The process to evict a tenant varies widely from place to place. I have heard of some pretty cumbersome and time consuming proceedings in other parts of the country. Here in Memphis, TN the process is fairly simple and I thought I would outline it in this article. Perhaps your own jurisdiction’s process is similar, or it may be much more complicated. Either way I hope this article can serve as a basic guide to the eviction process.
Let me start of by including the standard disclaimers. I am not a lawyer. The eviction process is a legal one and you should consult a competent attorney in your area to advise you. Plus, every jurisdiction is different. There are a myriad of local and state laws. Heck, even the county next door to me falls under a different statute. So be sure you know and are following all the applicable laws, ordinances and regulations.
Starting an Eviction in Memphis
In Memphis, TN the eviction process can start the day after a tenant is late paying rent. At that time, either you or your attorney has to go to the courthouse to file what is call a Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED) Warrant. This is a simple one page form that outlines who is to be evicted, where they are to be evicted from and how much they owe you. It costs $98.50 to file the FED Warrant. (Here is a tip, when filing the FED always include the rent, late fees and legal expenses for the time going forward that will be spent in court and getting them out. You can always lower your dollar amount in court, but you can not go above what you have filed for. So plan ahead when asked what the judgment amount should be.)
Once you file the FED Warrant, you have to get it served. In other words, you have legally let your tenant know that you are suing them in court for legal possession of your property and back rent. They have to get notice of when to appear in court. You can get a sheriff’s deputy to do this for you but I would recommend hiring a private process server. The private process server costs a little more, about $20 to $30, but it is worth it.
The value of a private process server comes from the time it takes for them to get the notice served. You want your process server to try to get personal service, that is, the actual tenant is informed of the suit by the process server. Several attempts may have to be made to serve the tenant in person. So, if the process server knocks and no one answers, that is one attempt. A private process server may come back the next day or even later that night to try again. The sheriff may come back until next week. See the value! You may get your notice served in as little as two or three days with a private process server as opposed to three to four weeks with the sheriff. Is it worth $20 to get your non-paying tenant out quicker? Absolutely. If you cannot get personal service, the notice can be affixed to the front door. However this may affect your ability to get a monetary judgment later on.
Once notice has been served, a court date will be set. This date will usually be about two weeks or so from the date of the service. Your process server will let you know when your court date is. Once you have your court date, free up your calendar. Nothing else takes precedence over that court date. Miss it, and your case is likely thrown out and you have to start the process all over again.
The Day of Court
When your court date arrives, be sure to show up on time. In fact, show up early in case you get lost or can’t find a place to park. Make sure you have all of your documentation, including your lease and evidence (such as invoices) of late rent payments, late fess and court costs. Some judges will help you, but others will not. So be sure you know what you are doing before you go into court. If you are in doubt, hire a competent attorney to help you.
If you win your case you will get a judgment for possession of your property and for back rent, late fess, court costs, etc. The judge will tell the tenant that they have ten days to leave the property. After waiting 10 days (if the 10th day falls on a Saturday or Sunday you will have to wait until Monday), if your tenant has still not gotten the message and vacated your property, you have to file for a Writ of Possession and pay a $25 filing fee. Once this Writ is issued (which is usually pretty quickly) then the “fun” can begin.
After the Court Date
Now you have to serve the Writ of Possession and take possession of your property. If your tenant is still in the property, he will be removed along with all of his possessions. There are a few private process servers that will do this type of service, but many will not. They actually will defer to the sheriff on this one, since the badge and gun can really help when forcibly removing someone.
Whoever you use to serve the Writ of Possession, there are several things you will need to coordinate. You will need several people to remove all of the belongings from the property. Everything down to the last spoon has to be removed to the curb. Sheriff’s deputies are not going to remove any items from the property. They are there to serve notice and keep the peace. So have some people lined up. Also, be sure to have someone on hand who can change the locks and depending on the neighborhood, you may want to further secure the property by boarding up windows or removing HVAC equipment. This process will cost about $200 to $500 depending on the amount of stuff to be removed, the time it takes to remove it and the amount of security you need.
Getting Additional Money from the Tenant
So there you have it. You have gotten your property back. You still need to go after the tenant for any back rent owed, but that is another story. All in all, if everything goes your way, you may have the tenant out in about a month at a cost of $400 to $700. If you use an attorney, add a few hundred dollars more. And remember, those costs do not include the back rent you are owned, the additional costs you will incur to collect the back rent or the costs to rehabilitate your property after removing an angry tenant. So when all is said and done, you are probably looking at a couple of thousand at least. I think there are easier ways, but to each his own.
How Do YOU Evict in Your Area?
Let me know how the above process compares to the one where you live. Memphis style evictions are fairly easy and straightforward (unless they file bankruptcy and Memphis ranks high for bankruptcy filings). I know that is not the case in other parts of the country. Share your experiences in the comments section.
Photo: Editor B