How Do I Evict My Tenant?

Sometimes tenants need to be evicted.

It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or that they are intentionally taking advantage of you, the homeowner. But unfortunately, it’s sometimes necessary.

In this video, Matthew Whitaker and I discuss the steps necessary to evict a tenant in Jefferson County, Alabama. This is where we have the most experience dealing with our own tenants.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation:

Spencer: Hey Spencer Sutton and Matthew Whitaker here with GK Houses in Birmingham. And today we really want to handle a very sought after topic, one that we get asked about all of the time. When we get a new owner, especially if they’ve never rented their house before, a lot of times they want to know, well, “What happens if I have to evict my tenant?” And so…

Matthew: Or we even get a lot of owners that their tenant’s in the eviction process and they want to know “Hey, I put this person in. You know, give me an idea of how long that’s going to take to get this person out.” And so this video, you know, if you’re in this process right now, I mean, this video ought to help you kind of understand the process.

Spencer: Yeah, absolutely. And just to let you know states are different, right? So different states are different. We’re going to specifically be talking about Alabama.

Matthew: And even more specifically, about Jefferson County, Alabama.

Spencer: That’s right, yep.

Matthew: Which is where we have the most experience where Birmingham, pretty much the majority of Birmingham’s located. We have Jefferson County, Alabama then Shelby County. And to some degree, this applies to Shelby County, too.

Spencer: So start us off with a quick story.

Matthew: So even though I’m a property manager, my mom actually had a rental house and she didn’t use her own son as a property manager.

Spencer: A lot of confidence in you.

Matthew: Yeah right, in my own home. But she basically rented to an attorney. And this is a really nice area. It’s in Vestavia Hills. She rented to an attorney and his wife’s a stewardess.

So it was one of those things. They had great paying jobs. She thought everything was going to be great. My mom would underwrite applications just based on her gut feeling, how she would feel about the people.

Spencer: Mistake number 1.

Matthew: Yeah right. Which should be the lesson here, right? But basically she got into it and the attorney moved in, gave the security deposit and the first month’s rent and almost never paid again. And so she got me involved.

And so I know firsthand how emotional that can be when, you know, my mom, she didn’t necessarily need the money but it was very important to her. It was a lot of money for her and she obviously had a corresponding mortgage with it.

So this can happen to anybody. It even happened to my mom. So this is a subject I don’t like to talk about, it’s certainly not a fun subject to talk about. But it’s something that does happen.

Spencer: It’s necessary for this business. So if you rent houses long enough, this is a scenario that you will run into sooner or later. So let’s start. And I want to kind of start. I want to kind of paint the picture.

Here at gkhouses.com, we have a very processed out collections process that we walk through. So it’s very disciplined. We follow it every single week but sometimes people get behind, they stop corresponding with us, they don’t return emails, they don’t call us, we try to reach out to them. So I want to fast forward us to that point.

Matthew: And this even happens with good people. I mean, people lose their jobs, people have medical expenses. And sometimes it’s not that they don’t want to pay but it’s also their problems should not become your problem. And so that happens a lot.

Spencer: So let’s start with it’s time to start the eviction process.

Matthew: So the eviction process actually starts with posting a notice. And so there’s really two things in Alabama landlord-tenant law that you can evict for.

  1. One is for material breach, which means there’s something in the lease that they’re doing wrong that’s not rent. Which, rent is the second. So material breach would be like they destroyed the house, they have too many dogs, they’re punching holes in the wall. Those types of things are a material breach.
  2. And then rent is obviously the second and that’s pretty obvious. That’s what we typically evict 95% of our tenets for. And so the notice is different for each. So that’s very important. It used to be that the material breach was a 14-day notice. Now both of the notices are a seven-day notice. So basically, what you’re essentially doing is putting a notice on the door and saying that you’re in violation of the lease.

Spencer: What’s really rough is I had my own personal. When I was managing my own property. My very first eviction, they stopped paying. And so it was a breach of nonpayment. And I went up there to the house, I knocked on the door and it seemed like 20 or 30 dogs started barking inside the house. So it totally destroyed my house. So it’s not good if you have to do it for both, but you can. I could have put either letter on the door

Matthew: Right. Or both. And we have put both on the door. So basically, what happens, ideally what happens is you give them this seven-day notice to cure. And they have to cure that breach in seven days. If they don’t cure the breach in seven days, on the eighth day, that is basically when you can file a lawsuit against them to get them out.

Spencer: I would imagine that there are attorneys that you would just contact.

Matthew: Yeah and it’s probably something we ought to say. Hey, we’re not attorneys so we highly suggest…you know, even though I told my wife I was gonna be an attorney, I’m not one.

I highly suggest verifying all this information with an attorney. But yeah, so at that point, if there’s an LLC or a company on the lease, you’re actually required to have an attorney, would take over at that point.

If you are an individual on the lease, you can actually do this yourself. And the people at Jefferson County courthouse are pretty helpful getting that started. So basically, what you would do is you’d go down and you’d file this lawsuit. And at this point, most of the attorneys that do this would actually charge you the full amount for the eviction. And those are in the hundreds of dollars and can range from attorney to attorney, but you also have to pay the filing fee. So you’re going to go down there and the filing fees are all based on the number of occupants on the lease. So you’re basically filing this lawsuit against them.

