When the lease was signed, these new tenants seemed the least likely to be involved in an eviction. Yet, on that crisp Monday morning, it was time to enforce a Judge’s order returning possession to the owner. With a Sheriff issuing the orders, the family was ordered out on the street.
Eviction is one of several outcomes that can occur with every lease. Ideally, the tenant selection process utilized significantly reduced the risk of an eviction. Yet, if the time ever comes, a tenant ignoring the eviction order is the worst scenario for any property owner or manager. Add a few young children, some pets, or a sick Grandma and an eviction will bother you for days.
What Happens To Obtain An Eviction?
Eviction is the result of non-payment of the rent due under the tenant’s lease. It can also occasionally occur due to other repeated violations of the lease. It’s a business decision that has one objective and three different potential paths to completion. The scenario above is one of the three, and the one that is clearly most difficult.
To get to this point, the owner or manager has:
- Given the tenant a notice to Pay or Quit (meaning leave the premises)
- No response or payment leads to hiring an attorney to handle the eviction. It is possible for an owner to handle this step. There are a dozen different valid reasons though why do-it-yourself legal work is not advised. For any fiduciary of the Owner, the liability and responsibility is simply too great. Utilize an attorney who specializes in appearing in front of a Judge and successfully obtaining an eviction order.
- An order, called a Writ of Possession, is issued by the Judge. The Writ allows the owner or their fiduciary to take possession of the property.
What Happens After The Eviction Is Granted?
A day before the Writ of Possession is effective the owner or manager should confirm the occupancy status of the property. This date is usually a fairly short period after the hearing. How short depends on things like the tenant showing up at the eviction hearing or whether the property is already considered abandoned.
It is at this point one of three paths to possession will be determined:
The property appears to be vacant
The locks can be changed by a locksmith after the time given in the Writ. A thorough inspection by the manager should then follow. The best case is a clearly abandoned property. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.
The property still appears to be occupied
The home is full of personal property. No tenant is at the property. Go ahead and change the locks. The personal property creates a more complicated decision. What if the tenant is sick or in jail? There is a fine line when disposing of personal property and a manager or owner could become obligated for the property.
Avoid cleaning out a home full of personal property until you can say you have done your best to contact the tenant. In some states (Indiana for example) a moving and storage company needs to be hired to hold the items for the tenant. Unfortunately, the cost of moving these items adds to the cost of the eviction. Disposal of a home full of furniture is not cheap. In other states (Florida) the furnishings can just be moved to the property line where they will slowly disappear or eventually the owner or manager will have to dispose of them.
Enforce the Writ Using Law Enforcement
If the tenant has not left, and a Writ of Possession has been issued by the court, it is time to call in law enforcement. In each locality there is a specific branch or division of law enforcement that will enforce the writ. After verifying the writ, the law enforcement officers will schedule a time to enforce the Writ (eviction). The owner or their representative will be expected to meet law enforcement at the set time to assist with the lockout/eviction. A locksmith is also expected to be at the home.
The worst scenario is the possibility that there are occupants in the home who have made no preparations to move. It happens. There is no iron clad approach to take. Be careful not to kill the eviction order by granting the tenant continuing occupancy for a short period of time. This step is being taken to enforce the writ. Don’t back down!
It is a horrible experience to watch children being told they must leave their home immediately, leaving their toys and valuables behind. The children are not at fault but they are hurt and it will pull at you to find a solution. Law enforcement will handle determining the short time line for the former tenants to leave (minutes, not hours) and what they may take with them at this time (medications, pets, and a small toy for a child).
Personal Property Headaches
There will likely be personal property left behind whether a home is occupied or found vacant. If the former tenant files a complaint with the court, a Judge will review estimates and evidence of value of the personal property. The Judge will decide if the property was disposed of correctly or if the owner owes the tenant compensation!
It is crucial that lots of photographs are taken showing every room and then close ups of the personal property. Complete a rough inventory and be careful if your values end up over $1000. Consult with your attorney before making the next move. Up to a certain value, the law is likely on your side for the disposal of personal items with a court ordered Writ of Eviction. There is a risk that the tenant could claim they did not receive notice and show up looking for their personal property. That is why a careful decision along with documentation of what was in the property must occur.
The problems with personal property are several. Beyond the valuation issues, if the owner ends up paying for disposal and storage, it is more money out of pocket. More losses.
Supervised Personal Property Removal
Occasionally, the former tenant might be allowed a time to return, with moving vehicles, to remove personal property. This is scheduled with a very short window of time and at the end of that time, the former tenants must leave the premises immediately. This is usually only offered in significant personal property situations. It is certainly the exception and by no means the rule. With the Writ, you are free to make decisions on personal property left behind, but understand there are risks associated with disposal decisions. As one attorney told me, “one man’s trash is another one’s treasure.”
The sad part is how many times this happens and the tenant does not show up at the appointed personal property removal time. This is why it is a judgement call on the owner or manager whether to offer this incredible courtesy to a tenant and their family.
When In Doubt, See A Judge.
A court issued Writ gives you a lot more guidance and safety to make all of the decision involved in eviction. Rarely is it ever so clear cut as showing up after posting notices and finding a home, empty, clean, and ready to put on the market. Several decisions must be made to regain total control of your property. Those decisions, even when you find the property vacant, are much easier with a court order in hand.