You vetted the tenant –as carefully as possible.
You pulled credit reports, did a background check, verified their job, and called their previous landlords to make sure everything checked out.
At first, they may have been an ideal tenant; paying the rent on time, and rarely causing problems.
But somewhere along the way, something changed and a tenant that was once considered qualified –is no longer abiding by the terms of the lease.
In most cases, this violation comes in the form of late rent. Maybe they’re having trouble paying due to a job loss that results in a sudden loss of income, or income being cut in half due to a divorce. Other times, lease violations involve a tenant moving a new roommate in, without seeking permission first; or even adopting an undisclosed pet or two, and bringing them into your ‘no pets’ rental. Sometimes, there may be more serious issues involved; such as drug-related activity or criminal activity.
The fact is that even the most carefully vetted tenant, can sometimes slip through the cracks. And things come up that can transform even the most ideal renter into one who’s in violation of the lease.
No matter what the issue is, for landlords, it’s extremely important to ensure that you take action as soon as possible, to help prevent the problem from compounding or getting worse. Once a tenant falls too far behind on the rent, it can be all but impossible for them to get caught up. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but for many landlords who depend on rental income, a tenant who falls one month –or longer behind on the rent, can represent a serious loss.
For tenants who may be violating the lease in other ways, such as moving pets in without permission, taking action to address the issue sends the message that you care about your rental, and expect all of the residents to abide by the rules. Letting things “just slide” for too long can lead to complacency and the start of a downward spiral.
If you’ve reached the point of no return, where a tenant who is in violation of the lease isn’t complying with your warnings, the next step is usually to begin the eviction proceedings.
Notice of Termination With Cause
For a landlord to evict a tenant in Colorado before the tenant’s rental term has expired, they must have a legal cause. Colorado law defines legal cause as:
- Failing to pay rent
- Violating the lease
- Committing a serious act, such as a crime
The first step in this process involves giving the tenant a 3-day notice. This notice states your intention to evict the tenant and informs them that they have three days to fix the lease violation or vacate the property.
Once they’ve received the 3-day notice, the tenant usually has two options:
- To pay rent, or remedy or, ‘cure’ the violation, or
- Move out.
The tenant has three days to correct the problem or move, and if they fail to do so, then you may begin the eviction procedures through the court. This process can be initiated on the 4th day after the tenant receives the notice.
The Formal Eviction Procedure
If the 3-day notice doesn’t result in the tenant paying the rent, or ‘curing’ the violation –or moving out, you can then proceed with the formal eviction procedure.
This involves filling out a few forms including JDF 99, or, Complaint in Forcible Entry and Detainer, plus a CRCCP Form 1A –Summons in Forcible Entry and Unlawful Detainer, and a CRCCP Form 3 –Answer Under Simplified Civil Procedure.
Once you’ve filed the complaint with the court, you have one day to mail a copy of all of the forms to the tenants. Do this via first class mail with prepaid postage.
Next, the court clerk will schedule a hearing. This is usually between 7 and 14 days from the date that the summons is issued. However, the tenants must be given at least 7 days between the date they are formally served and the court date itself.
The summons can be issued by the sheriff’s department or a private process server –or by another adult who isn’t involved in the eviction. If the tenants cannot be served in person, the papers can be posted on the door of the rental.
After the tenants have been served, they must show up in court, or file a counterclaim to the allegations in your complaint. If you’ve filed everything correctly and the tenants do not make a counterclaim, you may receive a summary judgment in your favor.
If the Tenant Contests the Eviction
If they feel they have legal grounds, a tenant may try to contest the eviction. They could do this by filing an answer on or before the time set by the court.
Some common legal defenses that a tenant may use include claims that you failed to maintain the rental unit, or that you are retaliating against them. Fighting an eviction could increase the amount of time that the tenant is able to stay at the rental property.
If the tenant files an answer with the Justice Court, then a hearing will be scheduled. A notice of the hearing date will be mailed to all parties.
However, if the tenant fails to answer or appear on the date indicated in the eviction papers, you can obtain an eviction “Order” by default.
If the Tenant Does Not Contest the Eviction
If the judge makes a decision in your favor, you can then file for possession of the property. To do this, you’ll want to complete the Motion for Entry of Judgment (JDF 104). After reviewing it, the court will give you a signed copy of the Order for Entry of Judgment (JDF 107).
Next, the countdown begins. The tenant will have 48 hours from the date of the judgment to vacate the unit. If they don’t, then you can then complete the Writ of Restitution (JDF 103) and present it to the court.
Once the judge approves it, they’ll contact the sheriff’s department to execute it; that is, to remove the tenant.
Removal of the Tenant: What Happens if a Tenant Refuses to Leave?
If the tenant hasn’t vacated the premises, then the actual eviction will take place.
You’ll receive a time and date from the court or sheriff’s department, stating when they will arrive to execute the writ.
You can then arrange to have the tenant’s personal property removed from the rental at the date and time that you received from the court. This is generally done with the help of a local moving company. You will have one hour to remove the tenant’s belongings, so make sure you will have enough manpower available to remove everything during this time.
On the day of the eviction, the sheriff will serve the Order to the tenant and then will remain on site.
In some jurisdictions, such as El Paso County, the Sheriff will generally “Pre-Serve” the tenant by posting a notice letting the tenant know they will be back to take possession. This is done to encourage the tenant to leave instead of waiting for the eviction itself to take place.
Keep in mind that the only person who is authorized to remove a tenant from the rental unit is a law enforcement officer. A landlord must never try to force the tenant out of the unit. If you attempt to, the tenant could take legal action against you.
Neither the sheriff nor the landlord has any responsibility to safeguard the tenant’s property once it is removed. If you find that a tenant has left behind personal belongings, you aren’t required to contact the tenant before disposing of them. However, if you do decide to store them for the tenant, you can charge storage.
After the Eviction
Once the tenant has been evicted; the landlord or property manager can take steps to get the property ready to rent again.
In most cases, the first step is getting the property re-keyed.
At this point, the cleaning and repairs can commence as well. This involves a walk-through inspection of the unit, taking note of any damage that the tenant caused.
You also process the security deposit that you obtained from the tenant when they first moved in. If there is any back rent owed or damage to the rental, you can apply the security deposit to this, and send the remainder to the tenant. Keep in mind that general wear and tear is not the tenant’s responsibility, and cannot be taken out of their security deposit.
If additional back rent or money is still owed, even after the security deposit has been applied, you can start the process of seeking this as well.
While evictions can be a stressful and often-confusing time, it’s important for landlords to ensure that they follow the law to the letter. Complying with the law will help the eviction proceedings to go much more smoothly. If you were to attempt to take the law into your own hands at any point, or neglect to send out the right form, a tenant could have a reason to contest the eviction, and the judge could end up throwing your case out. In this case, you may have to start the proceedings again.
Evictions are never pleasant but they do get easier over time. Once you have a clear understanding of the law and know the steps that are required, it’ll be a lot easier to navigate the process and ensure that you do so in a way that’s in compliance with the law.
If you’re not sure where to start, you could always consult with an experienced attorney, to make sure you’re clear on what’s required of you, and what steps you should take.
Note: The information in this article is intended to inform and educate, it should not be taken as a substitute for legal counsel. If you have any questions about the eviction process or your rights as a landlord please contact an attorney.