Thinking of entering the rental property investment game? While it can be a lucrative prospect,
the reality of being a landlord can be overwhelming and full of hurdles from a legal standpoint.
Here are a few things to consider before taking the plunge:
1. Do you believe in unicorns? A long-term tenant who pays rent on time and does not
destroy your property is as rare as a unicorn. An overstatement? Yes, but the point being
is that a good tenant can be difficult to find. Background and reference checks can
certainly weed out some prospective problems, but there is simply no crystal ball to see
which tenant is a unicorn.
2. Evictions are expensive. There is just no way around it. The work and time involved,
plus the filing fees, court costs, process server fees, and attorney fees can make even a
simple eviction a costly endeavor. The temptation to accept partial payments from the
tenant after the eviction starts will lead to having to start the whole process over.
Calculate in lost rental income and damages to your property, and you can see how the
costs can rise quickly.
3. Time is not on your side. The biggest complaint pertaining to evictions is the length of
time that it can take until you get a resolution. Depending on several factors, an eviction
can take anywhere from just over a month or, in some cases, they can extend several
months down the road. The time involved is due to several factors including statutory
time requirements, a judge’s caseload, the backlog of the sheriff’s eviction department,
and the antics of a professional tenant. A professional tenant? Yes, a professional tenant.
4. The professional tenant. Some folks have perfected the art of rent-free living for as long
as possible before the wheels of justice roll around. They know their rights under the
law, the time periods involved, and how long they have until their belongings are set out
on the curb. Additionally, a tenant who declares bankruptcy or who appeals an eviction
can extend your costs and time drastically.
5. Urban legends. You can’t shut off their utilities. You can’t change the locks or take
their doors off the hinges. You can’t threaten or harass them. I don’t care who told you
that you could…you can’t. Trust me on this, or you will find yourself being a Defendant,
rather than a Plaintiff, should you go this route.
These tips are to inform and not to dissuade, but Landlord/tenant law is an ever-changing area of
practice. Evictions require you to follow code sections perfectly, and just one misstep or timing
error can completely derail the process. A licensed attorney familiar with this area can help you
navigate these waters.
Jeremy Summers is a graduate of Hewitt-Trussville and has been in practice for 11 years. He
shares an office in Center Point with his father, W. Alan Summers, who recently celebrated 51
years of practice as an attorney. They have represented clients on both sides of landlord/tenant
issues, and are available to help you as well.