You are a landlord and you’re at the end of your rope with a tenant. You’re tired of bounced checks and late payments. You politely ask your tenant if he might not be happier living somewhere else and he politely tells you to get lost. Or, the tenant promises to move out at the end of the month and then doesn’t. You’ve decided to evict. What now?
If you are like most landlords, you start out in the Yellow Pages or Google searches. A few ads attract your eye but their names don’t sound like law firms. These companies have catchy names like “GetEmOut” or “QwikEvict” and they promise low price evictions, usually for less than two hundred dollars. The price almost sounds too good to be true. Is it?
Before you decide to hire an eviction company, you should understand the limits of the services that they can legally provide. Also, you should be careful to read the fine print in their ads regarding cost. You should first understand that eviction companies are not lawyers. Where they are permitted to exist (in California for example) all that they can legally do is fill out, file, and serve the initial paperwork for the eviction case. Eviction companies cannot represent you in court. Therefore, if the tenant contests the case and a trial is necessary, you’re stuck. You’ll have to represent yourself at trial or hire a lawyer anyway. Obviously, a lawyer an represent you at trial.
Eviction companies cannot give legal advice. This limitation prevents the eviction company from being able to answer your legal questions. A lawyer, on the other hand, can give legal advice and answer all of your legal questions. Moreover, eviction companies tend to operate as high volume eviction mills. Thus, should you hire one, you will likely not enjoy a personal relationship with a professional. Instead, your case will be worked on by an assembly line of non-professionals who are unlikely to even know who you are. Finally, there is no attorney-client privilege protecting communications between you and the eviction company. Thus, unlike when you talk to a lawyer, communications with an eviction company are not protected and confidential.
Regarding cost, you should be wary of the “low cost eviction” that these companies tout in their advertising because it’s a myth. If you read the fine print, you’ll see that the low number in the ad is always followed by the words “plus costs”. Costs in an eviction case for such things as filing fees, service of process, and sheriff’s fees can run another $400.00-$600.00. Thus, don’t be surprised when the “low cost” eviction company asks you for $650.00 to start your case rather than the impossibly low number that it used in its advertising.
An eviction company that advertises “Evictions for $199.00” is misleading you. The simple fact is that evictions cannot be completed for the small amounts that eviction companies put in their advertising. In many jurisdictions, California as an example again, the court’s filing fee alone is more than the dollar amount that eviction companies blaze across their advertising. Don’t be fooled by that low number; it does not include costs. The truth is that, when you add in the costs, an eviction company’s total charge for an eviction will run about the same as what an attorney would charge.
In states that allow eviction companies, you should also know that there are no experience requirements for an eviction company and minimal education requirements. A lawyer, on the other hand, is a licensed member of a profession with educational requirements and an exam necessary for entry. A lawyer is subject to a governing body and rules of ethics and professional responsibility enforced by a state bar. In the end, what do you really know about the eviction company that is advertising on the web? To start an eviction company, one needs to do little more than take a paralegal course, hang out a shingle, and buy some advertising. Can you really trust your investment property to one?
The stakes are high in an eviction case. Remember, if your a landlord and go to trial in an eviction case and lose, you’ll have to start the entire eviction process over again while the tenant continues to live in your property rent-free. Worse, if you go to trial and lose, you could end up having to pay the tenant’s costs and attorney’s fees in addition to all of the rent that you are losing.
In summary, a landlord is better served by hiring a lawyer to handle his eviction rather than an eviction company. The price is roughly the same-within a hundred dollars or so of the eviction company’s charge-but the landlord gets the peace of mind in knowing that his case is being handled by a competent, experienced, professional who can take the case through trial and collection of your judgment. For about the same amount of money, the lawyer can provide far greater services than the limited ones that the eviction company can provide.