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What is a Self-Help Eviction and Is It Legal?

There is nothing more frustrating than having a tenant who can’t pay rent, who causes damages to your property, or who has cut off all lines of communication. The viability of your property investment relies on finding and keeping great tenants. While tenant screening and a solid rental application process should be your first step in achieving this, sometimes unpredictable and out of character events occur that may require you to evict a tenant. 

Evictions are expensive, time-consuming, and can range from one month in length to as long as six months or more, depending on which state you live in. The cost and time factors may prompt landlords to want to do what is called a self-help eviction, taking the law into their own hands, and working to evict a tenant from their property without taking the proper legal action. Self-help evictions are illegal in most states, with each state also having its own statutes and consequences. It is best to never attempt a self-help eviction and to always follow local and state laws regarding proper eviction protocol.

Below, we will outline helpful ways to navigate a rocky landlord-tenant relationship, legally, what to do and not do, as well as provide resources on how to start the eviction process, if that becomes necessary.

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What is a self-help eviction?

As stated above, a self-help eviction is any action that a landlord takes to evict a tenant that is outside of the allowable, legal means outlined in state and local laws regarding evictions. This can look like a wide range of things, for example: 

All of the above are ways in which a landlord is illegally trying to get a tenant to vacate their property. While the frustration may be warranted if the tenant refuses to pay rent or is causing damage to the property, it is never a good idea to take the law into your own hands. As mentioned above, each state has its own statutes and consequences regarding a self-help eviction. It is always best to try and work with your tenant and find a peaceful solution. Need advice on how to communicate with your tenants? Here is a helpful article on effective communication across five generations. If those efforts fail, your only recourse may be to begin eviction proceedings, below we outline the legal way to get started. 

What are the steps to perform a proper eviction? 

Evictions are time-consuming, costly, and can quickly erode cash flow and investment returns. If possible, it is always best to avoid them, however, when eviction becomes the only option, here are the high-level steps to follow. 

This article takes you through the step-by-step process on how to evict a tenant. One main takeaway, outside of the legal steps that need to be taken, is to always uphold your duties as a landlord, even while eviction proceedings are underway. 

How to avoid an eviction and work with your tenant.

Communication is key when it comes to avoiding an eviction. Establishing open lines of communication from the beginning of the landlord-renter relationship is essential to long-term success. If a tenant who normally pays rent on time and with whom you have had little to no issues with, suddenly defaults on rent, then a conversation to understand what is going on and how to resolve it together can save you time and money. 

One of your first steps in safeguarding your investment is to properly screen and vet your potential tenants. Online rental applications, criminal, background, and eviction reports, as well as past landlord references, are all standard practices every landlord should take when looking for a tenant. 

Another option might be to offer the tenant cash for keys. Cash for keys is exactly what it sounds like, you offer your tenant an agreed-upon amount of cash in exchange for the keys and the vacating of your rental property. This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s often a much cheaper and quicker way to resolve issues with your tenant and reclaim your property.  It is always best to get this in writing, a standard Cash for Keys form can be found here.

Summing it up

Evictions are expensive and something you want to try and avoid at all costs. Taking matters into your own hands will not make it less expensive, and it’s also illegal. The best way to avoid eviction is to screen your tenants, using an online application, and getting previous landlord references to make sure they are a good fit for your property. Sometimes unprecedented events may occur, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and although you have done everything you can to find the right tenant, they may be unable to pay their rent. If they are a great tenant, working with them in a productive, honest, and kind manner will help both parties weather the storm. If an eviction is your only option, follow the laws to get through it as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Disclaimer: TurboTenant, Inc does not provide legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. All users are advised to check all applicable local, state and federal laws and consult legal counsel should questions arise.

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