Help my friends get rid of a deadbeat tenant
August 15, 2017 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Friends of mine, who live in New York, bought a house not too long ago. Its a two flat. They are living in one and renting the other , which is below them. Their tenant has not payed rent since May and informed the owners that they are not able to pay rent and will not be leaving. They say, brazenly, they know how the system works and will take full advantage of the laws protecting them. While no one is really protecting the owners. While they are starting eviction proceedings, it could take up to 8 months for them to get the renters out. Can you think of any ways , without violating the laws of the state of New York, to get these folks out or make the place unbearable? In this case the landlords are very good people being taken for a ride and taking a huge financial hit
posted by citybuddha to Work & Money (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They could offer to pay the tenants to leave.
posted by mskyle at 8:46 AM on August 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

One method would be for the owners to befriend the tenants, so that it becomes less a struggle of wills and laws, and more likely that the tenants would have qualms about hurting the new owners. It's likely that they wouldn't do this to someone they know and care about, and chose the new owners to target because they didn't know them. So perhaps try using friendship and understanding to help the tenants, and see if that turns them around.

I'm a lawyer and a landlord, so I'm not naive and afraid of conflict. But I've always handled my landlord-tenant relationships with kindness and understanding, and it has always worked for me. I recognize that sometimes that just won't work to be kind, but I'd try it first. Hostility can always be used later, but if they start out with hostility, they lose the opportunity to try friendship and kindness.
posted by Capri at 8:46 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Any advice needs to be handled as per the local laws and jurisdiction.

If they are based in NYC, they should be fully aware of their responsibilities as landlords, and that it is ILLEGAL to harass your tenants. If they are in NYC there are a ton of resources, linked through the first link for them to ensure that everything is done legally.

For NYState the process is pretty similar; and again the NY State courts should have similar information on their .gov page. They need a judgment to evict a tenant.

not a landlord, but lived in a small building where it almost a year for the landlord to evict a non-paying tenant and the process is fascinating.
posted by larthegreat at 8:47 AM on August 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Hopefully your friends have insurance for unpaid rent -- if they're paying a mortgage, it was probably required as part of the paperwork (at least that was the experience of a friend of mine who bought a property with the intention to rent part of it out). So, I would look into what policies they may already have to help soften the financial blow. But other than that, you just have to begin eviction proceedings and follow the letter of the law -- it does take time. By violating tenant protections, they are only going to draw things out longer.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:47 AM on August 15, 2017

Below them, you say? offering the neighborhood kids free tap dancing lessons?

Do they have a lawyer representing them in the eviction proceedings? Does that lawyer have anything to say about how to speed things along?

They know they are doing something shady, and they are probably doing it because they don't have the money. Making it a less desirable place to live is not likely to hasten their departure, msyle's idea may actually be the smartest. Assume they wont leave for 8 months and offer them 3-4 months rent in cash to leave now?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:48 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

My comment went back and forth between referring variously to your friends and their tenants as "them/they" which makes it semi-coherent: the tenants know they are doing something shady by staying on and not paying rent, it seems unlikely to me that they are doing so in the face of other better options, and making the place less desirable is unlikely to chase them out sooner.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:50 AM on August 15, 2017

I would advise extreme caution, both due to legal protections for tenants and because bringing hostility into your home often backfires.
posted by samthemander at 9:17 AM on August 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Do they have a lawyer representing them in the eviction proceedings? Does that lawyer have anything to say about how to speed things along?

Lawyer lawyer lawyer lawyer. (more specifically, a qualified lawyer that deals with evictions)

Do not do anything the lawyer does not advise you to do. Things that seem like they should be legal may not be and could delay the eviction or cause them to be able to seek damages from your friends.
posted by Candleman at 9:25 AM on August 15, 2017 [17 favorites]

They need a lawyer who specializes this this area. The DIY version of this is not for amateurs and you can seriously screw things up and damage yourself further even if you're smart.

A lawyer can also help them navigate a pay-off to leave. While the idea is repugnant, it's often the easiest/cheapest way to cut your losses.
posted by quince at 10:16 AM on August 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

While they are starting eviction proceedings, it could take up to 8 months for them to get the renters out. Can you think of any ways , without violating the laws of the state of New York, to get these folks out or make the place unbearable?

The way that you get the tenants out is to legally evict them or pay them to go. If you aren't prepared to be going through the eviction proceedings, you aren't actually ready to be a landlord. This is an extraordinarily difficult way to be learning that lesson, but there's not really a way to sugar-coat that. I used to do accounting work for a lot of small-time landlords, and almost nobody is prepared for this, but this is a known risk of running this kind of business--and it is a business. The law favors tenants at this stage, even if the tenants are total jerks about it, because there are plenty of other ways the landlord can manage the risk of this process: charge enough rent that it's worth the risk, maintain enough access to capital to manage in the event of nonpayment for as long as the eviction process takes, and screen tenants before they move in. Then you pursue collections against them for the unpaid rent afterwards.

