Problem tenants can be a handful and it takes a lot of wisdom on the path of a landlord to deal with them effectively without the landlord putting himself in a bad light. It is therefore essential that landlords tread carefully when trying to tackle an existing problem with a tenant who may likely not see reasons with him.
Hoarding, unauthorized roommates and unusual human traffic flow, late (or no) rent payments, illegal activities, tenant issues come in all shapes, sizes and levels of severity. Even with the most rigorous tenant screening process and property rules in place, if you are a landlord or property manager, you are going to deal with a problem tenant at some point during your career.
With any issue, however, it is important for you to always remain professional: Communicate clearly and quickly, and take the necessary steps, no matter how hard they may be, to maintain a safe and profitable rental.
It is essential every landlord and property manager learn how to handle common tenant problems and lease violations. The key to dealing with difficult tenants of any sort is to follow a strict and documented course of action. Every state has different laws, so be sure to consult with your lawyer for legal advice on what to do with your problem tenants.
So, you have a problem tenant…
Maybe the rent was late (for the third time). Or, you noticed a lot of dubious foot traffic at odd hours. Perhaps complaints of a foul smell or loud music have started to flood your phone. When you suspect a potential problem with one of your tenants, it is best to set emotions aside and act quickly to diffuse the situation. When managed effectively, tenant issues are solved or tenants are asked to leave. There are a few things to keep in mind before you embark on mitigating an issue with your tenant.
Know the law
Each state has unique laws and ordinances. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your landlord rights and responsibilities, tenant rights, and the basic workings of specific notices and eviction procedures. Work with a lawyer to set up your policies and procedures.
Stick to the policies and procedures
When your tenant signs a lease with you, they are agreeing to the rules, regulations and policies of your rental property. Make sure these are clearly stated in your lease agreement, and provide your tenant with a hard or electronic copy as well. In addition, walk your tenant through the provisions of the lease before they sign.
Your lease agreement should detail what tenants can and can’t do at your property, the amount of rent, when it is due and how it can be paid. In addition, you may want to include rules about noise if necessary, resident-to-resident conflict resolution (if you are renting a duplex or larger property), tenant responsibilities, landlord responsibilities, guidelines on additional occupants, guests, pets, smoking, property maintenance and normal wear and tear.
This is incredibly important. Document your policies and procedures for handling a tenant problem or complaint, including expected response times, forms of communication, warnings, notices (when, how and where to serve them), and when to escalate the issue. You may also want to create incident reports and conduct incident review meetings with your tenants or team in a much broader perspective.
Document all interactions with your tenants both good and bad. Note phone calls and conversations, save emails and text messages, and document late rent payments, notices served, warnings issued, complaints, maintenance requests, requests to enter the unit, and what happens inside once you do.
Be sure you know your policies and procedures, and are familiar with the different types of termination notices and tenant warnings. When your tenant is emotional, it can be easy to get fired up too. However, you must maintain your professionalism, even when your tenant does not.
A respectful conversation with your tenant may be enough to stop an issue in its tracks. When a non-legal issue arises, consider meeting them face-to-face; use your best judgment, as some situations may be more appropriately handled by the authorities. Be direct and specific in your discussion, and outline the issue and the consequences of not complying with the rules and policies.
Consider may want to learn more about conflict resolution if you are managing a property that has a lot of housing units. A basic understanding of these strategies and techniques can help you navigate a solution to a problem tenant.
It isn’t personal
As a landlord, you will encounter tenants with some really good (or sad, or hard) stories. Be understanding, but above all, be firm and unwavering when it comes to sticking with your policies. They are there to protect you and your business. In addition, you should only have these types of discussions with people who are named on the lease. Family members or significant others may want to get involved, and while you should be respectful, only discuss details with the tenant.
Treat your tenant how you want to be treated
Late payments or hoarding can be serious infringements on your policies, but they can also be hard for a tenant to discuss. Make sure you treat issues with confidentiality, even if they aren’t technically confidential information. Tread carefully when sharing information with other residents or neighbors. Also, if you schedule a day and time to come by the unit to talk, be sure to show up, and be on time.
