Evictions are never easy on investors—even less so during a crisis. From a perspective of compassion, no one wants to put someone out of their home—or be removed from a place you call home simply due to the difficulties of a pandemic. This makes understanding evictions from the perspective of D.C. property management crucial during this time—especially when you may not be able to use eviction to protect your investments.
Knowing how to handle the status of evictions in the District of Columbia protects you from making costly mistakes and gives your renters a chance to recover, refocus their efforts, and turn a potentially dire situation around. Currently, the temporary moratorium on evictions enacted by the D.C. Council and through the public health emergency declaration by Mayor Bowser remains in effect. When it does lift, you can expect that any attempt to evict your renters will result in tremendous delays as the courts find themselves bogged down by a backlog of pending cases.
With these extensive delays and restrictions in mind, finding successful alternatives during a time when you find yourself unable to evict is crucial to the continued success of your portfolio as an investor. Creativity in your approach (within the law) may also spare your otherwise reliable renters who find their finances cut short through no fault of their own due to COVID-19. Consider these alternatives gathered through our service to the community as D.C. property management professionals and leave eviction as a last resort.
Please note: This post is not a substitute for proper legal counsel and contains information that was current at the time of its publishing. When in doubt, it's best to reach out to the professionals at EJF Real Estate Services or to obtain guidance from a skilled attorney.
Every Solution Should Be in Writing
If you read our prior article on evictions during a crisis, you know you should be continuing to document infractions or violations that might result in eviction once the courts reopen and can see your case so that you have supporting evidence. You also know that offering and working on payment plans with your residents is mandatory under the guidelines set forth by the D.C. Council.
With these two elements in mind, we urge you strongly to document any payment plan terms you have agreed upon with your renters be cataloged in writing and officially added to your lease agreement as an addendum. This not only protects your renters by ensuring they have an opportunity to recover and repay you what they owe, but it also protects you as the property owner should such a plan go awry.
A payment plan should be a potential inclusion in any crisis plan you draft as an investor moving forward, as they are likely to become a standard during any future public health emergency.
Consider ‘Cash for Keys’ as an Alternative
If a payment plan is not producing the results you were hoping for as an investor—or your renters have neglected to take you up on such an offer—an alternative worth considering is the oft-maligned ‘Cash for Keys.’
‘Cash for Keys’ was originally a bi-product of the housing crisis of 2008. Lenders found themselves in a crunch as the very homeowners they foreclosed on began to act by venting their frustration through vandalism before being forced from the premises. To limit or forego such damages entirely, bankers and their on-the-ground asset managers began offering foreclosed-upon homeowners an ‘out’: if they left the property in good condition, they would receive a cash settlement to relocate.
The premise is still similar for your renters: if they agree to leave the property in good, rentable condition, they will receive a cash settlement in exchange and be able to leave your property, effectively breaking the lease and saving you the trouble of eviction court later. Just as with the payment plans we mentioned above, this option should always be officialized and put in writing.
Work With Property Management Professionals
Working with the right D.C. property management professionals ensures you have a competent aid to handle the logistics of eviction should it become essential. However, they can also tackle the precursor work for you that might make such measures unnecessary.
Property managers are excellent communicators: they make it their business to work with renters to spare you the hands-on trouble of investing. They know how to navigate options like ‘Cash for Keys’ and payment plans with greater success than many solo investors do. In addition, they have a keen understanding of rental property law in the district, saving you the stress or expense of additional legal counsel.
Taking the Right Course of Action
If you choose not to work with a property manager, we strongly urge you to find a skilled and capable attorney to assist you in proceeding forward with every action. Whether this is an addition to your lease that is legally binding (such as a payment plan) or the decision to pursue eviction, property owners can benefit from the insight of qualified legal counsel.
That said, we urge you to begin working with your renters on payment plans before you decide to pursue more drastic measures. You can find insight into how to approach this using our free Collecting Rent in a Crisis Handbook to get started.