It's not like there's no remedy here, it's just that yes, it is slow and expensive and risky. Once they've settled this, they may need to seriously reconsider whether they're actually prepared to be in this business. Rentals are not the same kind of investments as mutual funds.
posted by Sequence at 10:42 AM on August 15, 2017 [24 favorites]

No clue what the laws are in NY but do you know if the tenant genuinely can't pay (lost their job, medical bills, stuff like that) or whether they "can't pay" but are currently employed or have savings?

Depending on the local laws and what's in the lease you may be able to get a judgement in small claims court fairly easily.

NY city housing court has a nifty guide about how to properly proceed.

Cold comfort but the landlords may want to take steps to let the tenants know that if the situation is not resolved amicably that they will end up with a big smirch on their credit and a red flag for all future rentals (the vast majority of apartments in aware of are extremely cautious about renting to anyone with a prior eviction or bad rental history). If it impacts their credit it can mess up all kinds of things down the road from getting a job to getting loans or mortgages.
posted by forkisbetter at 10:48 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

#1: Lawyer is essential.
#2: Doing anything to reduce the habitability of the apartment reflects poorly on the landlord, and will reduce the chance that the Court will go along smoothly with the eviction. It may even expose the landlord to damages.
#3: It may work out to be cheaper to pay the tenant to leave, where they payment is calculated relative to the estimated cost (and lost revenue) of conducting the eviction.
#4: Tenant probably knows the calculation of #3, so will hold out for more because they know the landlord is out the money one way or the other.
#5: See #1.
posted by spacewrench at 10:50 AM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

They should not harass their tenant. Jesus Christ. There is a special place in hell for landlords who do this, and, furthermore, there is legislation pending to strengthen the NY state criminal anti-tenant harassment laws, so, if basic decency concerning one's position in an exploitative system doesn't kick in, self-preservation should.

They need to get a lawyer and follow their advice to the letter. It probably won't be eight full months. It will be awhile. They may be able to accelerate it with a payoff, but they need to be careful. Tenant nonpayment is a cost of the landlording business. They should prepare for this in future.
posted by praemunire at 10:51 AM on August 15, 2017 [17 favorites]

the landlords may want to take steps to let the tenants know that if the situation is not resolved amicably that they will end up with a big smirch on their credit

Just FYI, the credit reporting agencies are (basically) no longer reporting most civil judgments, so an eviction won't necessarily appear on the tenant's credit anymore. Don't make DIY threats. If someone must discuss consequences, let it be the lawyer.
posted by praemunire at 10:53 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know you've heard this a lot, but I'm just chiming in to say that your friends really need legal advice. They should get a lawyer, and they shouldn't do anything at all about this situation until they've consulted with one.
posted by thursdaystoo at 11:22 AM on August 15, 2017

Not just any attorney, or even real estate attorney, but one who specializes in evictions. Find one they feel comfortable communicating with, theirs will be a close relationship for the duration. They should definitely ask the lawyer about paying them off just because it may be quicker and cheaper, but let the lawyer deal with it. There is even a name for it, it's called Cash for Keys. I went through this last year with (here's another new term for you) a Serial Squatter. Some people live their lives this way. Running credit and background checks that the prospective tenants (all of them, NO exceptions) are responsible for paying for will help weed out some of them. The lawyer can guide your friends through "what if the tenants pay some of the rent?" etc. They don't want to start the clock running all over again . This gets really complex, real quick. It's unlikely they will get any money out of these folks so their major objective should be to get them out as quickly and with as little damage as possible. Good luck. I'm sorry your friends have to go through this.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:06 PM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lawyer up with a very experienced evictions lawyer. Follow the law scrupulously, which means you can't make life miserable for them in any way. They sound like they'd be delighted to sue, and while they might win or not, it just costs more in legal fees.
posted by theora55 at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

make the place unbearable

Tell your friends to stop considering this, and to stop writing or having their friends write that they are considering this.
posted by kapers at 2:07 PM on August 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do they have any kind of proof that the tenant has said that they don't intend to pay rent? In my jurisdiction, that can be grounds for a "fast track" eviction that can take only a few days.

Even if so... let a lawyer handle that.
posted by cmoj at 3:03 PM on August 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

They may need to take up an exercise programme very early in the morning and late at night in order to reduce the stress of living above a jerk. Appropriate music would be a requirement.

Seriously, though, the advice above to follow the law exactly and not give in to the temptation of harassing the non-paying tenant is absolutely correct. Somebody who is wiling to thumb their nose at the people above them in a situation like this is not going to hesitate to retaliate and probably won't need to seek outside advice on how to do so.
posted by rpfields at 12:56 PM on August 16, 2017

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