There are many reasons that you may need a tenant to vacate a rental property, “cash for keys” may be a viable option if that tenant is reluctant to go. The pandemic has changed the world for everyone in many ways. A landlord may be facing a situation where they need a tenant to vacate a rental property due to circumstances that are beyond their control. Alternatively, you may find yourself with a problem tenant that hasn’t been paying the rent or has overstayed their lease regardless of the negative impact of Covid-19.

Here are just a few of many reasons you may need a tenant to leave:

  • You have decided to sell the property
  • You intend to move into the property yourself
  • You have another family member who needs to live in your rental
  • You have just purchased the property and need to remove the current occupants
  • The tenant is behind in rent payments
  • The tenant has violated the terms of the rental agreement
  • The tenant has not been maintaining the property

Removing a Good Tenant

If you have decided that you need to reclaim a rental property for personal reasons such as to sell it or to occupy the property yourself, it can be difficult to ask the current tenant to leave. It’s especially difficult if the tenant is taking good care of the property and is current on their rent payments. If they have been occupying the rental for a few years or longer, they may be reluctant to go.

Removing a Problem Tenant

If your tenant has somehow violated the terms of their rental agreement, for instance by keeping a dog when the lease clearly states, “no pets”, then you are well within your rights to start eviction proceedings. This is especially true if the occupant has somehow damaged the property. A formal eviction can also apply to tenants who are significantly behind on their rent. However, the current eviction moratorium imposed by the pandemic will certainly impact how soon you can start the eviction process.

The Eviction Process

The eviction process is complicated and can take many weeks. It’s expensive as well, but it might be necessary if you are in a situation where you need to protect your property and rights as a landlord.

Eviction laws vary by state, but the procedure generally starts by providing formal notice to the tenant. In the case of a tenant who has not been paying rent or has damaged the property, the notices are referred to as “Pay or Quit” and “Pay or Cure” notifications. These notices include a specific deadline by which the tenant can fix the problem. If they fail to do so, then they are required to vacate the property.

If the tenant still won’t move out, the next step for the landlord is to file an eviction action with the local courthouse. The court will set a hearing date at which the landlord can appear and argue their eviction case. If the landlord wins the judgment, they have the authority to hire law enforcement to forcibly remove the tenant.

Cash for Keys

Understandably, most landlords would prefer to avoid the hassle of going through an eviction proceeding. Especially if you are dealing with problem tenants and you would prefer to be rid of them sooner than later.

It’s good to keep in mind that in our current pandemic environment, many people have lost their income and are struggling financially. Your current tenant may have few alternative rental options and no funds for a security deposit elsewhere. Cash for keys may be the best remedy for both of you.

The cash for keys method is a quicker alternative to reclaiming your property and it’s legal in 50 states. With cash for keys, you are offering the current tenant a financial incentive (cash) to pack up and leave. It may seem crazy to give money to a tenant who most likely owes you money, but in many cases, it’s cheaper than the eviction route, especially when you consider the lost revenue from your ongoing situation.

If you’re successful at having the tenant vacate the property by offering them cash, you can still recover past due rent or property damage fees from their security deposit. If you intend to find a more reliable tenant for your rental, the sooner you get the current tenant out, the quicker the property becomes profitable again.

How Cash for Keys Works

There are a few steps to follow if you choose the cash for keys technique. First, you want to approach the tenant to discuss your intention to file eviction proceedings because they are violating the terms of the lease by refusing to vacate. Even though you are hoping to avoid eviction you need to make your intentions clear, so the tenant understands that you are serious about removing them.

Make sure that you also spell out any remedies to avoid eviction, such as a deadline for receiving all delinquent rent payments. It’s also a good idea to share with the tenant the additional consequences of being evicted. A formal eviction with the court stays on the tenant’s public record for a minimum of 5 to 7 years in most states. As such, an eviction can make it harder for the tenant to find another place to live.

Next, you can make your cash for keys offer. Explain to the tenant that if they move out of the property by a certain date, and they hand over the keys to you at that time then you will give them a specific amount of cash. Let them know that if they agree to accept the cash, they will be required to sign a Cash for Keys Agreement so there is no confusion about the terms under which they receive the money. Typically, the offer for money will include specific provisions regarding the condition that the property must be left in.

Cash for Keys Agreement

The Cash for Keys Agreement (sometimes called a Cash for Keys letter) should include the date that both you and the tenant agreed to cash for keys and the date by which the tenant must vacate the property. It should state the amount of money the tenant will receive and in what form it will be paid. For instance, are you offering a lump sum on the move-out day or multiple payments?

Additionally, you should include specific terms regarding the final condition of the property to receive payment. This would include terms such as having the place cleaned before move-out. The agreement should include a final walk-through date with the tenant. Make sure to specify the tenant will not receive any of the funds until after the walkthrough at which time the keys are turned over to you.

Finally, it’s important to have a clause in the Cash for Keys Agreement that says if the tenant violates any of the terms, you will move forward with eviction proceedings. And both the landlord and tenant need to sign the agreement or letter.

Cash for Keys Offer Amount

One of the trickier parts of the cash for keys process is figuring out how much money to offer. It’s a good idea to start with a figure that’s not too low. If you do so, you are far less likely to be successful and you don’t want to spend the next few weeks haggling. Also, don’t allow the tenant much room for negotiation.

A common method for figuring out how much money is reasonable would be to start with 2 weeks rent then add 2 more weeks if necessary. Some tenants request some, or all of their deposit money back as well, but that’s completely at the discretion of the landlord. Some landlords choose to offer the exact amount that it would cost to pursue eviction reasoning that they are still ahead financially by getting the tenant out sooner.

If you are struggling to figure out how much to offer, you can always try researching local landlord Community Forums (Facebook or Reddit) to ask how much other landlords have offered successfully.

3 Things to Avoid with Cash for Keys

  • Don’t let the tenant take the lead in negotiating a cash for keys agreement. Landlords should stand firm when offering to pay the tenant to leave but should also recognize that you sometimes need to find a middle ground. This is especially important when there are extenuating circumstances like prolonged unemployment.
  • Don’t try to bully or harass the tenant into accepting a cash for keys agreement, or for any other reason. Your rental situation may be frustrating, but it’s important to keep negotiations calm and legal.
  • Don’t violate a tenant’s rights by threatening tactics such as changing the locks, cutting off utilities, or doing anything else that would be construed as malicious.

Before pursuing cash for keys or any other method to reclaim your rental, it’s best to familiarize yourself with local eviction laws and current Covid related restrictions. If the cash for keys technique is successful, be sure to have the locks changed immediately after your final walk-through with the tenant. When paying the tenant, it’s always best to pay with a check, or mobile payment so that you have a record of the transaction.

The Take-Away

There may be many reasons that a landlord needs a tenant to vacate a rental property. Some tenants may be reluctant to leave or have limited options in finding other places to go. If the tenant is behind in rent payments or is having financial difficulties cash for keys might be a good way to get a non-paying renter out of a housing unit during the eviction moratorium.

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