If you are a landlord long enough or own enough rental properties, you will eventually need to be evicting a tenant. It can seem like a traumatic and complicated event, but if you follow some simple tips, it is actually quite simple.
The rights and duties of landlords and tenants in each state are spelled out in federal law, state statutes, local ordinances, safety and housing codes, common law, contract law and a number of court decisions. These responsibilities can vary from place to place around the country and even within each state and municipality. Also, tenants in federal housing and other forms of subsidized housing have additional rights under federal law. Consequently, this article is specific to eviction in Minnesota and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. My goal is that readers from other areas can still use this article as a framework to make the process easier.
Why to evict:
Typically, evictions happen because a tenant is behind in their rent or has stopped paying their rent all together, but any violation of the lease can actually be grounds for an eviction. As a landlord, you need to understand the language in your lease and your legal regulations. Some examples of lease violations that I have evicted tenants for include: repeated incidents of disturbing the neighbors, excessive damage to the apartment, excessive police calls, unauthorized pets, and unauthorized people staying in the apartment.
When to evict (for other lease violations):
Evicting a tenant for lease violations (other than past due rent) requires good documentation and proper notification of the tenant to put yourself in the best position to win the eviction when going to court. You should document in writing each time the lease is violated. Make sure to note the exact details of who was involved. Follow up each lease violation with a written warning to the tenant (keeping a copy for yourself). Make sure to quote the section of the lease that was violated and inform them that any repeated violations can lead to their eviction. If the violation is severe enough you may need to immediately start the eviction process, after you have collected the documentation, without issuing a warning.
When to evict (for past due rent):
As a new landlord, it is very easy to listen to the sob story about why a tenant can’t pay their rent and before you know it, they can become several month behind in their rent. Ultimately, most books and “experts” will say, start the eviction process the first day after the late rent payment. I would argue that in the real world, it rarely happens that way. I am not suggesting that you let a tenant pay whenever they want, but you should do what you feel is fair. I have many tenants that consistently pay their rent late, but they do pay and include a late fee. You need to decide what your tolerance is and when you are going to cut off a tenant. Set that date in stone and stick to it. One additional thought, see my post: Can’t Evict if Always Late on Rent.
Time to evict (in Minnesota):
Although you can file all the necessary paperwork and go to court yourself, I am strong proponent of paying an attorney to perform the eviction for several reasons:
- The costs for many of these services is less than what I value my time at ($195 for the Eviction Attorney that I use). I simply fill out a 3 page document, sign it, and pay with a credit card. The Attorney calls me to review the file and then again when the court date has been scheduled and they call me after court is over to tell me the results. I do nothing else.
- The process may require multiple trips to the court and waiting at the court for your case to be called. If you have a full-time career, do you want to take time off to attend an eviction proceeding?
- Several steps in the process in Minnesota require a neutral 3rd party such as serving the eviction notice. If these are not done correctly, the court can throw out your eviction action. You have lost time (and more money, including the filing fee).
- Lastly, these services perform hundreds and even thousands of evictions per year. They can be an invaluable resource if you have questions about the process. You may even consult with them to see if you can evict a tenant in a specific situation.
Regardless if you handle the eviction or you pay a service, the process generally works like this in the Metro Counties in Minnesota:
- The court has you fill out some short paperwork explaining why you want to evict a tenant. You will pay a filing and process fee (see the eviction fees here).
- The court clerk will assign you a court date (typically 2-3 weeks out in Hennepin County).
- A neutral 3rd party must serve the tenant with a notice regarding the court date and why they are being evicted. If the tenant is not home or refuses to answer the door, the notice can be secured to the primary door.
- On the day of court, several scenarios can play out:
- Both the landlord and the tenant will be given an opportunity to explain their side.
- If the tenant owes past due rent, the judge will ask them if they are prepared to pay. Sometimes the judge will allow the tenant a week to come up with the money, but most often the judge will side with the landlord as s/he recognizes that the tenant has had plenty of time to work out a payment plan or find other sources for the rent.
- If the tenant is claiming to be holding the past due rent because of repairs that the landlord has refused to perform, the judge will often make the tenant give that rent money to the court to hold until the work is performed. Typically, the tenant is just trying to use this as a delay tactic and can not produce the money.
- When the eviction is for lease violations, other than past due rent, the judge will issue a ruling based upon the evidence presented. Again, having excellent documentation can help you prevail.
- If only one side shows at the court hearing, the judge will always rule in favor of that party. In my experience, only about 50% of the tenants will attend the hearing. Most will already have moved out by this date as they know they are going to lose in court and be required to move immediately.
- Typically the hearing is over very quickly and the judge will make a decision on the spot.
- If the judge rules in favor of the landlord: You can choose to enter into a payment plan with the tenant for any past due rent and allow them to stay in the apartment provided they honor the plan. OR You can file for a “Writ of Eviction” (in MN) which requires the sheriff to serve a notice on the tenant notifying them that they have 24 hours to vacate the property (there is an extra cost for this-see eviction costs).
- After the Writ has been issued, you have up to 30 days to schedule the sheriff to come to the apartment and have the tenant forcibly removed. In my experience, it rarely gets to this point. If a tenant loses in court, they are usually moving immediately as they don’t want to be removed from their apartment and locked out.
- Once removed by the sheriff, the tenant can be arrested for trespassing if they enter the building or apartment again.
- If the tenant leaves anything in the apartment after they vacate, you are required to store those belongings for 28 days before disposing of them as you like. You can charge the tenant to store the belongings, but you can not hold the belongings ransom to them paying the past due rent.
Other tips when going through an eviction:
- Sometimes it may be easier to threaten an eviction and have the tenant move out peacefully and quickly. This will save you time and the possibility that they will damage the apartment on the way out.
- Because it is difficult to accurately know when the apartment will again be available (or what condition it will be in), you should give yourself enough time after evicting a tenant before re-leasing the unit.
The entire process can be intimidating, but it is a necessary part of being a landlord. It is always better to cut your losses, go through the process, and find a better tenant.