It takes some grit to deal with people like this and many don’t have it. Sometimes during this ordeal, I even thought I was being pushed around by the tenant. It’s a reality that most people don’t consider when they think about investing in property – whether or not they have the stomach to handle these issues. This one helped toughen me up and I consider that a positive outcome.

  8. debtfreeoneday says:

    What a nightmare! So glad you could see the positive side. I rent out a property because I have to – it’s my old house and the market is too low to sell it! We don’t have the kind of emergency fund to get through major works and to cover the rent like this from a non paying tenant. This post has really made me think about putting more money into the emergency fund! It’s just tricky because I’m trying to pay off debts right now. I can see why you just wanted rid of the tenant and I think you were very fair to him. I can’t say the same for him though to you!

    • Haha…the fairness was sorta a one-way street! Just like in personal finance, business finance requires an emergency fund. We have enough in our emergency fund for the business to cover any of the major expenses you would typically think of (appliance breakdown, roof leaks, plumbing issues; and non-payment of rent). If it is a property you think you will keep for multiple years until the market heals, I would set aside more money for it. Repairs will inevitably happen.

  9. MoneySmartGuides says:

    I’ve been lucky that my tenant has been great. She actually takes better care of my house than I did! I hope I don’t ever have to go through the eviction process with a tenant.

    • We’ve been fortunate for the most part. This was our first incident in over four years. The eviction wasn’t a fun process. But I did learn a lot about landlord/tenant law, which was a positive.

  10. If I had read this before purchasing our home, I would almost consider NOT choosing a property with a rental aspect. We bought our house almost exactly a year ago, and one reason we really like it was because half of the basement was essentially set up for a renter (with their own access – definitely key if you are married. I wouldn’t want to share the house unless I was single). So essentially my wife and I are landlords but not to the extent of owning a separate property. I definitely want to own a stand-alone rental some day, but not for quite some time down the road.

    Your story sounds essentially like a worst-case scenario. If it didn’t turn you off to being a landlord then you are definitely meant to be one! I am personally a bit scared to ever own a home that needs a well because of some of the problems that can come up. It sounds like you pretty much fixed any potential issue and are good to go for however long you own the home now, but it’s really unfortunate about the tenant you had. I’m not sure I would have offered the deal to the tenant, but at the same time there is something to be said about moving on. We are lucky enough to have an amazing tenant right now. She seems to really enjoy living here and is extremely busy – full time student and full-time worker. She tells us about issues almost immediately, which I think is more important than people think.

    One thing I think is really important as far as documentation goes is to make sure you tell your potential tenant the risks they pose by not having renters insurance. I sent a long email to our now-tenant about the risks of not having it and the name/number/email of our insurance agent. This protects you in the case they try to argue ignorance. Definitely something I plan on doing for as long as I’m a landlord.

    Definitely enjoyed this post and would really love to hear more landlord tips and whatnot. I think we love the idea of being a landlord the same reason you do – you get to provide a home for someone and it’s definitely a way to bless others.

    • One of the reasons we offered the deal was because we were in a financial position to do so. The loss of revenue for those months did not materially affect our business.

      You are right about renter’s insurance. That was something we got immediately when my wife and I moved into our first apartment years ago. I think it’s a must for a renter but you would be surprised how many take the risk and go without it.

  11. Student Debt Survivor says:

    We don’t own a rental, but I did work in housing court for a year, so I’m very familiar with how difficult it can be to evict a tenant (I was working for tenants at the time and I remember how frustrated the landlords were that we were there to support tenants and not them). I’ll definitely keep all of those things in mind if/when the bf and I invest in a rental property. It’s not “easy” money for sure.

    • It really isn’t easy money and it’s an even tougher business to do as a side hustle. I’ve found it very difficult at times (mostly when doing repairs between tenants) to balance my full-time job, family, blog and the rental business.

  12. You’re right – what a nightmare! Thank God you were able to cover missing rent for a few months. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when investing in real estate myself.

    • Being able to absorb the lost rent was key. I would not invest in real estate unless I had sufficient capital reserves to back it up.

  13. OH man that sucks. I’m so sorry. I’m in a funky predicament where I rent my garage but I’m not really “allowed to” per my rental agreement. If my landlord ever asks I’m letting friends use the space. They have been late a couple times, but other than that they’ve been great for over a year. You’re right in that sometimes you have to pick and choose your battles and maybe letting that one go was best for your sanity, and getting in someone else as quick as possible. What a jerk!

