If you are a landlord, you will inevitably deal with an eviction. In order to legally evict a tenant, you must follow a strict legal procedure. Many landlords do not have the time or ability to handle eviction proceedings. Depending on the state, the complexity of the claim and court proceedings, an eviction lawyer can cost between $500 and $20,000.
However, depending on your state’s laws and your lease agreements, you may be able to recoup attorney fees and costs at court.
Every eviction claim is different. Some tenants willingly move out of a property. Others may be combative and may cause property damage. Others get their own lawyer and fight the eviction in court. These variations can impact the cost of an eviction proceeding.
Below are some of the factors that cause increased eviction costs:
The Tenant Offers Legal Defenses to Your Eviction.
If an eviction is uncontested, the process should be quick and relatively inexpensive. However, tenants may have defenses to your eviction (such as retaliation, poor housing conditions, or discrimination). Responding to these defenses will take time and effort—resulting in higher attorney fees and costs.
The Tenant Demands a Jury Trial
In many states, a tenant can demand a jury trial in an eviction. Jury trials typically take longer and require more work. Because of this increased complexity, your attorney’s fees and costs may increase.
You Attempted a “Self-Help Eviction.”
Landlords cannot evict tenants without a court order. This is sometimes called a “self-help eviction.” If you ignore your state’s eviction laws and procedures, you may incur additional costs and fees.
You Need to Hire Experts or Specialists.
Sometimes, a landlord (or his or her attorney) may hire experts to explain the severity of property damage or other disputed issues. These experts may charge for their time, leading to increased costs. If depositions (sworn testimony that is transcribed by a court reporter) are needed, hourly attorney fees may also go up.
Your Case is Time Intensive, Resulting in Lots of Billable Hours.
While most eviction cases are simple, some become very complicated. A tenant may offer defenses and counterclaims that result in additional legal research, repeated court hearings, and depositions. If you are facing a prolonged legal battle, the cost of your eviction will be higher.
You Have to Pay A Lot of Filing and Court Fees.
In most states, courts charge fees for:
- Filing a complaint or motion,
- Serving paperwork on defendants, and
- Jury demand fees.
Depending on your state (and the complexity of the eviction), court costs can be modest or very costly.
It is important to understand your lawyer’s fee structure before signing a contract or retainer. Attorney fees and billing procedures may vary dramatically from law firm to law firm. Most real estate or eviction lawyers charge either a flat or hourly fee.
Flat fee eviction lawyers typically charge between $500 and $10,000 for an eviction. These fees will depend on your lawyer’s experience and the complexity of your case. Remember, low attorney fees are not always indicative of poor quality representation. A skilled lawyer may handle an eviction quickly and easily—resulting in a lower flat fee.
Lawyers charge hourly fees for a variety of reasons. Some law firms are simply not willing to charge flat fees. Other lawyers may insist on an hourly fee when they expect extended litigation.
Hourly rates vary, depending on your location, the lawyer’s experience and the anticipated complexity of your claim. Typically, real estate lawyers charge between $100 and $400 an hour for their time.
If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, you may have to pay a retainer. A retainer is a sum of money that covers a portion of the lawyer’s time and costs. Once the retainer is spent, the lawyer will bill on an hourly basis for additional time and costs.
Both hourly and flat fees have their pros and cons. In a simple, uncontested eviction, a flat fee may be more costly than hourly charges. However, hourly attorney fees can be very high in complex evictions.
Before you sign a fee agreement, ask questions. Most lawyers do not charge for an initial consultation. Use this consultation as an opportunity to understand the lawyer’s billing process and how he or she handles litigation.
Evictions are expensive. Besides attorney fees and court costs, you may be responsible for litigation costs, including expert witness and deposition fees (depending on the issues in your case). Additionally, these costs do not include the cost of lost rent, property damage, and repairs.
Evictions take time and effort. Additionally, if you fail to follow your state’s eviction process, you may face additional costs. For many landlords, hiring an eviction or real estate lawyer is a wise investment.