Is evicting a tenant a good do-it-yourself project for landlords?
By Barbara Craig, Attorney at Law
Every landlord, no matter how well he treats a tenant, will eventually have to evict a tenant from his property. The most common reason to evict a tenant is for nonpayment of rent, and landlords lose a lot of money each and every month because of it. Tenants who don’t pay rent, have violated the lease terms, or must be evicted for any other permissible reason may only be removed from the property by a court order issued as the result of a successful unlawful detainer legal action.
Many landlords are very hands-on with their properties and like to perform maintenance and repairs themselves to save money and make sure the job is done right. So it’s understandable that some landlords think of evicting a tenant as a ‘do it yourself’ project, and try to avoid some of the costs of pursuing an eviction by making do without legal assistance. But unless a landlord is experienced with unlawful detainer cases, it is frequently best to hire an experienced eviction attorney to handle the case. Unlawful detainer cases are not complicated matters, but the legal process can be. Even small mistakes in an unlawful detainer filing and proceeding can reset the the clock, stretching out an already time-consuming process over additional weeks or months.
Evictions start with serving an eviction notice. If nonpayment of rent is the issue, the tenant must be served with a three-day notice to pay or quit. I have often reviewed landlord-prepared three-day notices in anticipation of filing an unlawful detainer action, only to discover that the notice has flaws which render it defective (invalid). There are very specific requirements for eviction notices, including the wording of the notice, what information is included in the notice, and how it is served to the tenant. Defective notices can and often lead to unlawful detainer cases being dismissed. This requires the landlord to start over by serving a proper notice, resulting in lost time and money.
The unlawful detainer complaint also must be properly prepared. The unlawful detainer complaint is a standard form that can be found on the county court’s web site, along with instructions. However, the instructions are very generic and leave a lot of aspects unexplained. If a fatal mistake is made on the complaint, the case will be dismissed. Even if the complaint can be amended to correct the mistake, the time wasted by these delays can cost the landlord in extra days or weeks of lost rent.
All of this can be avoided by seeking legal help from an experienced unlawful detainer attorney. While an attorney must be paid for their work, mistakes made by inexperienced landlords can cost even more. Since it can take 30 days or more to get a court order in an unlawful detainer case, having an experienced eviction lawyer manage the process to avoid delays can save a landlord far more than the attorney’s fee.