Spencer: What would you say the average cost…basically, based on your experience in the business, what’s the average cost to evict somebody?

Matthew: What we tell our clients is that it’s going to be somewhere between $800-900. And we have a very reputable firm that handles that for us here in town.

Spencer: And so how long does that…you tell them 800 or 900 dollars. But then also, I’m imagining there’s going to be a loss of income, loss of rental income. So what is that all…?

Matthew: Well, I’ve heard some really amazing stories. People in Texas, people in Tennessee, that this is only a thirty day, you know, from the time the notice is posted till the time the person’s out.

That’s just not the case here in Alabama. What we tell our clients is to expect 90 days. From the time we post the notice until the time…and it has gone further than that. I mean, sometimes it’s a little less. So you know, it’s a long time in Alabama until the set-out.

Basically, after the lawsuit’s filed then, it’s presented to the tenant and they’re given a chance to answer. I would say the majority of tenants don’t answer. I mean, they know they’re in violation. But there are some tenants that understand the process and they know that if they answer then they get their day in court and that basically extends the process out.

So I would say 80%…this is just a guess. 80% of the tenets don’t answer but the other 20% file some sort of answer and then a trial is set at that point. The trial is not anything to be scared of, though.

It’s a very simple process. It’s not like Matlock or one of those things you see. It doesn’t span days; it literally could go 15 minutes. But I will tell you the majority of tenants don’t show up at trial because they know they’re going to lose. And the last thing they want to do is be embarrassed in front of a crowd.

But I would say there’s 80% that doesn’t answer, and then after that, the next 10-15%, only 5% total will go all the way to trial and actually show up at trial. So one in twenty who you’ll actually have to try. It’s been our experience.

If I’m a homeowner, what do I need to bring to trial?

Matthew: Yeah. So that’s very important. You want to bring pictures, you want to bring an application, tenant register, you want to bring everything you have.

Spencer: The lease.

Matthew: Yeah, absolutely. You want to bring everything you have that may be presented as evidence. Like, hey, this is what they were supposed to pay.

You also want to bring a copy of the notice that you put on the door. It’s very important that the notice is correct that was put on the door. So it’s a very simplistic process but you need to make sure that you get it right. Because the last thing you want to do is show up at court, not have your stuff together, and lose. And then have to start the process over again, which does happen.

Spencer: That would be unfortunate.

Matthew: That would be really unfortunate. So let’s just say you go to trial, worst case scenario, you win. If they don’t show up, you get a judgment in you favor anyways, you win. Well, then the next step is the sheriff has to set the tenant out.

And that could take awhile in Jefferson County. You know, it’s understaffed, undermanned, that area. That is included in that 90 day period. But we’ve had them take 30, we’ve had them take 60 days. A lot of it depends on the season of the year. So just be prepared for a long drawn-out process.

Spencer: Does the sheriff give you a notice? Like, hey we’re going to be there this day and this is when we’re going to set them out? Because I would imagine as a homeowner, I would want to be there to take over possession of that house and make sure I change the locks, those types of things.

Matthew: Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that for a homeowner. But I can tell you the sheriff does give our attorney a heads up that it’s happening. And then our attorney gives us a heads up that it’s happening.

So it does go with us. I don’t know exactly how they contact the homeowner. One thing I would say which is very important, so hopefully you don’t get into this.

But particularly in Jefferson County, it’s going to be a lot cheaper to figure out a better solution. And I’m not talking about a legal solution, or taking their front door off the hinges. But it’s going to be cheaper and quicker to figure out another solution. Some of the things we’ve done in the past are cash for keys.

What is cash for keys?

Matthew: Cash for keys is for us is saying “Hey look, we know that you lost your job. And obviously, you can’t pay. But one of the things that we want to do is give you this money in exchange for the keys.”

To some degree, you have to swallow your pride. To some degree, you can kind of feel like they’re taking advantage of the situation. But this really comes down to a business decision. It’s very important that you look at this objectively as I’m trying to get the most money in the door for myself.

And sometimes that’s swallowing your pride and giving them some sort of peace offering to get out of your house. So I think that’s very important for you to understand that that’s a possibility.

Spencer: OK. What else?

Matthew: The only thing I would say is just reiterate how important it is to get the process right. Again, this is probably everybody’s biggest fear. It’s not fun but it’s something that you can do. And it’s something, if you can’t do it or want some help, I mean certainly we’re willing to help you through that process.

Spencer: And I would just reiterate the incredible importance to tenant underwriting. Again, life happens, circumstances happen, job loss, those types of things.

But you could mitigate a lot of your risk if you do a fair amount of underwriting on the front end, tenant screening on the front end. Take you time, find the best tenant you possibly can. I know we’ve written a lot of articles about that. So feel free to check those out. Anything else?

Matthew: No, I think we’re good.

Spencer: Alright. Thanks for joining.