I have a handful of rental properties and from time to time one or more of the tenants tend to fall a little behind in their rent. A series of events take place at that time: late fees, late notice, etc. – and sometimes it even ends up in eviction court.
I don’t know many people who have been landlords for any length of time that haven’t had to start the eviction process at least once on someone. I thought today would be a good day to review a few of the details involved.
First, you can evict a tenant for a number of reasons: lease violations, late or delinquent rent, or if the tenant simply refuses to leave. Since late and delinquent rent is the most common reason for eviction – I’ll mostly be talking about that. Keep in mind though, that when we get to the actual physical eviction – that will be the same for any of the above reasons.
It is important to remember that if you have a lease with the tenant, the judge is going to expect you to honor that lease. At the end of the lease period most jurisdictions and judges will assume a lease converts to a month-to-month term, with all other lease terms remaining in place.
Standard Disclaimer ~ None of This Should be Considered Legal Advice
Eviction Process & Eviction Court
If you are evicting your tenant for delinquent rent you need to make your way to the District Court office in the county where the property is located (we have two here in Anne Arundel County: Annapolis and Glen Burnie).
You’ll fill out a one page form (Failure to Pay Rent – Landlord’s Complaint for Repossession of Rented Property – Form DC/CV82) that outlines the names of the tenants, the addresses of the parties involved, how much rent and late fees they owe, etc.
And you’ll write two checks, one to the District Court for the filing of the complaint and one to the Sherriff’s department ($5 for each tenant over the age of 18). The sheriff will deliver a copy of the complaint to the tenant.
Now, I can tell you that in my twenty plus years of experience this is usually where it all ends. Unless your tenant is just completely without means, or resources, or compassionate relatives – once they get that notice from the sheriff (delivered in person) – they usually come up with the money.
If not, eviction hearings are held once a week, so at most you might have to wait 7 to 8 days for your day in court.
Eviction court judges move through their docket pretty fast – so make sure you’re on time. Some judges will give a few extra minutes if either party isn’t there when their case is called – but some judges don’t. So again, try to be on time. If a judge waits, and one of the parties is still not there – he’ll rule against the absent party. If the landlord is absent, it usually means they’ll have to refile if they want to proceed with an eviction. If the tenant is absent – then the eviction will go forward.
Another reason why you might want to show up early – if you are the landlord or the tenant – is that there is always time to work it out.
Even after your case is called, if you would like a few extra moments in the hallway to come to some kind of agreement – the judge will usually be ok with this. Judges always like it when parties work out things between themselves.
And tenants remember, unless you know your landlord has other options – they are probably willing to come to some kind of an agreement. It costs time and money to evict someone from a property. And even though hardened landlords might be immune to it – evicting someone does come with a certain amount of emotional grief that most people would just as soon avoid. Don’t be afraid to approach your landlord and come up with some kind of solution.
It is like I always tell my tenants: if the rent is due and you can’t pay me the whole thing – then pay me something. Anything. Just don’t forget about me or blow me off. I get more pissed off when I go out to the mailbox and I don’t find a check. Call me up, e-mail me, send me something, let me know when the rest is coming – and then deliver on that promise. If you do that, I’ll work with you through almost anything as long as I know what is going on and that there is an end in sight. If you don’t – then I really don’t have any options other than to evict you.
If you do work it out prior to the hearing, and you’re still in the courthouse – I always like to hang around until my case is called and then tell the judge that everything has been worked out and thank him for his time. District Court judges in Maryland have a notoriously long memory so it never hurts to get on their good side whenever you can.
When your turn in the docket comes up, the judge will call both parties up front, ask if the rent is still due, and then hear anything that might be a mitigating factor.
Some tenants might bring up issues of maintenance on the property – but I’ve personally never seen or heard of this working. I was in court once when a tenant had an inspection form from a fire marshal where there was a question about the wiring of one or two outlets in the house. The judge heard her side of the story and still ruled in favor of the landlord. The judge’s point of view always seems to be – if you have a problem with the property then you need to work it out with the landlord – you just don’t stop paying rent.
You probably stand a little bit of a chance if you first put your complaint in writing and then withhold some money to repair if the issues aren’t remedied by the next time rent is due. If you did that, and then the landlord took you to court for the back rent, the judge might be a little sympathetic to your cause. But again that’s not legal advice – so I wouldn’t count on it.
