Deciding to Evict a Tenant: Art or Science?

I recently had a client who allowed a commercial tenant to fall behind close to $100,000.00 on rent obligations before contacting my office to file an action for possession (eviction).  It was a classic albeit perhaps extreme case where the tenant's business had taken a bad turn, there was some money coming in on a sporadic basis and the tenant made repeated promises that it was going "to make things right."  (Unfortunately, proving the adage that "no good deed goes unpunished," the tenant has turned the eviction in to a federal case -- literally -- which is still ongoing, but that is a story for another time.) 

For many landlords, commercial and residential, deciding when to evict a tenant is more art than science. The existing tenant is the "devil you know," so to speak, and, like my recent client, many landlords are reluctant to let go.  Moreover, the people on the front lines for the landlord have a feel for the tenant, the current situation and whether the tenant can get up to speed.  However, there often comes a time when the cord must be cut.  The question is when?  A tough call, no question, since there is cost involved in finding a new tenant.

I encourage landlords to develop a hard/fast rule and live by it, e.g., file for eviction once tenant becomes "x" months late.  Take the "art" out of the equation and focus on the "science."  When setting the line before eviction, a landlord should figure out: how long the eviction process usually takes; and, the average length of time for finding a replacement tenant.  The higher that number is in terms of months, the shorter the line should be.

REMEMBER: a space occupied by a non-paying tenant is the same thing as vacant space!  The damage to the value of the property is the same.


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