I got an interesting call from someone who bought a house in a short sale and, now that they’ve closed on the transaction, the former owner is refusing to move out. Welcome to your new home — there’s just the little issue of evicting the guy who’s living there. I bet they didn’t see that coming when they bought the place. (In addition to raising the question of how to evict the tenant, this raises questions of what the buyer knew or was told by the listing agent, and other concerns that are outside the scope of this post.)
So what are they to do? Or if you are a renter and you are faced with eviction, what’s the process?
In Idaho, when a tenant fails to pay rent or otherwise satisfy the terms of the lease, they are said to be in “unlawful detainer” of the property. In a case like this, where the former owner is holding over and has no lease, he still has similar rights to a tenant who does have a lease, so the new owner can’t just, say, call the cops and have them removed. (Plus, that would be kind of a jerk thing to do without any notice at all.) In fact, if the property were purchased at a trustee’s sale as part of a foreclosure, the former residents get a bonus ten days to stick around after the sale before they are said to be in unlawful detainer.
So, the obligation of the new owner is to serve a notice on the former owner that they are in unlawful detainer of the property and giving them three days to move — yes, that’s right, just three days. In Idaho, that’s all the notice you’re entitled to, so make a mental note that if your lease expires or you fail to pay your rent, you can be booted pretty quickly — plan accordingly. That notice can be delivered one of several ways:
- personal delivery;
- by giving a copy to a person of “suitable age and discretion” and sending a copy through the mail; or
- by affixing a copy “in a conspicuous place” on the property and sending a copy through the mail.
Once the three days has passed, the new owner can file a Complaint for Eviction in the county in which the property is located. Unlike most lawsuits (which take years to resolve), the court is required to schedule a trial within twelve days of the date the complaint was filed, so long as the defendants get at least five days’ advanced notice. If the defendants fail to appear or fail to assert a valid defense, then the court will issue a judgment for restitution of the property and for costs and fees (including attorney fees) for the action. This judgment may be enforced immediately, which means the owner can get the county sheriff to go into the property, remove the person and their belongings, and sell those belongings at a sheriff’s sale to pay off the debts of the tenant.
If you are a tenant and you get a notice of eviction, you need to act quickly. From the date you receive your first (and likely only) notice of eviction, the sheriff can be knocking at your door in as little as eight business days. You do NOT want the sheriff to come and take your stuff — they’ll sell all the nice stuff and you’ll get back your junk, but only after a long process when you won’t have access to your tighty-whities. So, if you dispute the reasons for the eviction, you’ll need to get into court and fight, but you need to realize that you could be out on the street if you lose. Otherwise, you will need to either negotiate with your landlord, or get your things packed and out.
As a side note, evictions in Idaho are somewhat more humane than in other jurisdictions. When I did landlord-tenant law in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Marshall’s Service would come to evict people and just hire a group of thugs off the street, go into the apartment, and move the tenant’s belongings out onto the sidewalk. Normally the thugs that did the eviction would take a lot of the stuff, and the rest would get picked up by their neighbors. At least here the sheriff holds the stuff for a while, sells what he needs to, and gives you the rest back. However, lots of jurisdictions have protections for tenants that Idaho law doesn’t have, so pay your rent and comply with your lease, because if you don’t, you’ll probably have an unpleasant visit from the sheriff’s office in your future.