Steps to Take When a Tenant Doesn't Follow the Terms of Their Lease Agreement - Article Banner

As a landlord, you expect your tenants to comply with the lease agreement that has been negotiated and signed by all parties. You likely screened your tenants carefully, looking for residents who could be trusted to respect the lease and follow all the rules, requirements, and responsibilities listed in it. 

The lease is designed to protect you and your property. It’s also supposed to protect your tenants. If it’s not consistently enforced, you run the risk of a chaotic tenancy. That’s not good for anyone, and it’s not good for your property. 

When you approve your tenant and agree to a move-in date, you’ll discuss and sign the lease agreement. This is an important opportunity to highlight the most important parts of that document. You can spend some time talking about rent collection, maintenance reporting, and rules around pets and smoking, and guests. If your rental property in Santa Rosa is part of an HOA, you’ll want to include those rules and regulations as an addendum. 

Be willing to answer any questions your tenant has about the lease. These are not always fun documents to read, but encourage your new tenants to spend some time with the lease. Everyone needs to understand what it includes so there can be no claims of ignorance if something goes wrong and you need to enforce the lease and hold your tenants accountable. 

With a well-screened tenant and a solid tenant relationship, you can expect no trouble. 

But, people can sometimes be unpredictable depending on what’s going on in their lives. What if you have a resident who does violate the terms of the lease? How can you bring them into compliance? At what point do you have to evict? 

We’re exploring those questions in this blog, where we’ll share some steps to take when a tenant doesn’t follow the terms of their lease agreement

Common Types of Lease Violations with Santa Rosa Rental Properties 

There’s a lot of information in a lease agreement and a number of different ways that tenants can fall out of compliance. Here are some of the more common lease violations that you’ll have to watch for as a rental property owner:

  • Pets. We always encourage owners to provide pet-friendly property, but maybe you have a strict no-pet policy. Or, perhaps you do allow pets but the tenant currently in place claimed not to have pets, and then you discover a Pit Bull living there. Unauthorized pets are often the most common lease violation and fortunately, it can be an easy one to remedy.
  • Parking. If you rent out a multi-family unit or you have several units in a small apartment building, parking is usually at a premium. Maybe you have tenants parking where they should not be parking or taking the spots that are designated for other tenants. 
  • Long-term guests. When does a guest become a resident? You should expect your tenants to welcome guests into their homes from time to time. It’s not uncommon for close friends or family members to stay for a week or two. But, when the same guests seem to be moving in boxes or taking up permanent residence, you’ll need to take action. Guests should be temporary. Residents need to be screened and added to the lease agreement. 
  • Subletting. Your lease likely prohibits your tenant from subletting your property without permission and authorization. You might find they’re renting out a bedroom on Airbnb or a similar site. 
  • Unpaid rent. We don’t have to tell you what an inconvenience this is. When rent is late, or unpaid, or the payment is returned for insufficient funds, your tenants are violating the lease agreement.
  • Lease breaks. Sometimes, a tenant will move out before the end of the lease term, leaving you with a vacant property and a rush to find new tenants so you can mitigate the lost rent and long vacancy.
  • Property damage. Your lease requires tenants to pay for the damage they cause to your property.

These are common lease violations, but they aren’t the only lease violations. While prevention is really what we’re after when it comes to keeping tenants in compliance with their lease agreement, you’ll need to know how to handle any of these potential violations or others. 

Step 1: Communicate with your Santa Rosa Tenants 

Lease enforcement is a lot easier when you have a good relationship with your tenants already. 

All good relationships, of course, require excellent communication. Make sure you’re open, transparent, and accessible when it comes to communicating with your renters. If they cannot get in touch with you or you’re not responsive to their questions or calls, they might be more likely to violate your lease agreement simply because they could not get the answers they were looking for.

When you discover or suspect a lease violation, the first thing you want to do is get in touch with your tenants. Calling them is always an option, and it’s a good one, but you need to have something in writing as well. Send an email or a letter regarding the issue, and ask them about their plans to rectify the problem. This might lead to a proposed meeting or a conversation, but you want to have it documented that the lease violation has been noted and that steps will be put in place to bring your tenant back into compliance. 

Communication is the essential first step when you’re dealing with a lease violation.

Step 2: Serve a Notice

California’s tenant protections require just cause for you to evict a tenant. Lease violations meet the just cause requirement. After you’ve spoken or communicated with your tenant, maybe the problem will be immediately solved. It could be as simple as an oversight or a misunderstanding. 

If that doesn’t happen, you’ll need to serve the appropriate notice.

  • Fixable Lease Violations

When the tenant does not follow the lease agreement in a way that’s fixable, you will want to serve a Three Day Notice to Cure. This is the appropriate notice for the tenant who has an unauthorized dog, for example. Your tenant, once receiving the notice, will have three days to take care of the problem. If the lease violation is corrected, the problem has been solved. If the tenant does not have any intention of coming into compliance, they will be expected to vacate your property within those three days. 

Perhaps the tenant will move out within those three days. In that case, you cannot file an eviction against your tenant. But, you can sue your tenant for any rent that’s owed or for any damages that occurred to the property (after the security deposit has been applied). 

When three business days pass and the tenant does not move out of the property or fix the problem, you are clear to move on to an eviction. 

  • Unfixable Lease Violations

Let’s suppose the tenant ignores some essential part of the lease agreement and the violation is so egregious that it cannot be fixed. That will require a different notice. 

When a lease violation cannot be corrected, you will serve the tenant an Unconditional Three Day Notice to Quit. These types of lease violations would be when a rental unit is sublet unlawfully or there’s illegal activity happening at your property.

The notice informs the tenant that they are required to move out of your rental property within three days of receiving your notice. You aren’t giving your tenant the opportunity to fix the violation. If your tenant does not move out within those three days, you will have to file a lawsuit for eviction in court. 

Step 3: File an Eviction Lawsuit

When the lease violation is not cured and the tenant does not move out, you’ll have to end the tenancy through the eviction process.

The unlawful detainer lawsuit needs to be filed in Superior Court. You’ll fill out the Summons and Complaint as well as additional paperwork. You’ll pay the filing fee, which is likely to be a few hundred dollars, and then the eviction paperwork will be served on the tenant. 

The tenant will have an opportunity to respond, and if there is no response, you can ask for a default judgment. If the tenant does respond to the lawsuit, a trial date will be set. 

Enforcing Your Santa Rosa Lease Agreement

Lease enforcement can prevent lease violations.

Conduct a maintenance walk-through at least once a year, with advance notice. This will give you an opportunity to look for potential issues. If you find one, have a quick chat with your tenant about it. Maybe that’s all it takes.

After your discussion, put the highlights in writing. Document the lease violation you found and include what you and the tenant decided to do about it. If necessary, send a copy of the lease language that pertains to the issue at hand. Ask your tenant to take the required actions in order to be in compliance. This non-confrontational type of correspondence can resolve the issue easily, without any conflict or escalation. 

Contact Property ManagerIf you’d like some help and guidance regarding lease enforcement and violations, please contact us at Prestige Real Estate & Property Management. We manage homes in Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sebastopol, Petaluma, and Rohnert Park.