If you feel like a situation is putting anyone in danger, call the police. While you want to treat your tenants with professionalism, it should never come at the cost of safety. If your tenant is involved in illegal activities, contact the authorities and let them handle the situation and secure the property. Once that has been addressed, you can go through the eviction procedure, which is separate from any criminal charges.
There are several types of notices or warnings you may use as a landlord. Check your state tenancy law to see how to serve the notice, particularly when it’s an eviction notice.
How to respond to common problem-tenant scenarios
From unauthorized movements and illegal activities, a problem tenant disrupts your business and is a threat to your bottom line. There are some common offenders that creep up time and again. Here are the most typical problem tenants and strategies for dealing with them.
Rent Owing Tunde
One of the main responsibilities of a tenant is to pay rent on time. If he or she fails to pay rent, this directly affects your revenue stream. In your rental policies, outline what is considered a late payment according to rental laws.
Noisy Hakeem and Disruptive Kafayat
Whether they’re fighting, playing loud music or having raucous parties, noisy, disruptive tenants cause headaches for residents, neighbors and landlords. They may defend themselves by saying it’s their right to be as loud as they want when, in fact, every tenant has the right to “quiet enjoyment.” When included as a clause in a lease agreement, quiet enjoyment prohibits tenants from disturbing others and forbids sexual harassment and intimidation.
If you receive complaints from the neighbors, document them, recording when the complaint occurred and what it was about. This will serve as evidence should you ever bring the situation to court. If your tenant is being disruptive, you should let them know and give them a chance to correct the problem. If the problem continues, send a copy of the lease terms, and if the behavior still persists then you may want to take legal actions
People aren’t always good about leaving a space the way they found it. If you find that your property is damaged beyond “normal wear and tear,” request that the damages be repaired, in a situation where no fee for damages was paid prior to leasing the property. Don’t forget to keep this document for your records.
Above all, your lease agreement with the tenant should explain the tenant’s responsibilities if he or she deliberately or negligently damages your property.
Bad-news Osas and Illegal-activity Udom
Some tenants really are up to no good. If you have evidence that your tenant is involved in illegal activities, such as illegal drug use or distribution, it’s time to contact the police.
If you receive calls from neighbours, confirm the accusations before jumping to conclusions.
Dealing with people under the influence of drugs can be dangerous, so assure witnesses that you will not reveal their information without their permission.
Note that an arrest does not change a tenant’s right to occupy a property. In the unfortunate event that your tenant is incarcerated, your next steps are determined by the terms of the lease. Otherwise, you may have to serve an eviction notice to your incarcerated tenant. In this situation, it’s best to consult with your legal adviser.
Fussy Zainab and Needy Bala
These problem tenants will run down your phone battery with complaints about the property and neighbours. They will request various repairs. While you may want to let the phone just ring when you see their number, remember to treat them with respect and take what they say seriously. If their communication becomes a hindrance to getting business done, then sit them down and outline the issues. A straightforward conversation can go a long way.
If you have reason to believe someone has abandoned your property, consult a legal adviser about the next line of action according to the provisions of the law regarding their personal items. As much as you might want to toss them all out so you can start looking for a new tenant, the rules may not permit that especially when their rent has not expired or only just did.
How to evict a tenant
No matter how bad the problem is, you cannot kick the tenant out of the property, make threats, change the locks or turn off the utilities. This is called a “self-help eviction,” and it’s illegal. You need to issue an eviction notice from the court before a legal eviction can occur. But only move forward with an eviction if you’ve tried to work with your tenant to correct the issue or if the transgression was so serious it is grounds for an immediate eviction (such as illegal drug activity).
Serve your notice
All legal evictions start with a notice informing the tenants of your intentions. The notice should include the number of days the tenant has to comply with your request. Otherwise, the tenant will be asked to leave, also known as “quitting.”
Take it to court
This happens as last resort when the tenant refuses to vacate the property even after being served a quit notice.
When dealing with problem tenants, emotions can run high, and things may not always go as you would like.
However, remaining firm, level-headed and sticking to your policies and procedures will help you make the right decisions and resolve the issues. Above, know your state laws governing tenancy.