UrbanTurf has received a few questions recently about how to deal with tenants gone bad, so we decided to re-publish an article from our Amateur Landlord series that will hopefully provide a solution or two on how to handle unruly renter situations.
(This article was originally published in November 2010.)
Landlords who want to see something truly frightening should search for “bad tenants” on YouTube. The following video shows every landlord’s worst nightmare — the damage that tenants can inflict on a rental property.
In past articles, UrbanTurf has reported on how proper tenant screening is usually the best way to prevent delinquency and lease violations. But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, you end up with a tenant that causes problems?
“The first thing landlords should do is put the tenant on notice that they are breaking the rules and give them an opportunity to cure,” Mark Griffin of Griffin & Murphy, a DC law firm specializing in real estate litigation, told UrbanTurf. “99 percent of tenants are law abiding, decent human beings. You can go a whole lifetime as a landlord and have no problems or you can have a difficult tenant right off the bat.”
When a tenant is breaking a rule in the lease that is unrelated to rent payment (loud noise, unapproved pets, subtenants, etc.) the landlord should speak with the tenant about the issue face to face or over the phone. Following that conversation, a letter should be sent to the tenant that details the back and forth and includes a copy of the lease, which provides a time period for the tenant to cure the violation. After the allotted time period, the landlord should contact the tenant to make sure that the lease violation(s) has been remedied.
“If you have a bad relationship with a tenant but they are paying their rent, it can be difficult to evict them in DC,” Griffin said. “The District has one of the strictest sets of laws having to do with tenant/landlord relationships and it happens to give tenants a strong set of rights.”
Rick Gersten of Urban Igloo echoed these thoughts.
“No one wants to talk about it because they don’t appreciate how many steps must be taken to get rid of a bad tenant,” Gersten told UrbanTurf. “It’s an incredibly tenant-friendly town to say the least and it can take six months to a year to throw a tenant out.”
In instances of delinquent rent payments, landlords should retain the service of an attorney and furnish the tenant with a writ of restitution (eviction notice). In DC, a written eviction notice, also known as a Notice to Correct and/or Vacate must meet the following requirements and be served in person:
- Written in both English and Spanish.
- Include the tenant’s name, address and apartment number.
- Provide the basis for eviction.
- Provide an opportunity to cure the problem.
- Allow the tenant from 30 to 180 days to move.
- State the tenant’s rights for relocation help.
- Provide proof that the housing accommodation is registered with the city.
- Include a statement that the copy of the notice is being sent to the Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) in DC, along with the address and phone number for RAD.
If the tenant still refuses to pay rent after these steps are taken, attorneys recommend that landlords file a suit with the Landlord and Tenant Court as quickly as possible. This process is initiated by submitting a complaint for possession with the DC Landlord and Tenant Clerk’s Office.
Once a lawsuit is filed, tenants pay rent going forward into Registry of Court, a court-monitored bank account set aside for rental payments (called protective order payments). It is then up to the judge to decide what portion of the money will go to the landlord and what portion will be returned to the tenant. If there is back rent claimed, the requirement for the payment of that money is not determined until the lawsuit is over. “That’s why it’s not a good idea to wait to file with the courts in DC,” said Griffin.
If the landlord wins the lawsuit, he/she will get a judgment for back rent. If the tenant is employed or has assets, the landlord can attach assets and/or garnish wages until the judgment is paid. The landlord will also likely be awarded attorney’s fees if the lease provides for this, as well as post judgment interest. These expenses will also be made a part of the judgment.
Do you have a story of a nightmare tenant and how the situation was resolved? Let us know in the comments section.
This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/amateur_landlord_dealing_with_bad_tenants/2641.
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