How to get rid of tenants — month-to-month lease

Last article we explored some ways to get rid of tenants in your rental who are on a term lease.   The usual reasons are that you either: 1) want to take possession of the house back yourself, or; 2) they are undesirable tenants.  This time around we are going to assume you want to get the tenants out for similar reasons, but the tenants are on a month-to-month lease instead of a term lease.  This situation is much easier because there are more options available.

The first, easiest, and best option is to post a 20-day Notice to Terminate.  (Check local and state laws for compliance issues.)  It is very common for tenants to give landlords this notice.  It is rare (and often overlooked) that landlords have the same option.  On a month-to-month lease either party can terminate with proper notice.  In WA state the 20-day Notice to Terminate must be given 21 days in advance of the end of a rental period (typically the end of the month).  That is because the last day does not count as one of the 20 days!

As landlords, we take notices to terminate in stride as part of the business.  However, your tenant of 4 years may have a “less than sympathetic’ attitude when they receive your notice.  This is where a little diplomacy can go a long way.  Remember, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the tenants are in possession.  So be nice to them and maybe they will be nice back!  The more notice you can give them the more respect it will show them.  You can’t get respect if you don’t show some.  You can give a 20-day notice 30 days in advance.  It doesn’t have to be 20 days — just a minimum of 20 days.

Once they have received the notice I like to explain to them that it is nothing personal.  I want to keep things amicable to keep it out of the costly hands of the attorneys.  Work with them.  I will typically allow one extension, but no more.  (First time, shame on you; second time shame on me!)  But while I may give an extension verbally, I will still post any applicable notices to keep our options open.

For example, we give a 20-day for the tenants to vacate by the end of the month.  They request a 1-week extension.  Granted.  But if they do not pay rent for that week then I post a 3-day Pay Rent or Vacate Notice.  (Be careful here and consult an attorney because as soon as you accept rent the whole process may start all over again from the beginning!)  I explain to the tenants that I am just keeping our options open and as long as they move as agreed then they have nothing to worry about.  This is “the shot across the bow” to let them know we are serious and while we might believe their first story, we aren’t going to believe the second!!

The key to getting tenants out of a property is to start by treating them with respect.  Only when they fail to respond to terms should you consider escalating your activities.  If the tenants fail to keep up their end of the bargain then you need to exercise your rights under the law.  Some tenants are just waiting to see how long they can lead you on.  Others simply need a “push”.  And while we do everything possible to be understanding and accommodating, we still expect our tenants to perform.

Next article we’ll discuss the “art” of posting notices

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