Home Crime Homeowners Should Know the Rules Before Renting

Homeowners Should Know the Rules Before Renting

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Houston County Precinct One Constable Morris Luker

By Greg Ritchie

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY –  As American as baseball and apple pie, the dream of buying and owning a home is a lifelong goal for most. Having a home to rent out for extra income is a strategy taken by many – especially retirees. This is usually a “win-win” situation, where someone who is saving to buy a home can live in a nice house, and the homeowner can make enough income to pay for minor improvements and property taxes.

What to do when the dream turns sour? When the renters break the rules or just do not pay? Some have found out the hard way that knowing how the system works can save them a lot of trouble.

First of all, sign a written lease. Even with people you have known “forever” – a written document makes things clear to both parties. In case one side breaks the deal, at least there is a written deal to refer to. There is an old saying, “Clear accounting leads to long friendships.”

Next, do not try to evict the renter yourself. There are cases where people have confronted the delinquent renters, or worse – turned off the water or electricity or other methods. A lease is a two way street, and a judge could order you to reinstate those services until an official eviction notice can be served.

Morris Luker is the Constable for Precinct One in Houston County. Luker must follow all court procedures and mandates before any eviction order can be carried out. He is called out to process eviction orders. It all starts with a lease violation.

“Maybe the renters don’t pay the rent, habitually pay it late, they don’t pay late charges if included in the lease agreement, they have people or pets living there not included in the lease, they do not keep the residence clean and orderly, in some agreements there might be too many calls from neighbors complaining, too many times that law enforcement has to show up – these are all potential causes of a breach of a lease agreement,” Luker explained.

The homeowner must then send a letter to the renter giving them three days after receipt to rectify the problem. Luker recommends a certified letter, since this can be shown to have been delivered successfully. In civil court, a judge looks at the preponderance of the evidence. Being able to document steps taken – agreements made or broken – will strengthen a case for eviction.

After the renter receives the letter and has not remedied the situation after three days, the eviction process can then begin. The homeowner would come to the Justice of the Peace for their property district. You must request an eviction packet, fill it out, pay a filing and a service fee and a date will be set to see the judge.

When Constable Luker receives the information, he will make at least three attempts to serve the notice to the renter.

“I usually go before 8 a.m., once around mid-day, and once after 5 p.m., on different days to try and find someone,” Luker noted. “We document everything – if no one was home – or if there appeared to be someone home but no one came to the door. We turn this all in to the court.”

If there is no response, the court will issue a writ of possession. The writ directs the constable to seize or take control of the premises subject to the order and return it to the landlord’s possession. In the meantime, the homeowner should stay away from the property and the tenants since this is now under control of the court. The only expeditions to this would be an emergency or fire at the property.

When the constable comes, they will open the property – by force if necessary – and remove not only any occupants but any belongings as well. They are ordered by the court to remove or “set out” everything to a place next to the street. Only the constables or the tenants may do this and it is not optional. Only rain or snow can delay this. The constable only has three options to report back to the court.

“The tenants voluntarily moved upon our arrival, we supervised the set out or we performed the set out ourselves,” Luker said.

This can be a dangerous job and there have been shootings of constables trying to remove tenants from properties. This is why Luker insists landlords let the courts help and do it by the book.

Renters too have protections. Should the landlord not repair or replace damaged items in the home, a renter can also go to the Justice of the Peace in order to request an order that the homeowner do so. If a renter is locked out of a property unjustly there is a writ of reentry.

Most rental agreements proceed without problems, other than some dog hairs or ring around the bath. It can be difficult to know who you are renting to – or from – so having a clear written lease and a good understanding between the two parties is crucial.

Greg Ritchie can be reached at greg@messenger-news.com

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