Self-Help Evictions: What You Should NEVER Do as a Landlord

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Now, I have to admit that there have been several times where having the ability to “help” myself to an eviction, especially while using a forklift, might have crossed my mind, but better judgement seemed to always prevail.

The first question that should be crossing your mind is: “Is this even possible”?

The short answer is YES! The longer answer is that in the residential world it isn’t, but in the commercial world it is possible. Obviously this guy didn’t get the message. I would bet huge sums of cash that most landlords reading this article have had similar thoughts of creative ways to evict, even if they won’t admit it!

What is this self-help eviction thing?

Based on specific wording in your lease agreement, when a tenant has defaulted on the lease (this default is usually for not paying rent), the landlord, with proper notification and within specified time frames, can evict the tenant without having to go to court.

Regrettably, this works sometimes in the commercial world, but you would be putting yourself in severe jeopardy, as the guy in the article did, to pull this trick in the residential word. With that being said, it amazes me how often landlords put themselves in jeopardy by taking actions, that for all intents and purposes, look like self-help evictions.

Here are a few examples of things that you should NEVER do as a landlord

  1. Lock the tenant out of the property.  This is a big NO-NO.  By locking them out you are depriving them of the use of the property, and so long as a court has not agreed that they can be evicted and said eviction has occurred, locking a tenant out of the property will not end well for you.
  2. Remove tenant belongings prior to an official eviction.  Again, the courts look at this as you obstructing the tenants right to live in the property without harassment from the landlord.  Even if the tenant has moved out prior to a scheduled eviction and they have not turned the keys over to you, don’t remove anything from the property.  First the courts will not view that as a prudent move, and you can bet the tenants will claim that their uncles very expensive Rolex was in the property the last time they, the tenant, were there.
  3. Do not turn off the utilities.  Again, this action will be viewed by the court in very unfavorable terms — for you!
  4. Do not intimidate or harass your tenants.  While there may be a fine line that exists regarding this scenario, remember that just because the tenant is violating the lease, (most likely not paying the rent) doesn’t mean that you now have carte blanch to make their life miserable.

Remember… every action you take regarding a tenant must stand up the scrutiny of a judge — more so in today’s world than at any other time. Unfortunately, landlords are by the very nature of what we do, often judged to be the bad guys!

Self-help is not a good thing!  Don’t give your tenants extra ammunition that could end up with you spending time in jail, and if you don’t believe that is possible, you are only fooling yourself.  Just ask the guy in the story above.

Best of luck!

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Photo: Elvert Barnes

About Author

Peter is an active and successful real estate investor in the Baltimore Maryland region for the past 8 years and is one of the founders of The Club Mastermind a real estate investing coaching program focused on local coaches helping investors to perfect their game.


  1. Peter,

    Smoking the tenant out by turning the water off at the street is a good self-help example. The first few properties I rented starting out helped me develop my landlord tempo.


  2. Peter what would you do if a tenant has not paid in 2 months.Water pipe burst behind shower and water came down in the Kitchen.Fire said electrical needed to be checked before turning power back on.

    Tenants did not want to leave.The unit ( 1 out of 4 in the building ) was uninhabitable.Cops said without a writ nothing they can do.Said maybe health department or code enforcement would tell them to leave the property after viewing.Those departments are closed on the weekends.

    Tenants were supposed to have renters insurance but do not.

    A few options: Tenants can pay to fix repairs and keep receipts and take off their rent owed.

    Tenants can pay back rent owed and can move into another unit and sign a new lease.

    I see where you are going with this self help stuff but if a unit has problems that need to be fixed to be habitable again and the tenants can’t live their and have not paid rent no landlord is going to pay to house them somewhere else.

    In that case they need to leave.If they were paying rent then yes I could see a landlord move them to another unit.

    The tenants are having to be evicted anyways.

    • Unfortunately for the landlord, lots of times you have to have the legal system play it self out, even if it means the tenants are basically riding it out for months with out paying rent or otherwise caring for the property.

      If the tenants violate a portion of the lease, i.e. do not have renters insurance where they were required to do so, let them know you will evict for that reason, even if they are paying rent. Let them know when they go delinquent, immediately you will commence action and unfortunately, when you get a money judgment against a tenant – ENFORCE IT.

      You may not get anything from that tenant, but trust me the other tenants will know you mean business and they will be more apt to follow procedure.

      I find it’s a two way street. When tenants know what to expect, they’ll follow, as long as you reciprocate on your end. And when the emotion is tempted to get the better of you, remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

      Good post…

  3. Thanks Frank.

    What makes it so confusing is you have federal landlord tenant laws and then state laws.Then you have the county and city ordinances which blend in with tenant laws.

    Will have to see how a situation mentioned above will play out.My thought is even if the tenants sue because they do not want to move or pay for repairs they would be limited to the months of rent not payed to the landlord.

  4. What?! You mean having the property manager show up drunk and fire off her hand gun a couple of times is a bad thing??

    This happened to my neighbor, they were being evicted, the landlady lives out of state, she had her “property manager” take a letter for the tenants to sign saying they would be out in 5 days, and they had to pay not only the rent but 400.00 for damages. When they refused to sign and shut the door in her face she fired her handgun in the air twice to scare them. Turns out she was drunk and the was promptly fired when the landlady found out.

  5. Another scenario (one which I currently have) is where you have a good tenant which has decided to move on, such that you seek new tenants and than the original tenant perpetually delays or procrastinates vacating the premisis. In my case I have a tenant which decided to build a new home. So we found new tenants, but the closing on the new home has been dragging out months past the agreed to closing date. We have lost two new tenants due to inability to get the existing tenant to leave, albeit their intention is still to do so when the house is ready.

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