Now, once the judge hears both sides he’ll give his decision. This is usually some form of the tenant has 4 days to come up with the money, otherwise the landlord can evict on the 5th day.
From time to time there may be a few wrinkles in this process.
For instance, just this past Tuesday I was in an eviction hearing down in the District Court of Calvert County in Prince Frederick. It was a commercial tenant and landlord – so the numbers they were throwing around were a bit staggering to all of us residential landlords that were in the court room awaiting our turn. The landlord claimed the tenant was behind in rent and late fees by more then $26,000. The tenant claimed it was only $21,000. The landlord said that since most of the remaining $5,000 was made up of late fees, she was willing to accept $21,000 for the tenant to stay in the property.
The judge ruled that if the tenants could come up with $21K they could stay in the property – BUT he wasn’t saying that was all that was owed or due. He left the door open for the landlord to come back for the additional $5K at a later time, or even to pursue it through a civil claim outside of the normal eviction proceeding.
I guess my point is, if there is any question to the amounts owed – be prepared that the judge might give wiggle room one way or another after hearing all of the details.
Another interesting point is that even if the tenant pays the rent that is due – the judge can still grant the landlord’s request for an eviction. This can come up if the landlord has been to court three times (four times in Baltimore City) in the past 12 months for delinquent rent and the judge sided with the landlord every time, but the tenant made good before the actual eviction.
Note: If you want to request an eviction on these grounds, you’ll need the case numbers of the previous cases when you initially file the form at the District Court office.
The Actual Eviction
Now, if the judge has ruled in favor of the landlord (almost always) the tenant still has 4 days to make good on the past due rent or move out. On the 5th day the landlord can go to the sheriff’s office and ask for a “warrant of restitution” (good for 60 days), this costs an additional $40 and is paid to the sheriff’s office.
Usually there are one or two officers in the sheriff’s office that deal with evictions. So you’ll work around their schedule. Most of the time the officers prefer that the eviction be done during normal business hours (so the court can be contacted in case any issues come up) and on days without any inclement weather.
The officers are only there to keep the peace not to do any work for you. They’ll also handle anything that pops up that you aren’t expecting. For instance, a long time ago I was helping out with an eviction and we found some young kids (under the age of 10) who apparently had been left unattended for quite some time – so the officers were the ones to contact social services.
You’ll need some way of getting into the property – because the officers won’t do it for you. Hopefully, you’ve kept a key and the tenants didn’t change the lock on you.
Once the sheriff is there you need to gain entry into the property and you usually only have about two hours to get everything belonging to your tenant out of the house and out to the curb (the traditional place).
Two hours obviously isn’t a lot of time – so make sure you bring as many people as you can to help you.
If you only have one or two people – the sheriff probably won’t even let you begin the eviction since it’ll obviously take too long. The good news is that you’re evicting the tenants – you’re not moving them across town – so you can do it faster than if you were actually moving a household. You can’t be destructive and break the tenants stuff – but you don’t need to pack everything up in a nice and orderly fashion either.
After everything is out of the house, make sure you change the lock and secure the house.
Now technically, the eviction is done. But your duties as a landlord aren’t. In Anne Arundel County you only have 48 hours before the pile of stuff from the eviction has to be gone from public property (streets, sidewalks, right-of-ways, etc.). Sometimes your tenants will come and pick most (maybe all) of their stuff. Other times you’ll have to cough-up the expense of having someone haul it away. That cost can vary obviously depending on whether any of it is salvageable or if you just need someone with a truck to take it to the dump.
Summary of Eviction Process
So let’s review here. If you start the eviction proceedings the first day the rent is late, you’re looking at probably 2 to 3 weeks before you can get your tenants out of the house. That is pretty much the better part of a month. And it could cost you up to a few hundred dollars if you have to pay people to help and/or haul stuff away.
So the eviction process is certainly not hassle free. But the good news is, even though it happens to the best of us – it isn’t common place. Most tenants pay their rent on time, and if you do your due diligence by checking their background (credit), references and verifying their income – you can be assured of a worthwhile and rewarding landlord experience.
Some Helpful Links: