Landlord 101: Difficult Tenants

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Having the right Tenant/Landlord relationship is absolutely critical for a successful rental business. Be too friendly, and it can be challenging to deal with situations that can arise no matter how carefully you screen potential renters.  Being too distant can make you seem cold and uncaring about the tenants, their lives, and the property in which they live. Here are several things to keep in mind when relating to tenants.

Connect Professionally

  • Be calm and patient. Listening goes a long way to creating rapport. Listen without interrupting. If your tenant stops you when you’re in a hurry to be somewhere, tell them you’re on your way somewhere and offer to make an appointment to hear their concerns.
  • Don’t establish a friendship with tenants, keep the relationship professional, unemotional and businesslike.
  • Don’t rent to friends and family. 
  • Don’t discuss any issues with anyone who isn’t on the lease, even spouses. Your business relationship is with the person on the lease. There may be a very good reason the alcoholic husband wasn’t included in the screening process. (The rental agreement should have a provision that anyone staying more than a week or two must be on the lease.)
  • Treat your tenant as you would want to be treated. Be confidential with your tenants. Don’t discuss issues in the open hallways of a building and don’t repeat issues with possible emotional charge (shame, anger or fear) with any outside parties unless you have to actually go to the authorities. 
  • If the tenant has a legitimate maintenance concern begin with “I’m sorry. We will get this dealt with as soon as possible.”

Document Document Document

  • Keep written records of every contact with the tenant. Simple notes in a spreadsheet might work for day to day contact, but use a ticketing system to receive work orders and mark them complete. Simple hellos in passing are pleasant and worthwhile ways to connect, but if the tenant mentions their vent in the bathroom doesn’t work, document the conversation.
  • Some tenants will always be troublesome. Some are “professional tenants” who purposely look for trouble with their landlord, asking for modifications to the premises, new flooring, carpet or appliances, even window treatments. Some may be trying to create situations where they can sue.

Other problems tenants bring to the table include:

  • Late or non-payment of rent. See below for a section on dealing with this in a safe and legal manner.
  • Loudness. Loud music during quiet hours, or fighting with people in the apartment. Noisy pets 
  • Pets in violation of lease terms. Even pets authorized in the lease terms can cause damage. Periodic inspections (as permitted by the lease) are essential. Odors, ruined carpets, scratching damage to walls or doors, all these need to be documented by you and remedied by the tenant.
  • Damage. No lease permits the tenant to damage the property beyond normal wear and tear. If they do, they must repair it on their own dime. You should get a mobile inspection app for your smartphone. You can document the damage with photographs right in the app.
  • Belligerent / Aggressive with you or other tenants. It’s very easy to get emotional when a tenant is trying to engage in personal attacks or insults. Repeat to them that you will engage in businesslike conversations only and every tenant has a right to “quiet enjoyment” of the property. It’s especially important to keep a diary of this kind of behavior, whether verbal aggression or physically intimidating posturing.
  • Hoarding. Tenants with mental impairments of this sort can create real trouble by leaving garbage piling up, attracting roaches and rodents. The piles of stuff can be visible to other tenants and drag down the tenor of the building.
  • They are running an Air BnB or other subleasing. If you’re not an on-premise landlord, this might be hard to detect. Friendly chats with the tenants will often bring out this sort of thing. Document such rumors.
  • Sexual Harassment. Creepers are the worst. People are unwilling to report most infractions, even if the offender has crossed boundaries. Have a written sexual harassment policy ready to hand or mail to the offender if you observe anything or if a tenant reports anything minor. If it’s something major, call the authorities and have them talk to the creep and have your paperwork lined up in case you need to threaten the difficult tenant with eviction. 
  • Odors of various forms can drive the neighbors crazy, generate complaints, and even have people threatening to move. Whether it’s chain-smoking cigarettes, (in some areas) legal cannabis, crazy cooking smells, too many dogs or cats or ferrets, or illicit chemical experimentation, having odors mentioned in the lease can be invaluable.
  • Drugs. Worst of the worst. Tenants dealing drugs brings all manner of trouble into your world, and the law can hold you responsible for tenants selling, making or growing illicit substances. You should have a plan in place with solid legal advice behind it in case you should ever have to deal with this issue. In some cases, letting a parent know what you suspect their kid is doing will be sufficient, but in other circumstances, you’ll need to call the police and serve papers on the tenant while they’re in jail. Yeah. 

Sorry it came to this, but…

If open authentic communicating didn’t bring a solution to any of the above issues, you might need to get legal. There are definite things the law forbids to you to do to drive tenants out like turning off their heat, water or electricity. You also can’t just change their locks or threaten them in any way. Here are things you can do:

  • Non-payment of notice: Tenant has failed to pay X rent by Y date. Tenant must pay X rent (with late fees as stipulated in the lease) by Y date or move.
  • Cure or Quit Notice: Tenant has violated X term/condition of the lease. Tenant must correct X by Y date or move out.
  • Unconditional Quit or Vacate Notice: This is used for severe, repeated or dangerous violations of the terms and conditions of the lease. Must go!   

All legal notices have basic requirements.

  • The name and address of the tenant and the landlord (must match the lease). 
  • Violation details “Please take notice that you have violated the following covenant/s in your lease/ rental agreement.
  • “Within _____ days after service of this notice, you are required to correct or resolve this violation. Otherwise, quit and deliver possession of the premises.”
  • Signature and date
  • Proof of service: Delivered by Hand, Delivered by Mail (use certified mail), Posted Clearly at Residence.  Using a professional process server may be a good investment if the tenant’s reaction may be violent, unpredictable, or you’re too far away to do it yourself.
  • Serving notices yourself may be acceptable in the case of late or non-payment of rent, but if you’re actually evicting a tenant, the notice must be filed with the courts with specified amounts of time that vary by jurisdiction. Your legal professional can advise on a lot of this. A lawyer can handle small claims in the case of back rent, or you can file the paperwork directly with the court yourself to save the legal fees.

Another good investment may be to hire a Professional property management company to give yourself distance from bad tenants. Download “The Guide to Finding the Best Dallas Property Management Company’ for more information!