If you’ve been here before, you probably already know that my family sold our 22-unit apartment building in La Habra, CA, and I used my share of the proceeds to buy my own fourplex, just down the street from the old property.  The former owner of the fourplex neglected the property pretty badly, and let tenants move in with too many people in each unit.  I bought the property just a little over a month ago, and promptly served notices to the current tenants that they would need to move out.  I have a ton of to do, and I need to bring the rents up to market, and I just can’t do that with the existing tenants.  Unfortunately, my first tenant who was required to move out by March 31 refuses to leave.  So, seemingly before I’ve even really started landlording at this building, I will be evicting my first tenant.  With this post and any follow-ups, we will follow along with how an eviction works in Orange County, California and approximately how long it takes, too.

This Tenant’s Story

All of the current tenants at the property were inherited from the prior owner, so I had no hand in selecting them.  This is one of the worst parts about buying a building.  You have no idea what the story is with all of your existing people, and you’re stuck with whatever the other guy left you.  At our last building in La Habra, we inherited some pretty awful tenants, which led to a couple of my “worst tenant” stories.  At this building, I thought I was going to get one of each: a difficult one (the 8-people in a 2-bedroom with a bunch of chickens in the garage and living room furniture on the deck), an average one (the former handyman and his wife and their kids), and the relatively easy one.  This one, that I have to evict?  It’s the relatively easy one.  Crap.  Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come.

This tenant—we’ll call her Dana—is the niece of the former owner of the property.  I was nervous that she would be hostile because of that, but I’m guessing she and her uncle are not very close.  I’m guessing that because he never even told her that he was selling the property until the last possible moment before escrow closed.  Anyway, Dana was very nice to me when I first met her in person.  Unfortunately, our first meeting was when I was delivering notices-to-vacate to each of the tenants.  Dana has lived at the property for less than one year, so she received a 30-day notice to quit.

Dana was upset about the notice when she first got it, and I could tell she was worried about being able to find another place.  I told her to keep in contact with me, and if she needed a few extra days, I could probably work with her.  But I said that I was going to need the whole building to be vacated so I could do the repairs I need to do.  She said she would start looking.

The Tenant’s Half-Hearted Search Attempt

I checked in with Dana a few times during the month.  Dana is married and I know she has at least four children.  Possibly 5.  Even assuming there are four children, that makes six people living in a 2-bedroom unit, which is one too many people.  Most landlords cap their occupancy using the 2+1 rule, meaning two tenants per bedroom plus one for the overall unit.  So for a 2-bedroom unit, most landlords cap the number of occupants at 5.  Dana’s family is too large for most landlords to accept her for a 2-bedroom unit.

The first time I checked in with Dana was about March 15th.  She said she had been looking, but she was having difficulty finding landlords who would let her whole family stay in a 2-bedroom unit.  I explained the 2+1 rule that most landlords follow, and recommended that she start looking at 3-bedroom units, which might mean rents of about $1800 per month.  She indicated that she could probably afford that, so long as she could find an available unit.  I told her I’d keep an eye out, but encouraged her to really start looking because time was running short.

About a week later, I hadn’t heard from her.  I sent her an email listing six different properties that listed available 3-bedroom units in the area.  She responded saying she had called the two in La Habra, and that they both said they had no vacancies.  She said she was waiting on an answer for another apartment, but there were two people ahead on her in line.

This was not encouraging.  She should have been calling all of the apartments anywhere within a ten mile range, at least.

Six days later, I followed up by email:

Hi Dana,
Did you hear back on those apartments?  Do you think you’re going to be out by March 31?  If you need an extra week or two, let’s figure that out now so I can plan.  We would need to pick a new move-out date, and I would need you to promise that you will absolutely be out by that date, because I really need to get started on repairs.  Please let me know.

Thank you,
Yetisaurus

She responded:

Hey haven’t found an apartment yet can’t assure you we will be out by the 31 have applied for different apartments but no luck.

I needed to do something to get her to understand the urgency of the situation.  She was not taking this seriously enough.  I emailed again:

Okay, Dana, I’m trying to work with you here, but we need to pick a new date that you will be out of the property, and this will be an absolute drop-dead date.  That means that you may need to apply for apartments outside of La Habra, you may need to try to find someplace on Craigslist, you may need to ask family and friends if they know of any other places for rent, and if you still haven’t found anything by then, you will need to commit to moving out anyway and maybe stay with a friend or family member until you do find a new place.  Okay?