    • I really couldn’t understand what the problem was. I realize there were some inconveniences with the water but I responded quickly each and every time I heard about an issue. Heck, we had a whole new well dug at great expense! I guess I would have expected some appreciation and reciprocation on his part for going out of our way to fix the problems. Guess I was wrong.

  14. Holly Johnson says:

    We have a few rental properties and I have never had to evict someone. However, I did have an individual leave about $6,000 in damage once. Lots of holes in the wall, all of the interior doors were gone, the front door had been busted in, etc. Anyway, he didn’t want to get sued so we reached an agreement and he repaid us about $3,200 in damages. The whole thing sucked and it took a year and half to get paid back for the part he agreed to repay.

    • I think damage to the property would make me more upset than non-payment of rent. We wrote into our court order that he had to leave the property in good condition. If he hadn’t, I would have gone after him.

  15. That’s awful the tenant ended up being so disrespectful. As a landlord, you’re giving someone a place to live, and I feel like many tenants take that for granted. You did make a good point with saying if you can’t afford to have a tenant not pay you for a certain period of time, real estate might not be for you. While it may have been mildly annoying to be inconvenienced by all the issues, you did everything right and responded promptly. I guess you were right in your decision, as keeping him as a tenant wouldn’t have been good considering the past issues with payment, but part of me is unhappy knowing he got away so long without paying.

    • “…part of me is unhappy knowing he got away so long without paying.” Me too. I know he used the situation to his advantage to get free rent for several months. I’m not losing any sleep over it though. My conscience is clear, knowing that I followed through with my responsibilities.

  16. Shannon Ryan says:

    Ugh. What a pain! It was a high price to pay but I think you’re right – he would have remained a problem tenant for the duration of his lease. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk away from the money owed. And you make an excellent point – if you want to be a landlord, you need to be financially prepared to handle some non-payments.

    • There was nothing in his history that suggested he would improve as a tenant. I was frustrated losing out on that money, but I would have been more frustrated dealing with his irresponsibility some more.

  17. Matthew Rice says:

    Good advice. Becoming a landlord is not for everyone. However, I LOVE real estate as an investment. Even with the recent rough times in real estate, it’s outperformed the Nasdaq and Dow Jones over the last decade and provides great tax benefits. With that being said, bad tenants are the worst. I’ve had to evict a few and filed judgments as well. The worst paid for only one month, were late paying the 2nd, and then decided to not pay at all. Upon leaving, they took all of their furniture from inside the house and dumped it down a large steep hill in the back yard woods…. simply for spite. They could have sold it or donated it, etc., but apparently taking the effort to remove it from the house and roll it down a steep hill out back was a better choice. Had they left it in the house, I’d have removed it, but I had to hire a crew to get some equipment to remove their discarded furniture.

    • That’s an unbelievable reaction Matthew. I can’t imagine someone being that upset they leave all their furniture behind, let alone simply ruin it. You are lucky they didn’t damage the property significantly. Thanks for the comment!

  18. I can see where he would have been annoyed but it didn’t sound like the water issues caused him any damage, or caused him to miss time from work or anything. I think I would have started the offer by asking for payment in full with waived late fees and such. It sounds like in the end he got a pretty good deal having to pay nothing. While it’s good you got him out and were able to move on, I wonder if you gave too much up in the process. But, as long as you’re satisfied and as long as didn’t do any damage on the way out, I guess it’s all good.

    • It didn’t cause any damage and not all of the faucets in the house were affected (i.e. he could still use the kitchen sink and guest bathroom). The deal I offered was definitely in his favor and cost me a good deal. I didn’t want to get a favorable judgment from the court only to have to deal with his nonpayment of rent all over again for the remainder of the lease. I’m sure the issue would have surfaced again considering his past behavior. In the end, I concluded the four month hassle had caused a landlord/tenant rift that could not be reconciled. (Him leaving the property without damaging it was also written into the court agreement.)

  19. Yuck, Brian! Both my dad and my best friend rent out properties, and both have had terrible tenant situations to deal with. It’s the one issue that has us wondering if real estate rental is for us.

    • We’ve done very well with our tenants until this last one. Even with quality screening procedures, it’s inevitable that you will run into issues like this. It’s just part of the business. Going through the mess has made me a better landlord though. One things for sure…I know landlord/tenant law much better now.

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