What happens when you serve a notice of unlawful detainer on a non-paying tenant and find out, to your dismay, that there are other people living there that aren't on the lease? It might be the actual tenant's boyfriend or girlfriend, or just someone that your tenant found on a Craigslist ad to split the rent. Unfortunately, this can complicate your situation. Here's what you should know.
If the non-tenants refuse to leave, you can't throw them out.
This is a problem that many landlords find disturbing, but the people who have moved into your property without permission can't just be moved back out again without their permission. If you take any "self-help" eviction measure against them, like turning off the heat, shutting off the water, or putting their possessions out on the curb, you could actually be arrested and charged with trespassing on your own property. Threaten them, and you could end up charged with assault if they claim that you put them in fear of bodily harm.
Courts also frown on "self-help" evictions and may turn around and award the non-tenants damages for any ruined or lost property in addition to an extended period of free rent while they find another place to live. You can also be fined for the illegal eviction and penalized according to the laws in your state.
Start the legal eviction process against the non-tenants.
The exact process of eviction varies from state to state, but you follow the same steps with a non-tenant (or "squatters") as you do with the legal tenant. What's most important to remember is that you can't just include the non-tenants into your action against your legal tenant. Non-tenants have to have a separate eviction notice and a separate court proceeding because they aren't named in the original legal action. They have to be notified and given their proper due process the same as your legal tenant.
It's also important to carefully document your encounters with the non-tenants. Find out the exact laws in your state about recording phone calls and conversations. If it's legal in your state, use your cell phone to record all your face-to-face interactions with the non-tenants. This not only protects you from false allegations of illegal eviction (or claims that you were threatening or abusive), it also helps the court gauge how much actual notice the non-tenants have had of the eviction. That could diminish the non-tenants' ability to claim that an abrupt eviction is a hardship and play on the court's sympathies to gain more rent-free time in your property.
Because of the complexities that can be involved with evictions, you may want to consult a real estate attorney, like Steve Butcher Sr, to help you deal with the issues. That way, you know that you're staying on the right side of the law.