Normally a 30-day notice to quit means that you have to be out by the 30th day, no exceptions.  If you stay after that, the landlord can start eviction proceedings.  That means that starting April 1, I could start court proceedings to evict you from the property.  I’d rather not do that, because I know you’ve got a family, you’re a nice person, and it’s a tough rental market out there, but I also really need to get the building cleared out so I can do the repairs I want to do, and I can’t keep pushing the date back.  Every day I wait costs me more money, and I’ve already spent a lot of money buying the property, and I will need to spend even more on repairs.  I simply can’t afford to wait any longer.

So here’s what I propose:
1. You commit to being out of your apartment by April 15th.  This is the absolute drop-dead date for you to be out.
2. On April 1st, you will pay rent of $715 to cover April 1-15.  This is the equivalent of $1430 per month rent.  I know that’s higher than you were paying before, but it’s the current rent rate for Apartments A and C, both of whom are also required to move out this month.
3. On April 15th, which is a Friday, I can meet you at the apartments in the evening, probably around 7 pm, to confirm that you’ve moved all of your things out of the unit, and that there is no damage to the property (apart from how it was when the inspection occurred a little while ago).  If all your things are out and the unit is in acceptable condition, I can give you your whole $650 security deposit back right then and there.

If you agree to these terms, please respond by email to let me know.

Thank you,
Yetisaurus

No response.  A day or so passes, and then I send this:
Can you please respond to let me know if you agree to those terms that I sent to you yesterday by email?  Today is the 31st, so we have to either come to some alternative agreement, or I will have to act on the previous documents I served on you, which would mean starting the eviction process.  I’m not trying to scare you or threaten you, but it’s important that we get some sort of solution resolved ASAP.
Another two days pass.
Dana, it’s has been several days since I last heard from you.  Please let me know whether you agree to the terms I set forth, or I will be forced to start the eviction process on Monday.
Thank you,
Yetisaurus
FINALLY, she responds:
Unfortunately I can’t agree to your terms I haven’t found a place to move to If you have to send me to court I understand.
It’s not that we don’t want to move but in such short notice it’s hard to find a place.
To my under standing it’s not 30 day notice of eviction but a 60-90 days prior to the last month of rent.
I hope you are being equal with all tenets.
Now I’m really frustrated.  I’ve been trying to work with her all this time, but instead of putting in real effort and working with me, she’s dragged her feet and is offering nothing as a solution.  To make matters worse, now she’s pulling the “street lawyer” act on me about the notice period and what she perceives is unequal treatment.  I respond to clear up her misconceptions and to try to salvage the discussion:

Dana, you have lived at your apartment for less than one year, so the proper amount of notice is 30 days. The other two tenants have lived there for more than one year, so the proper amount of notice is 60 days for them.  I’m trying to be flexible with you, but I cannot allow you to stay and pay no rent. I need you to be out so I can fix up the property. If you are refusing to leave, and refusing to pay rent for even half the month, then I will have to evict you.

I was trying to work with you to come up with other arrangements, because I know that taking you to court will hurt your credit and will cost your entire security deposit in legal fees.  I don’t want that to happen, but if you aren’t willing to work with me, I have no choice. Let me know if you change your mind.

I figured things could go one of two ways from here.  Either she might respond and try to find some way to work with me, or she wouldn’t respond and I would just have to go through with the eviction.  Well, I was only partially right.  She did respond, but it wasn’t to try to work with me:
Don’t get me wrong I am very thankful that you are trying to work things out with us it’s just that unfortunately I haven’t found a place to move.  We are not refusing to pay rent or move. I can’t agree on the 15 days.  I understand that if you send me to court it will ruin my credit.

This is really frustrating.  She’s still not offering any certain time period, or any other solution.  She’s basically giving me no choice but to derail my whole plan to rehab the building (which is not going to happen) or to evict her.  She KNOWS it’s going to ruin her credit and that she will lose her security deposit, and she effectively just says “Oh well.”  What a waste.

Evicting the Tenant

Evicting tenants is no fun.  It’s time-consuming and expensive.  There are legal fees, court costs,  and lost rent while the unit sits there with the unpaying tenant in it.  I’m thankful that the legal system has an accelerated procedure for regaining possession of your own property (otherwise it might take a year or more to get your property back), but even still, the process is painfully slow.  The fastest eviction I’ve ever seen took about 4 weeks from start to finish, and it can take even longer if the tenant is difficult to serve or if the tenant contests the eviction.

Have you ever had to evict a tenant?  What was your experience like?