In most cases, the eviction process begins long before going to court. When a tenant defaults on a lease, fails to pay rent, or when a month-to-month tenancy needs to be terminated, the landlord must serve a “notice of termination” on the tenant. This usually means placing the notice in the tenant’s hand.
Sometimes, getting the eviction notice served can be one of the hardest parts of the Illinois eviction process. Tenants who are at odds with their landlord or delinquent on rent are somehow able to find ingenious ways to be unavailable, away from home, or downright difficult to serve. Worse yet, relations between the landlord and tenant can be so strained that a landlord may feel uncomfortable or even unsafe in serving the notice.
Anyone over the age of 18 can serve the eviction notice on behalf of the landlord. As a result, one option landlords have available to them when service is difficult to obtain is to hire a private person known as a process server to deliver the notice to the tenant.
Why would someone want to use a process server to serve a notice? The reasons can be varied. A landlord may not live anywhere near the rental property. Getting to the property to get the tenets served may be a great inconvenience for the landlord, especially if the tenant is actively evading service. No landlord wants to drive an hour or two (or fly in from out of state) to get to the rental property only to find that the tenant is unavailable, hiding, or otherwise evading service.
The tenant could be aware that the landlord is trying to get service. (Even tenants who are unaware sometimes have a “sixth sense” that a notice is coming) As a result, when the landlord drives up to the rental property, the tenant locks the doors, closes the windows, turns off the lights, and hides. In most cases, the tenant will not know the identity of the special process server. A private server can provide a fresh or unrecognized face that the tenant is not familiar with. It only takes a few seconds for the tenant to open the door up to a stranger for the process server to do the job. That can lead to success in getting service on a tenant.
Some tenants may be intimidating to a landlord or may have even threatened to let a situation get out-of-control or violent if the landlord appears to serve the tenant. In those cases, a special process server, because of their experience with similar stressful situations, may be able to better handle and possibly even diffuse an “intense” situation. Using the server as a buffer may provide a landlord with some peace of mind.
So why wouldn’t every landlord use a process server to serve a notice? First, process servers don’t work for free. They charge for their services – and they usually earn every penny! While there is no across-the-board rate schedule for process servers, most will serve a tenant for somewhere between $75 and $150 depending upon how difficult the tenant is to serve. If more than four or five attempts at service are made, there may be an additional fee. In some cases, however, when a tenant is extremely difficult to serve, the fee can be more. The process server might even be asked to perform surveillance. Most charge surveillance time at an hourly rate.
Landlords need to remember that while special process servers are professionals, they are not magicians. They do not have magical process serving dust that guarantees that they will be able to serve the tenant without trouble. Often times, landlords who doubt their own ability to serve a tenant will somehow, unjustifiably, expect that the process server will do it without trouble. Process servers are human. Tenants hide. They can hide from a process server just as well as they can hide from a landlord. Landlords need to remember that the process server, while able to draw and vast service experience, is only slightly more likely than the landlord to obtain service.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the process server is in the business of serving process. That means they run a business that has more than one client. Process servers do not generally have the ability to “drop everything” and head over to the property to serve the tenant the moment the notice comes in their door. There is usually a (sometimes) long list of clientele waiting for their notice to be served. It is rare that a process server will be able to serve a notice sooner than the landlord would be able to. Sometimes landlords forget this and expect that a notice will be delivered to the tenant the day it is dropped off with the process server. This may happen every now and then or with a smaller shop, but it is the exception and not the rule.
There are some great process servers out there and smart landlords will employ them, with the typical caveats about being reasonable, when necessary.