Things to Consider Before Evicting a Tenant

System - Monday, June 5, 2017

Evicting a tenant is often a delicate and difficult process — not to mention, challenging. Evictions are a legal process and require supporting evidence, such as law-abiding written and photographic documentation, to prove your case.

Legal proceedings to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, for example, can be expensive and lengthy if you are not experienced or attempt without assistance. If you’re managing your rental property by yourself, the experience can be overwhelming as you work to maintain your property and assist your other tenants, as well as fight and prepare a court case.  

Because of the personal time investment, many landlords work with property managers to evict tenants quickly and without fuss from their rental property. 

What Eviction Requires

If you’re determined to evict your tenant on your own and are looking for a “How to…” solution, understand the reality of the tenant eviction process first. Often, without professional help, many landlords overlook the requirements to an eviction and lose their case, fail to receive payment or are even ordered to pay their tenant’s legal fees.

overlooking the requirements for eviction

Understand and consider these six factors before moving ahead and evicting a tenant by yourself. 


1.Does Your Lease Comply With State Laws?


Rules and requirements for leases vary by state because each state maintains its own lease agreement laws. For example, unless the lease is three years or longer, or is for a manufactured home community, PA law does not require leases to be in writing (although, it is certainly recommended). If your contract doesn’t comply with state laws, your tenant may sit in a vastly more advantageous position than you sit.. 

Consider various lease agreement laws before beginning an eviction, as these laws can often cost landlords eviction cases and payment from tenants.

In some states, renters may be able to withhold payment, for example, when repairs to the essential utilities and structures outlined in the Warranty of Habitability are delayed. Instead of paying you, renters may be able to deposit their payments into an escrow account, or avoid payment altogether.

Essential structures and utilities typically include: 

•Clean water

If any of these items are not working properly,  you should to fix them within a reasonable time.  What is reasonable will vary depending on what needs to be done, how much it will cost, and the time of year. 

Lease agreements must also be consistent. If you use different leases for different tenants, you may face Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) violation charges.  The FHA protects against housing discrimination. The Act prevents discrimination of the following factors: 

•Familial status
•Age, if you receive government funding

Pennsylvania expands on the FHA through the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which adds age, ancestry and the use of guide or support animals as discriminatory factors.

If you update or modify a lease, protect yourself by making this new lease your standard lease.  Do not get in the practice of using different leases with different tenants in nearly identical situation, the appearance of impropriety should be avoided. 

Consider the impact of just these two potential setbacks. Proceed with evicting one of your tenants for nonpayment, without thorough research and preparation, and you may receive documented evidence of delayed repairs or comparisons of different leases, which could set your case back. 

Scenarios like these may subject you to civil lawsuits, as well as non-recovery of payment for overdue rent. Property managers help because they know their state’s lease laws, have consistent policies, have experience, and typically have legal counsel at-hand. Instead of you having to review your current and prior leases, as well as past repair requests and subsequent repair dates, a professional can do it for you and find any potential setbacks. 


2.Did You Review the Landlord-Tenant Act? 


Your state’s Landlord-Tenant Act is a critical resource when researching how to evict a tenant. Pennsylvania’s Act, for example, details how to evict tenants with and without rental agreements. 

Consider your type of lease agreement and its duration before printing an eviction notice. How you evict a tenant on a month-to-month lease, how you evict a tenant with a yearly lease, and how you evict a tenant without a lease may each require completely different notices and/or unique processes in Pennsylvania. 

If your tenant doesn’t have a written lease, you can generally evict them without cause, so long as there is no protected discriminatory purpose. You can’t, however, evict without proper written notice, if required.

Written notices can be provided later than 30 days prior to eviction, such as seven days in advance, but you need a compelling reason; and, any such decisions should be vetted by legal counsel. 

Since at-will tenants don’t have a lease, they can’t violate the myriad of terms regularly contained within a standard lease, which limits your grounds for eviction. However, at-will tenants can be evicted for, generally any lawful reason being they are at-will, or for cause including, among others, the following three reasons: 

A. Rental Property Damage

Rental damage that is extensive and severe, may rise to an actionable level. Your renter must also not have repaired the damage. The changing of locks, without providing a copy of the key to you, may also be considered property damage.

