Take a business model approach to renting out units

Question: I own three apartments and allowed a young woman to move in without giving me a security deposit or the first month’s rent. I felt sorry for her because she told me that she had just left an abusive relationship. For the first couple of months she was late with the rent but she eventually caught up. In the last several months she has not paid at all. Every time I ask her for the rent, she promises to pay but doesn’t. Lately she just ducks me altogether. What can I do?

Answer: You need to apply a business model approach to your decision to rent to new tenants. In this case it appears that you allowed your sympathies to overrule your business sense. A business approach means screening tenants in advance to ensure their financial capacity to pay rent and collecting the first month’s rent and the maximum security deposit of two month’s additional rent before allowing a move-in. Market conditions may not permit you to impose strict financial obligations, but whenever possible you should require them. A tenant who is unable to meet these initial financial requirements is a strong candidate to leave you in the situation you are currently experiencing.

Now you need to take action to remedy this mistake, which will probably mean pursuing the eviction process to remove this tenant. Since you didn’t collect a full security deposit, you have no tenant funds for the rent that hasn’t been paid. If you delay further because of new promises or excuses, your ultimate losses will mount. You should bite the bullet now and start the process.

The eviction process begins with serving a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. There are very specific requirements for the content and service of a proper three-day notice. If the tenant fails to pay the full rent due or fails to vacate, you will need to file a lawsuit in the Superior Court called an unlawful detainer. We recommend you hire an attorney who specializes in eviction cases before you even serve the three-day notice. The attorney will charge a fee to complete the eviction, but the case is more likely to be completed correctly and quickly.


Inexperienced landlords who try to process unlawful detainer actions without an attorney often make a mistake that results in the case being dismissed. They lose their court filing fees and additional rent, and are forced to start the process over.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to