One of the biggest insecurities of DIY landlords has to do with the tenant eviction process. It is a time consuming and cash flow draining process. It’s best to be prepared in case you have to go through the process. Knowing the ins and outs of the eviction process can grant you a smoother transition.

Let’s dive right in.

When can you start the eviction process?

You need to be sure that your tenant is within violation of their lease agreement. The state of Iowa has specific laws to follow. Be sure to read up on your state’s laws if you’re outside of the Iowa state lines.

In the state of Iowa, you can go through the process if:

  • A tenant fails to pay the rent
  • When a tenant breaches the signed lease agreement
  • If a tenant affects the health and safety of another
  • The tenant has created a present and clear danger to other tenants or residents

What is the first thing landlords should do?

Give a three day notice to your tenants. For the sake of an example, let’s say your tenant has not paid any rent for a while. A three day notice should include a detailed description of the lease violation. If the occupants do not vacate or remedy their unpaid rent, let them know that you will proceed with the eviction process.

What comes after the 3-day notice?

After a three day notice is delivered to the occupants, it is important to have an open line of communication. The notice could be the reminder they needed in order to fix whatever part of the lease agreement they have breached.

If you find that your occupants do not take appropriate action to amend, then you can file a Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED) with the court system. An FED is a lawsuit designed only for the possession of a property. A landlord or property management company has to file a separate small claims suit for back rent or money needed to fix damages made by the occupants.

You will file and FED with the correct district at which your property resides. Usually, your hearing will take place within a couple of weeks from your filing date. The scheduled hearing date is dependent on how busy your county’s courthouse is.

“I would definitely suggest hiring a lawyer to handle an eviction for you, if you haven’t hired a property management company. There’s a lot of jargon, rules and regulations to follow. You want to be sure it’s done correctly so you can get the outcome you want.”

Angela Canelos, Resident Relations at RPM Iowa

Having the proper documentation for your court hearing is crucial. Supply the lease agreement, any bounced checks, record of payment (if applicable), any form of communication between yourself and the occupants, a copy of the written notice, and proof that the occupants got the notice.

Once in the hearing, a judge will determine whether or not you have grounds for eviction. Once approved, you can move forward with the eviction process. Depending on the county, your tenant may have 48 hours to a full week to evacuate. You have the right to employ someone from the Sheriff’s department if a tenant is not moved out within that given time.

How much does the eviction process cost?

Evictions take away from your monthly cash flow intake, especially if you’re evicting someone for not paying rent. If this is the case, you’ll have to add up the amount of rent you’ve missed out on. You will also have to pay for:

  • Filing a complaint against your tenant
  • Paying an official to serve the notice
  • Hiring an attorney
  • Clearing out a property, if necessary

These can add up quickly. Expect to pay between $700-900 if you are doing it on your own. When you hire an attorney, you may pay closer to $1,200 per eviction.

How to prevent going through the eviction process

Going through an eviction is a grueling process for both you as the landlord, and your tenants. It cuts into your monthly profits, it’s time consuming and stressful. You want to avoid having to go through an eviction process at all costs. We’ve gathered some tips on how you can avoid the eviction process when it comes to unpaid rent:

  1. Do thorough background searches on potential tenants. “If you can get landlord history and you see that they’ve gone through this before, you may want to reconsider letting them sign a lease agreement,” Canelos says that you can access this information on Iowa courts online. Their records will show any FEDs or three day notices sent to the applicant. Finding quality tenants can be tricky, but we’ve highlighted the proper steps to screening a tenant that you can find here.
  2. A three day notice can move your tenants into action. Sometimes that final notification push can get them to communicate with you on what they need.
  3. Talk with your tenants and come up with a payment plan. The last thing you want is to evict someone. Make a manageable plan with your occupants on how they can tackle back-rent. “We don’t want our residents to be so strapped that they don’t have money to pay for other necessities,” Canelos says. Consider a bi-weekly payment, or paying a lump sum amount when monthly rent is due that will chip away at whatever they owe. Be sure to get this new agreement in writing and attach it to the lease agreement.
  4. Give your tenants access to resources if they need further help. “The pandemic has affected people’s jobs and income. We want to work with them so they have one less thing to worry about,” Canelos, along with the rest of the leasing team, have an ongoing list of resources that they can provide for tenants in need. Sandy Miller, RPM Iowa’s Financial Manager, helps with this too. Organizations like Impact Iowa and the Iowa Finance Authority can help renters exponentially.

The tenant eviction process can be grueling.

No landlord wishes to go through the tenant eviction process. As mentioned before, it’s costly, takes up whatever free time you have, and can be stress-inducing. However, it’s one of those things that you can’t be overly prepared for. It’s important to know your rights as a landlord.

If you’ve been teetering on the edge of whether or not to hire a property manager, know that the tenant eviction process would be in their hands. All of the stress that goes along with evicting a tenant will be their responsibility instead of yours.