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A TENANT’S GUIDE TO LANDLORDS’ THINKING ABOUT EVICTIONS

OK, you need a place to live. Someone else - a landlord - might be willing to rent to you. You will need to find such a person, reach an agreement, pay the money, and sign a lease. Then you can move in.

You should realize that renting (apartment, duplex, or single-family house) rooms for other people to live in is the landlord’s business. He or she needs to make money from that business. Therefore, with the exception of a few bad actors in the crowd, the landlord is not out to cheat you or abuse you. All that person wants is for you to live up to your end of the bargain, pay the rent on time, and respect the property and other tenants. Landlords are people. Treat them decently and, most likely, they will do the same to you.

Basically, what you will be doing, if you rent an apartment or rooms in a rented house, is enter into a contract. A contract is a written two-way agreement. You as tenant have certain rights and responsibilities. The landlord has certain rights and responsibilities. If either of you violates the terms of this agreement, the other party can cancel it. The agreement will then be ended. That may be done in court or, perhaps, when you move out voluntarily.

Landlords’ needs and wants are quite simple: They want to be paid the rent that you have agreed to pay for occupying property that they own. Preferably, they want to be paid on time and in the full amount owed. They, of course, want you to treat the rented room(s) as if it were your home, which, of course, it is.

Landlords want you to keep the place clean, keep the equipment in working order, and not do any damage. They don’t want unsanitary conditions that invite insects or mice. They don’t want more people living in your unit than what appears on the lease. They don’t want frequent “visitors” who are, in effect, living in the building without permission. Landlords want you to have peaceful and friendly relations with other tenants and, of course, with themselves. That means good communications and an attitude of mutual respect and goodwill. Above all, landlords want to keep crime out of their buildings. They don’t want drug dealing, alcohol abuse, dangerous weapons, excessive noise and disruption, or violence in the buildings. They owe it to the other tenants, if not to you, to evict you if you or your guests are engaging in these destructive activities.

Generally it’s much better for you as a tenant to try to settle your differences with the landlord by talking with him or her (or with the caretaker or resident manager) to see if you can come to some sort of agreement. Whatever the lease says, the landlord can voluntarily decline to enforce his right to evict you for a lease violation if he (or she) thinks this is in his own best interest and feels that you are making a good-faith effort on your end.

It is not in the landlord’s interest to take you to court. Remember, the landlord has to pay a $135 filing fee (now $252) to the housing court, pay attorneys, spend the time to show up for the hearing, and then, if successful in court, go through the long and expensive process of removing you and your possessions from the premises, cleaning up after you, and preparing the rooms for someone else to occupy. This is a big hassle and it costs lots of money.

The landlord will go through this process if necessary but really wants to avoid it. From your standpoint, going to court could mean that you get evicted - and you would then have a UD (unlawful detainer) on your record, which would make it more difficult in the future for you to find another landlord willing to rent to you.

Many landlords will put you on a month-to-month lease. That means that the term of the lease is for one month. It is automatically renewed unless either party notifies the other party in writing that he or she does not wish to renew the lease at least thirty days in advance. Neither you nor the landlord needs to give any reason for not renewing the lease. Its cancellation will stand up in court under contract law.

Under such a situation, if the tenant moves out before the end of that 30-day period, everything will be OK. There will be no need for the landlord to go to court to evict you. You will not get a UD. You will simply move on. From the landlords’ perspective - and from yours - that is a much better way to handle the situation than going to court.

If your are living in an unsatisfactory situation in rental property, the best strategy for you (in order of best to worst) is:

(1) Try to work things out with your landlord. This means listening to the landlord (or caretaker or resident manager) to see what is bothering him. There may have to be some give-and-take on both sides. But, remember, the lease agreement generally governs what should be done.

(2) Look for another place to live while you still legally occupy the premises. First, you will be under less pressure to find another place fast and will be less desperate to accept whatever is offered. Second, future landlords will be more impressed with you if you are not leaving under pressure. Third, if your present landlord really does want to get rid of you, he will be more willing to shade the truth to give you a good recommendation to other landlords if you are still in the apartment. (If the other landlord accepts you, you will be gone more quickly from his building.)

(3) Move promptly when time is up under your 30-day lease if the landlord has cancelled it. Again, you will avoid a possibly disastrous court experience and part on relatively good terms with your landlord (which is important for future recommendations).

(4) Go to court and take your chances on trying to remain in the apartment. But remember, even if you are successful, the landlord could later evict you (giving no reason at all) when the term of your lease is up. You won’t be able to resist this any more than the landlord could resist letting you move from his apartment if you are determined to leave.

One thing more: There is no law against a landlord’s accepting tenants who have a UD on their record. Some landlords, especially the large corporate ones, have internal policies against accepting such tenants. But some landlords will be tolerant of tenants’ previous mistakes. The best approach, if you do have a UD on your record, is to be upfront with the new landlord. Before you pay the application fee, ask him if having a UD means that your application will be rejected. If you do apply, tell the landlord that you have the UD (he will discover it anyhow during the screening process.) Explain exactly what happened. Especially if the UD was received some time ago, the landlord may be willing to overlook this fact and give you the apartment anyhow. Landlords will appreciate your honesty, which might actually work in your favor.

Here is how landlords think about UDs: The previous landlord must have taken you to court for some reason. You might not have paid rent, you might have caused trouble in the building, etc. So, this is a sign that you might be an undesirable tenant. And he certainly does not want to rent to such people. But there are often extenuating circumstances or good reasons (not your fault) why these things happen. Landlords, who generally have seen everything, are often forgiving people.

You should understand, however, that they are sometimes under pressure from neighbors and city officials not to admit people with bad rental histories. If they fail to screen properly or take chances on admitting tenants with less-than-perfect records, these landlords run the risk of being called “slumlords” and having their buildings be shut down by the city. So the landlord is taking a real chance when he or she accepts someone with a UD. Some landlords simply refuse to take such a chance and reject everyone with a UD. But, again, others are more tolerant.

Try to find the tolerant landlord - maybe the “ma-and-pa” type of landlord who considers being a landlord as more than a business and who may take chances with people - the type that city officials are trying to run out of business - and deal with that landlord person to person. It is also better to deal with the owner of a building, if possible, because that individual has the authority to make the rules - and bend them, in some cases - where a paid caretaker or manager would be obliged to follow rules that the owner lays down.

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