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Property Managers: How to Tackle Evictions and Avoid a Lawsuit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide moratoriums on evictions ended in August 2021. This was a key protection for tenants during the pandemic to ensure people could remain in housing despite the challenges of COVID-19. The moratoriums allowed rent relief for tenants, and they were also a way of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Following the removal of the federal moratorium, some states, including California and New Jersey, put their own temporary bans on evictions in place. But now, most of these have ended. California’s State Tenant Law blocking landlords from getting a court order for eviction, if a tenant has completed a rent assistance application, is due to end March 31, 2022. 

Some states, like Minnesota, enacted new legislation to protect tenants from eviction up until June 1 2022, if they are waiting on rental assistance funds. Oregon also has legal protections in place for tenants through June 30 2022. Tenants who have applied for emergency rental assistance and have provided documentation to their landlord cannot be evicted while their application is pending. Even some local authorities have established eviction moratoriums to protect local residents. For example, the City of Somerville in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, has extended its residential eviction moratorium to April 30 2022. 

Since eviction moratoriums were removed in most states, there has been an increase in evictions. In Houston, Texas, evictions in January far exceeded pre-pandemic levels. In Columbus, Ohio, eviction filings were 21% higher in December 2021 compared to December 2015, 2013, and 2012. Filings also increased in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Tampa, Florida. 

However, even though evictions are now allowed, Property Managers must still be careful when dealing with evictions. 

Act with Caution

Moratoriums were in place for some time. Even though they have now been lifted, real estate licensees should still act with caution. Landlords who have faced a challenging couple of years may want to act quickly and evict tenants now that the moratoriums have been lifted. But there are very strict laws for evictions that must be followed to ensure that evictions are lawful. Landlords need to understand also that evictions can take a long time to work their way through the court system — it’s not a quick and easy process. 

What is a Lawful Eviction?

Real estate licensees who manage rental properties should familiarize themselves with the eviction laws in your state. Although the laws differ from state to state, what they have in common is that landlords cannot just evict tenants for no reason, if there is a formal lease agreement in place. There has to be just cause. Typically, those reasons include damage to a property, nonpayment of rent, illegal activity in the property or some other breach of the terms of the lease agreement. If a tenant is being evicted for some other reason, for example, the landlord wants to move into the property, the landlord will generally need to provide the tenant with a period of rent or a waiver of rent to allow the tenant to relocate. 

In California, for example, renters who have lived in a property for more than 12 months have ‘just cause’ eviction protections if they live in a property that meets the ‘just cause’ protections conditions. The law states when evictions are lawful. This includes some ‘at-fault’ reasons, such as:

  • Non-payment of rent
  • Breaking a material rule in the lease agreement
  • Criminal activity at the property
  • Subletting, if not allowed within the lease agreement
  • Refusing to sign a new lease, if the lease offers similar terms to the previous lease
  • Denying entry to the home by the landlord, if they have a legal right to enter 

‘No-fault’ evictions, where the tenant has done anything wrong, are also legal. However, the landlord must waive one month’s rent or give the tenant one month’s rent to help the tenant relocate. 

The Eviction Lab run by Princeton University keeps track of eviction protections across the country. Their website is a useful resource to check the latest in state and local laws. You can also find information at your state or local housing department. 

How Licensees/Property Managers Can Protect Themselves

Know the Correct Process for Your Local Area

While the laws vary from state to state, and even across municipalities, the eviction process is similar everywhere. An eviction notice needs to be provided to the tenant outlining a deadline for rent to be paid or damages to the property to be fixed. If the tenant does not meet the deadline, the landlord is allowed to file a lawsuit against the tenant to evict them. The landlord may seek, not only an order to evict, but also damages to cover unpaid rent, damage and court costs.

Watch Out for Illegal Eviction Activity
Property Managers should watch out for any signs of illegal evictions by landlords. Things like changing the locks, removing a tenant’s belongings unlawfully and turning off electricity or water to try and force tenants out are all illegal actions. 

Educate Landlords

Real estate licensees and property managers can educate landlords, so they understand what constitutes a lawful eviction. This should be part of your onboarding process when you’re leasing a property, so the landlord is fully aware of the conditions of the agreement and how and when it can be terminated. 

Use Disclaimers

Use disclaimers in your communications with landlords to ensure you’re covered if any of the information you provided changes. For example, if you email a client about an eviction moratorium applicable to their local area or any other eviction information, ensure you include a disclaimer. In the disclaimer, you should state that the information you have provided is the most up-to-date information you have available but may be subject to change without notice. State in your disclaimer that property owners should do their own due diligence when making decisions about their property. 

Ensure You Have Adequate Insurance Protection 

Adequate insurance protection is essential to ensure you’re covered in case of a lawsuit. CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent® offers insurance tailored for real estate, so you can get coverage for the risks you face in your business every day. This insurance package also gives you access to the CRES legal team 7 days a week. You’ll be able to access legal advice from qualified attorneys who understand real estate — helping you to prevent lawsuits. 

We are part of one of the largest insurance brokers in the world, so we have access to more property manager E&O insurance options to help find you the best coverage at the best price.

Contact CRES at 800-880-2747 for a confidential discussion about your insurance needs today.

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