B. Rental Property Disturbances

Disturbances can include occurrences from harassing neighbors to destroying other tenants’ property, to consistent noise violations. 

C. Rental Property Health Hazards

Health hazards damage the property, as well as threaten the health of other tenants. You’ll need to prove the problem was ongoing, versus a one-time, brief cooking fire, for example. 

In situations where notice is required, professionals often recommend photographing or recording your delivery attempts, as a tenant can contest it in court. 
Consider your tenant’s individual lease agreement per your state’s laws. If you want to win an eviction case, you’ll need to follow the fine print of the Landlord-Tenant Act. 


3.Did You Consider Self-Help Eviction?


 If you are considering self-help eviction — don’t. It’s illegal per Pennsylvania’s eviction laws. 

Self-help eviction can include the following tactics: 

•Changing the locks.
•Removing the tenant’s front door.
•Turning off the tenant’s heat or electricity.
•Moving the tenant’s belongings out of the building.
•Blocking access to property amenities.
•Threatening the tenant. 
•Committing slander against the tenant. 

Engage in self-help eviction, and your tenant will, most likely, file a lawsuit or other charges. It’s an easy way to lose your eviction case because your tenant’s filing will damage the case you present to a judge, regardless of the evidence. 

Charges from a self-help eviction also risk your reputation and rental property’s business. Evicting a tenant quickly through self-help eviction is an easy way to create many new problems. 


4.Do You Have a Valid, Documented Reason? 


Before you even consider the Landlord-Tenant Act or your state’s lease agreement laws, consider whether you have a valid, documented reason for evicting a tenant. 

Pennsylvania’s eviction process often begins with the breaking of a lease agreement. Two additional reasons, for a total of three, can start the process: 

  • Violation of Lease Agreement. Lease agreement violations happen in different ways. Your agreement, for example, may prohibit pets, while most leases will have clauses regarding repeated property damage or illegal activity. 
If you want to evict your tenant quickly, provide proof of them violating the lease. For example, if your lease bans pets, photographs of an animal, pet toys or a litterbox can support your case and provide evidence of your claims. Don’t go in your tenant’s building unannounced, though, unless your lease allows this. Be mindful of your tenant’s rights.

While there is no specific notice period expressed in the law, many leases  provide 24 hours’ notice. If you go into their home without notifying them, you’ll may find yourself in trouble with the law.

  • Non-Renewal of Lease Agreement. Choosing to let a lease agreement expire without renewal is less complicated than other evictions. Your tenant, however, may want a reason why you do not desire to renew; so long as it is lawful. 
You’re not obligated to give them a reason, but ensure you’re not risking suspicion under the Fair Housing Act for discrimination. Tenants can report you to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department for potential investigation.

  • Failure to Pay Rent. Landlords can issue eviction notices quickly – in some cases in 10 days or less – for for nonpayment of rent. Before delivering an eviction notice, consider reviewing your lease agreement, as well as ensuring you’ve completed any or all essential repairs. If you missed a repair under the Warranty of Habitability, for example, your tenant may be within his/her rights to withhold payment. 
You can also approach and talk with your tenant about the missed payment. If you proceed with an eviction notice, consider having your financial records with the tenant prepared ahead of time so you can reference and use them as needed. 

Property management groups can save you time by gathering the various documentation and ensuring you’re not liable for anything, as well as initiating and proceeding with tenant evictions. Maintaining a property while undergoing an investigation, for example, can be stressful and draining. 


5.Do You Have All the Right Documents? 


One of your most important documents in Pennsylvania’s eviction process, is the Notice to Quit, which you serve to the tenant, if it is not waived in the lease. 

Per the state’s eviction laws, the Notice to Quit should state only that the tenant is in default and has failed to cure the default, and it should direct the tenant to vacate the property by a certain date certain.

If you’re planning to serve the Notice to Quit, you have three delivery options: 

1.Provide the notice in person to the tenant. 
2.Post the notice on the door of the tenant's rental unit. 
3.Post the notice in a visible area outside the rental unit where the tenant will see it. 

