Evictions & Getting Paid
I recently evicted some tenants, effective the last day of the month, and they decided not to meet me for the move out inspection. They also decided to leave behind some of their belongings, and lots of garbage. There’s an assortment of stuff, that most people would call garbage, but just as many people wouldn’t.
What should you do in this situation? Well, for starters, you should start getting the unit ready for the next tenant. In Nova Scotia, this means sorting the obvious garbage from the stuff the tenant might come looking for in the next 60 days. Here, you’re supposed to store personal effects, at the tenants’ expense, and then get permission to throw it away from the Director of Residential Tenancies after 60 days. In my experience, the stuff that’s left behind ends up being garbage and the tenants are not going to pay for the storage fees anyway, but hey we have to follow the rules.
One of the rules you have to follow as a landlord is that you have to try to re-rent the unit as fast as possible. They call this ‘mitigating your losses’. In order to do this, you need to get the old stuff out as soon as possible so you can start showing it right as soon as possible.
If I can get a hold of the tenant, I tell them I’m going to charge them $200 per month to store the stuff they left behind unless they come get it or they give me a letter stating I can throw it away. If I have to handle their stuff in either case, then they’re paying me $20 per hour to do it or I’m hiring someone else to do it for them. I typically get a letter telling me the stuff is garbage, and I proceed to have to stuff tossed.
The next step is to clean the place from top to bottom, if necessary, and then do repairs, painting etc. to get it ready to show. If you try to show the apartment before it’s ready, then you’re wasting your time, in my opinion. Make sure you take pictures for your advertising and don’t use the date stamp on your camera so you can use them in the future as well.
I’ve been very successful when it comes to arguing my case at the Residential Tenancy Board, but I’ve been very unsuccessful at collecting the money that’s been awarded to me… it’s actually a f***ing joke, and your former deadbeat tenants will laugh at how they beat you at your own game. The sheriff can’t collect unless you tell them which bank account the deadbeat has their money in, or they can’t garnish unless you tell them where they work… you’d think that the sheriff would have some way of tracking this info down. I’m actually partly to blame because I didn’t protect myself
The question becomes, should you take a non-paying tenant to task? Each situation dictates what you should do, and in this case I will spend time and money and beat my head against the wall trying to get a dime out of these deadbeats. I’m 99% sure I’ll be awarded everything I go after by the Residential Tenancy Board, but not so sure I’ll collect any of it. Then there’s the additional costs of enforcing your rights.
Here’s a breakdown of how your expenses can pile up… first off, you file an application to the director of residential tenancies = $28. If you use a third party to serve the documents on the tenant = $90. Then you prepare your case, bringing 3 copies of notes and pictures = $20 (conservative)… assuming you’re successful, you can make the order a matter of the small court so you can exercises it = $0, but then you have to register it with the registry of deeds = $115, and then bring it to the sheriff to enforce it = $85. That’s almost $350 you have to spend just to get what you’re owed, and you can only recover $220 of those additional expenses from the tenant, the rest are a cost of doing business. That doesn’t take your own time into account for going to the hearing.
If you decide to go after the tenant who owes you money, remember to claim for rent, repairs, storage, plus “other costs to be determined” and “future rent, fees and interest, to be determined”. In fact, put anything in your initial claim that might come up later and and put “estimated” or “to be determined” after it. You can always retract it at the hearing if it doesn’t become an issue, but you can’t add costs to your claim if you haven’t made a provision for it. Just remember that you will have to have receipts to back up all your claims. The Director isn’t going to award you everything you claim plus extra because the tenant was a real a-hole.
Log any hours you personally spend cleaning and repairing the apartment and claim a reasonable wage for your work. Make sure you detail how many hours were for cleaning, hauling, storing, patching, repairing, etc. The Director might award you hours for patching but not for painting or something, and this way you won’t lose them all. They also might claw back your wage, but if you’re reasonable and you can justify it then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be awarded it.
You have to serve the tenant within a certain time frame. If you don’t then you have to get a new hearing date. It will cost money to use a process server, but if they serve the documents on time, then there’s no excuse for the tenant not to show up for the hearing. At the hearing, make sure to be professional, and present only the facts relevant to your case. If more detail is needed, the Director will ask you for clarification. When the other side is presenting their case, keep quiet and take notes. You will have a chance to ask questions and rebut what they said.
You can see why you want to rent to tenants who have a good paying job right? If they only earn minimum wage, then their wages can’t be garnished. If they own no property, then you have nothing to get from them. Like Kenny Rogers said: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, you gotta know when to fold ‘em”. There’s no point throwing good money after bad. If there’s no hope in collecting anything from someone who owes you money, then there’s no point chasing them for it unless you want to get some experience at the Residential Tenancy Board. Someone who gets a full month behind in their rent probably won’t catch up unless they screw the current landlord over. Don’t take it personally, learn your lesson, evict them, and never let someone owe you that much again.