Evictions – Can You Do Them Yourself?

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Evictions are one of the least fun parts of being a landlord.  They can be very costly, time consuming and stressful.  Most probably think that you have to hire an attorney to represent you to conduct a successful eviction.  But do you?  I have represented myself and used an attorney, either way you usually have to go to court.  So, I think the answer depends on several factors.  Those factors are:

  • The complexity of the eviction process in your jurisdiction.
  • Your level of knowledge and experience.
  • Your personality.
  • Peculiarities in your state and local laws.

Some states have very complex eviction procedures.  In fact, I hear it can take many months to get a tenant evicted in places like Chicago and some of the northeastern states.  Here in Memphis, TN the entire eviction process can be accomplished in a little over a month with the filing of a couple of forms.  So while I will conduct the eviction process here, I might hesitate doing so if I faced messing up a six month long process and having to start over at square one.  I would want someone more qualified to handle such a complex process.

Complications During the Eviction Process

Complications can also arise during the eviction process.  For example, if a tenant files for bankruptcy while you are evicting them (and bankruptcy lawyers will be sending them solicitations advising them they can “stop” the eviction process) a stay is placed on the eviction process by the bankruptcy court.  That means your eviction is stopped until the stay is lifted.  You definitely need an attorney at this point as federal courts are much more complicated.

Your knowledge and experience with the eviction process will also be a factor.  You need to know what the eviction process is for your jurisdiction.  You absolutely cannot walk into court with out knowing what you are doing.  It is just too easy to mess up.  Sometimes the judge will help you out, but most times more deference is given to the tenant.  In other words, the judge expects you to have your i’s dotted and t’s crossed.  Once you have been through a few evictions, you may have enough experience to be able to go it alone.

Your personality is also something to consider.  Many do not like getting up and speaking in front of other people.  Some do not like confrontation.  You also have to remember to keep your cool at all costs.  The last thing you want is to be held in contempt because you angered a judge.  I have seen more than one landlord shoot themselves in the foot by opening their big mouth in court.

Other Considerations for Evictions

There may also be peculiarities in your state in local laws that prevent you from representing yourself.  For example, here in Tennessee if a property is owned by a corporation or LLC (which many of mine are) I am not allowed to represent myself and have to hire an attorney to file the eviction per state law.  My case would be thrown out by the judge if I tried to represent my self.

To sum up, I think you should hire an attorney to represent you if:

  • You have no or little experience in court.
  • Your knowledge on your state and local eviction statutes is limited.
  • Your particular jurisdiction has a long and complicated eviction process.
  • Your tenant files bankruptcy.
  • You personality is not suited towards acting as your own attorney.
  • If state law prevents you from doing so.

On the other hand if you have been through the process before, know your local laws and are confident you can present a clear and decisive case, perhaps go for it.

If you want to get some experience and if you have some time to kill, you can always go to the court house and watch the other landlords and attorneys present their cases to see how the process works.  It is kind of interesting to watch, much better than any reality show.

Have you handled your own evictions?  What was your experience?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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About Author

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

6 Comments

  1. Kevin, good article. I’m in California, and our law is similar to yours, in that property owned by a corporation or an LLC must be represented by a lawyer. Actually, as far as I know, it does not matter the type of ownership but whether the lessor is an individual or an entity such as corp. or LLC. I have been able to get around this by first renting my properties from the entity which I control, and then sub-leasing them to the eventual tenant. This way if ever have to evict, I can be the “Master Tenant ” who is an individual as the plaintiff in an eviction lawsuit. So far I’ve only done this with properties held in a trust, and have not had any problems. I would think it would work similarly for corps. and LLCs.

  2. My state has the “atty must represent LLC in an eviction” rule too. But of the handful of evictions my LLCs have done I’ve never met a judge (or public defender rep’ing a tenant) who knew that, or cared. I think the tenant or their atty would have to make a stink before a judge would enforce that. I do have some of the precedents that this rule is based on, with reasons why my simple, single member LLC should be able to rep itself ready in case I ever face that objection.

    I prefer to explain to tenant, and give the link to public data website where evictions all appear online for free, which is “a site used extensively by landlords, employers, friends, and others.” I don’t threaten what will happen, let them draw their own conclusions.I avoid a lot of formally filed (and costly) evictions that way.

  3. Kevin,

    Good article. I tried to do my first eviction myself. At the last minute, the tenant got a lawyer and filed an emergency hearing to have the eviction “set-aside”. He succeeded and I walked away with my tail between my legs. The reason is that I had taken small bits of money from him during the eviction process which is not allowed. I got schooled. Because I had spent so much time learning the process, the guy ended up owing me more than $3500. I took him to small claims and eventually won but in the end he claimed bankruptcy which means the judgement evaporated. I would have been much better off paying him to leave my property.

    From that point forward, I have always used a really good document prep guy (not a lawyer) and with court fees it costs me $1000 to evict someone. If you want to avoid all of that, you have to be really picky about your tenants. I have properties is some really ugly neighborhoods but my tenants are good people. I will let a unit sit for an extra month to wait for the good tenants. The rent is due on the 5th and if a tenant does not pay, they have a 3-day notice on the 6th. You cannot allow any exceptions or people will really take advantage of you.

    Sam

    • Kevin Perk

      Sam,

      We have all had those types of lessons. I guess we should all get together and write a book. :)

      If you have never done an eviction before, it is best to hire some expert help to guide you. Once you have done a few, you can likely handle some yourself depending on your state laws and your local judges.

      Like you said, screening is the key. Screen, screen, screen! Try not to get to court in the first place. Sounds like you have learned your lesson well in the way you manage things.

      Thanks for reading and writing, and for the kind words,

      Kevin

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