Deliveries and notices that do not comply with Pennsylvania’s eviction laws are invalid. Your tenant doesn’t have to follow an invalid Notice to Quit, and if you proceed with the eviction, it could result in the judge siding against you. Situations like these can also lead to you paying your tenant’s legal fees. 

How you successfully evict a tenant from your rental is by delivering a valid Notice to Quit per the law, or if applicable, possibly a waiver of this right. If you do, your tenant will have the following options: 
  • They Pay the Overdue Rent and Late Fees. In this scenario, you’ll receive full payment. The Notice to Quit becomes void, and the tenant remains in the unit. 
  • They Move out but Do Not Pay Past-Due Rent and Late Fees. If this happens, you can use any or all of their security deposit to cover the unpaid charges. If the charges exceed the security deposit, however, you can sue the tenant for what’s still owed. 
  • They Stay and Bring Their Case to Civil Court. If a tenant doesn’t pay their charges and doesn’t comply with the Notice to Quit, you can file a complaint with the court.. Do not change the locks or shut off the utilities to the rental property during the case — it’ll be considered self-help eviction. If you win your case, there are a few additional steps, but eventually if all followed, a sheriff or constable will legally take possession of the rental property from the tenant. 
Consider how time-consuming preparing and delivering your Notice to Quit and potential court case is before proceeding with delivering your eviction notice. If you take your tenant to court, be prepared to not only prove your case, but to defend it against your tenant’s lawyer as well. 


6.Did You Consider Your Tenant’s Defense and Rights?


If you’re committed to evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent, which tends to go to court more often than other eviction types, realize you’ll have to prepare more than just your supporting evidence — you’ll also need to plan for your tenant’s defense. 

Consider your prior communication and documents related to your tenant. You should review these resources before you even serve a Notice to Quit, but you should also consider how a lawyer may use those same items in court to defend their client’s rights. 

A tenant’s defense, for example, may be your delay in providing essential repairs. Instead of two days, you repaired their heater in five. Or, you entered their home with less than 24 hours notice, by thirty minutes. 

Anything that can diminish your credibility and role will be used by the defense to lessen your claim. 

Evictions for non-renewals or broken lease agreements often use a retaliation defense. The defense argues your decision to end or terminate their lease was, for example, because the tenant complained to a building or health inspector about current conditions.

If this sounds overwhelming or stressful, it is. Consider what you already do each day and then ask yourself what you’d have to do to handle an eviction case. Don’t take on the eviction process if you can’t manage it because, unfortunately, it’ll hurt your chances at receiving what your tenant owes you.

Property management groups are tasked to handle evictions, whether they are quick or drawn-out. They know how to evict a roommate or a tenant with a month-to-month lease. Their experience offers you a solution to a problem that often becomes time-consuming, stressful and complicated. 

Consult With a Professional 

You may think you don’t need a professional to help you with Pennsylvania’s eviction process, but it may be advantageous to hire a property manager  to prepare and execute evictions for you while under their management. 

If you desire to try it alone, consider meeting with a lawyer as a safety precaution before you serve an eviction notice. Alternatively, employ an experienced property manager to manage your property and to evict tenants with and without leases. 

It is important to understand that you need advice on your unique situation, tenant and lease agreement. You won’t find that kind of individualized guidance on the internet. 

Remember, this is your business. You want it to succeed and grow, without profit losses. Professional property management groups provide you the best chance of winning your eviction case or avoiding a court case, and still receiving your payment in full. 

Because local professional property managers are familiar with your state’s individual mandates, they’re a smart choice for making sense of the eviction process. Their knowledge, experience and reputation can often improve and strengthen your case, as well as help ease the process of evicting a tenant.

Harrisburg Property Management Group offers unparalleled property management services in Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg, and throughout Central PA. Started by landlords, we’ve managed hundreds of properties in the area, and we understand the delicate and difficult challenges associated with tenant eviction. We’re here to help you find the best ways to resolve tenant conflicts. Contact us today to learn more about our full suite of property management services.

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