Shape Up or Get Out: Evicting Short Term Renters
By Paige Townley, Condo Owner Magazine, Volume 18, Issue 4 (Fall 2014)
Most vacation home owners have experienced it at some point or another: less than satisfactory renters who don’t abide by the rental contract. Whether they aren’t paying the rent or aren’t properly following the rules and regulations, the end result is the same: action must be taken to alleviate the problem. But what exactly is the best method to take? When should an owner evict a renter? “A point to consider is when to warn versus when to evict,” said Michael McDaniel of Compass Association & Rental Management in Destin, Fla. “Applying good judgment is essential when it comes to this question. The old adage of the punishment should fit the crime applies. If a warning resolves the issue, allow the renters to finish the vacation and protect the rent paid and everyone wins. If the warning fails to work or if the situation is a blatant violation, then evict and follow established procedure during the process.”
When Should An Owner Evict?
Before deciding on eviction, it’s crucial to determine if the particular situation falls under an acceptable circumstance. And depending on which state you live, those circumstances change. For example, in Alabama, vacation rentals are governed by the Real Estate Commission and are bound by terms of rental agreement policies. In Florida, rentals are deemed short-termed public lodging establishments and are controlled by Chapter 509 of the Florida Statutes. This particular statute defines transient public lodging establishments, “a unit, group of units, dwelling, building or group of buildings within a single complex of buildings that rent to guests more than three times in a calendar year for periods of less than 30 days or one calendar month, whichever is less, or which is advertised or held out to the public as a place regularly rented to guests” and non-transient public lodging establishments, which are the same type of housing that is “rented to guests for periods of at least 30 days or one month, whichever is less, or which is advertised or held out to the public as a place regularly rented to guests for periods of at least 30 days or one calendar month.” While there are various establishments excluded, Chapter 509 also goes on to provide a very broad listing of eviction reasons, including failure to pay, possession of a controlled substance, intoxication, profanity and lewdness. “Also, any Florida condominium owner should be aware that the Florida Condominium Act allows a condominium association to make demands upon the tenant if the owner has failed to pay assessments or other monies due to the association,” said Suzanne Blankenship, an attorney with the Coastal Association Law Group. “If the tenant pays the association, the tenant is protected from eviction or any claim by the landlord. However, if the tenant fails to pay as directed, the association can evict the tenant.”
How Should An Eviction Be Handled?
Once a situation is determined to be a just cause, an owner must provide either an oral or written notice. “I highly recommend that [the eviction] be done in writing and a copy of the notice be kept on file and a note as to whom it was presented along with the notes and statements from the event,” McDaniel said. “When we conduct an eviction, we always make sure it is completed in person by at least two people. The second person helps with safety concerns, as well as provides a witness to the event as to the notice being served and any behavior being exhibited at the time of the eviction.”
McDaniel also recommends that an owner seriously considering eviction carefully document the circumstances and any helpful details to support the situation. “Make note of personal observations, and/or take statements from witnesses along with the witnesses’ contact information, take photos, etc.,” he said. “Keep the details on file for future reference.”
In Florida, if the renter refuses to leave once eviction notice is served, he or she may be guilty of a second degree misdemeanor. “In the event of a larger group or ‘party situation,’ we typically request a Sheriff’s deputy to be present during the eviction to ensure the safety of our managers during the process,” McDaniel said. “If the tenant or other occupants refuse to comply with the eviction notice the tenant can be placed under arrest by the deputy.”
Be Prepared for the Situation
To make a potential eviction as hassle free as possible, many in the industry recommend that owners make sure the rental agreement includes detailed information about the possibility of eviction and that the renter has agreed to those terms in the contract. “The key is making sure that the renter has agreed to being ejected if the renter breaks the rules of the rental contract,” said Jay Roberts, an attorney at Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. “This agreement should be in writing and signed by the renter prior to the rental period.”
Roberts also noted that it’s important to make sure the rental contract include specific language that safeguards the owner under certain potentially questionable situations, such as making a mandatory condition that a 25-year-old or older person must be residing in the unit or home each night of the rental period. “Just as car rental companies can refuse to rent to people under 25 years of age, a unit owner can refuse to provide short-termed rentals to persons under the age of 25,” he said.
Another means to help the potential for an eviction is employing the assistance of a rental management company. “With many owners managing their properties from several hundred miles away, they most likely do not see the activities that may be in violation of their rental agreement,” said Missy Zak with Meyer Vacation Rentals. “It truly helps to be here, on the ground, to monitor any possible situation before it results in an eviction.” A rental management company can not only help monitor the property if the owner doesn’t live locally, but also ensure that renters are aware of particular policies when they arrive. “Making sure your policies are clearly communicated to your guests is an important factor,” McDaniel said. “During high risk time periods, we have our guest sign an abridged version of our policies at check-in. This reminds our guests and gets a fresh commitment to follow those policies that are most often violated and can lead to an eviction.”
With online bookings becoming more popular—especially for rentals during Spring Break, a high risk time of year when it comes to underage renters—having an experienced, local management company handling the property’s bookings can be even more helpful if the owner isn’t available to meet renters. “It is important to speak with your renters during high risk times of the year, and by reviewing your age policy with your renters in advance you can prevent many problems,” McDaniel said. “Those that are vacationing within the rules often appreciate that you are trying to ensure them a problem free vacation by filtering out problem guests. Those that are underage most often are honest about their age and the reservation can be cancelled. There will always be an element that tries to sneak by and knowingly violate your age policy. Therefore, by having guests check-in in person during high risk time periods and diligent observation of the activity at the vacation rental during various times of the day and evening can tell you a great deal about what might be occurring inside the vacation rental.”
Regardless of every other step taken to ensure a successful renting scenario, it’s crucial that owners take the proper action to understand the law beforehand if he or she is planning on renting. “While management companies can provide helpful services, the owner of the property should clearly understand his or her rights and responsibilities as to the property under the laws of the state in which it is located,” Blankenship said. “Taking an ‘eyes wide open’ approach should be the norm for any investment of this sort. Any owner or prospective purchaser who may be interested in renting the property should consult an attorney in advance. We cannot stress this point enough, the need for proper planning.”
Tips For Avoiding An Eviction
While most rentals will never result in an eviction, the best way to handle the situation is to never let it get that far. Many times, if the owner follows simple preventative measures and monitors the property appropriately when rented, problems that lead to eviction can be stopped before they get started. “Just because you can evict someone doesn’t mean you should,” McDaniel said. “Most of the time, when rule infractions or a noise complaint comes in, the situation can be easily remedied with a call or visit to the guest. Most people don’t have an issue with rule compliance and are willing to cooperate once warned and advised that continued infractions can and will result in their eviction.”
Owners should analyze each situation for what it is, as a small family playing a radio too loudly on the balcony is much different than a rental being full of underage teens that are drinking. “All too often owners and managers can get over zealous in their response or be too soft,” McDaniel said. “It is always a good idea to take the time to think things through.”
And when thinking it through, it’s also important to not rely on the opinions or assumptions made by others outside the situation about what is going on, said Zak. “Stick to your rental agreement and to the facts,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the neighbor says they did. What did you witness them doing?”
While evictions can’t always be avoided, by having defined guidelines in place and consistently following them, owners can be best prepared when the situation does arise. “The best advice I can give is to be proactive in preventing evictions, be prepared in the event you need to do an eviction, remain calm and think things through before reacting,” McDaniel said. “Don’t get over zealous during the process.”