Michael Roberts, a 46-year-old tenant of the high-rise building who identifies as a woman, was charged with murder in the first degree Thursday after fatally stabbing the building’s service manager Stan Tzankov and seriously injuring the property manager, who remains unidentified. The attack happened as Tzankov and the property manager were attempting to carry out an eviction Wednesday at the Centennial residential tower in the Seattle neighborhood of Belltown.
The news, which rattled local residents and the real estate community, comes at a difficult time for millions of Americans, as tenants struggle with widespread unemployment and landlords are forced to navigate difficult situations prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, laws continue to evolve.
While a nationwide moratorium on evictions currently protects tenants who lost work as a result of the pandemic, some evictions are still being carried out. This is often allowed if a tenant is a threat to other residents or, depending on individual state laws, because of non-payment unrelated to the pandemic.
In the Seattle attack, the eviction was prompted after Roberts tampered with a fire alarm, putting neighbors at risk, according to radio station KOMO News.
“Everybody is experiencing hardship nowadays, especially when it comes to paying the rent,” real estate safety expert Tracey Hawkins told Inman. “Fortunately landlords cannot serve evictions due to COVID but for certain situations it can be done and that is when these situations are going to arise.”
In general, avoiding an eviction should be a property manager’s first priority, in order to save somebody from homelessness and to prevent a dangerous situation. But if you’re in a situation in which you have to carry out an eviction, Hawkins offered her tips to Inman to execute it fairly and with minimal risk.
Screen your tenants
To prevent problems from arising later, property managers need to carefully vet those who will be living in a given space. Hawkins recommends an app called Forewarn, which provides a criminal record and past living history check for those who are applying to rent a property. Staying safe also means carrying out a portion of the rental process online and only touring the property as a final step.
“Property managers, agents and everybody else need to move to technology,” Hawkins said. “That’s not even debatable anymore.”
Keep up communication
Knowing about problems in advance is key to being able to fix them. Keep up the line of communication by asking how tenants are doing several times a month, knowing what resources to point them to in case of hardship and, most importantly, being easily accessible if they want to reach you.
“Everybody’s on edge because they don’t want to be homeless but, if they can’t pay their rent, you need to know about it,” Hawkins said. “Keep an open line of communication with the tenants and work with them.”
Be clear and give lots of time
Just as you need to give tenants time to know about a problem, you also cannot legally or ethically spring an eviction on a tenant. During pre-pandemic times, landlords could work out issues with tenants without involving authorities simply by talking to the tenant or working out a “cash for keys” deal in which an incentive is offered. But with moratoriums in place, evictions are now limited to serious infractions. For that reason, landlords or property managers need to post eviction notices far in advance so tenants have time to prepare.
“Post the notice and give them plenty of opportunities [to pay or move out independently] so that you’re not catching people off-guard,” Hawkins said.
If an eviction is already in process, Hawkins recommends having a property manager or another staff member do an occupancy check before the final step in which you stop by the property to ask for rent or, in some cases, even lead someone out with a sheriff.
“You need to know exactly who is living in the property before you even knock on that door,” Hawkins said. “Is it just the tenant who’s on the application? Do they have other family members living there? That may mean observing the comings and going on the property before the eviction.”
Bring a team with you
If that final step does occur, you should not be going to a property alone. Hawkins recommends assembling an entire team of other staff members and potentially law enforcement. It may also be a good idea to bring along workers from a moving or trash collecting company to minimize the number of times you need to enter the property during this process.
“It should never be just the property manager alone at the door saying ‘it’s time to go,'” Hawkins said. “There needs to be a chain.”
Have the right tech and tools
Like communication, technology can help prevent dangerous situations.
One way to do so is to install keyless locks to change combinations instead of waiting around for a locksmith. While some phone apps have safety features in which a button can be activated to send everyone in a contact list your geolocation, Hawkins believes it’s better to use a safety app like AgentSafeWalk to communicate with a professional if you’re in an emergency.