As a landlord, I, Mark Roemer, know a thing or two about how problem tenants are an unfortunate but inevitable feature of property management. Even with a robust tenant screening solution, some troublemakers will still find their way to your properties. Someone who has always paid on time may run into financial difficulties and start paying late. A depressed tenant may paint the walls brilliant pink and buy a potbelly pig as a pet. The chronic complainers who would drive you nuts with their demands are still unknown.
Here are six sorts of renters who make a single-family property manager’s work more complex and solutions for those situations.
Non-Payers or Late Payers
To begin, let’s look at late or partial rent payments. If you’re smart, you’ll mention at the lease signing that your property management system is rigorous and that late fees must be accounted for in the cash flow at year’s end. Similarly, some landlords simply state that the penalty is “built into the accounting system,” avoiding many begging phone calls. Above all, tenants should never think that late payment penalties are negotiable. If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile.
No matter how thoroughly you protect yourself, you’ll always have to deal with late, partial, or non-payment.
Be strong when dealing with late payments, no matter how pleasant you (or they) are. Otherwise, your subsequent five-day delay will be three weeks. Now’s the time to speak up if you didn’t tell them that late fees are irrevocable (the accounting system is the bad guy, not you).
When the rent payment (or partial payment) is late enough that your agreement suggests action will be taken, give a polite warning call or email. Then, when the time comes, act, even if it hurts. This is usually a notice of non-payment of rent with a deadline to pay or leave.
It’s simpler to be strict if you’re the manager and not the owner:
- Remind them the owner sets the rules, not you.
- Even if you own the land, don’t be a softie.
- Consider this: a renter in need should turn to relatives, friends, or another source of funds, not their landlord.
You are not their parent, friend, or bank.
Property damage is the second most common issue with renters.
Consider skipping the clipboard and utilizing a mobile inspection app. You may take photos with your phone and integrate them right into the inspection report, so if there is subsequent damage, you have the “before” photos right there as evidence.
Things might get problematic when an unapproved “improvement” (such as painting or shelving) is a detraction. Your lease generally stipulates that the property must be left in the same condition as when they moved in. Thus, if the new paint is neon pink, they must repaint before departing or forfeit their damage deposit.
In the event of damage, you should first request in writing that the renter remedy the situation. If the tenant can’t or won’t handle it, you can have your maintenance workers perform it and bill the tenant. Your lease should allow you to do this for damage beyond regular wear and tear.
Interval inspections of the property are advised during the lease time. If you have a strong no-smoking policy, but your home smells like an ashtray, you need to act quickly.
If the renter won’t fix the damage or pay for it, you can issue a “Cure or Quit” notice.
The Host to All
Some tenants will sublet some or all of the property without asking. And now, with Airbnb, some have secretly booked short-term vacation properties. It’s illegal in some places. It’s certainly not the same as having a procession of strangers on the property versus those you’ve screened and approved. Neighbors often scoff at the practice.
Then there are houseguests — from a friend staying over for a weekend to a death metal band for a month (likely a problem). The more explicit your lease language, the more freedom you have to deal with “unexpected guests.” If you leave the door wide open, your tenants will claim that they should be allowed to live with anyone they like as long as they pay their rent.
Some tenants are rare contacts. Others often phone, making absurd requests:
- The AC doesn’t work (after being checked twice).
- There’s not enough hot water.
- A door is stuck.
There are calls regarding minor issues they should solve themselves or required in the lease.
Get over disgruntled tenants; you have enough actual difficulties to deal with. You are not required by law or otherwise to answer every time they call.
Too Many Pets
Make no compromises when it comes to your pets. A chewing dog or a urine-marking cat can cause substantial damage and difficult re-renting. Even if you allow pets, you should periodically inspect the property for damage. If you don’t permit them (service animals aren’t pets under the ADA), but uncover proof of them, act quickly before the renters pack up and leave. Many tenants now keep exotic pets, so be prepared to answer whether a few ferrets are OK.
You’re lucky if you’ve never discovered a renter growing marijuana illegally, using or selling drugs, getting drunk on the front lawn, or engaged in other criminal activities. It’s usually best to evict them and notify the cops of drug dealing or violence. Tenants eager to flout the law are more prone to cause issues than others. That’s why screening services check criminal as well as financial records. Even an arrest does not affect the tenant’s legal right to inhabit the property rented from you, therefore consult an attorney first.
Of course, there are other problem tenants, but these are the most common. Noise and parking concerns are less common in single-family homes than in multifamily dwellings.
Time For Them to Go
So, you’ve had enough and won’t take it anymore. You can’t just evict someone with a legal lease, as you know. You also can’t turn off the water, change the locks, or threaten them.
An eviction is only recommended if you’ve tried and failed to resolve the issue or if the renter has participated in criminal activity.
How To Handle Problematic Tenants
First, you must serve notice according to local laws. Avoid the age-old “we didn’t get the letter” excuse. Indicate how long the tenant has to comply. There are plenty of horror stories of evictions gone awry, even among generally civil renters.
The eviction itself must be done in court. Instead of handling it yourself, contact an eviction attorney who can guide you through the ordinary court procedure. The reasons for the removal should be documented as much as possible by now in case the court requests it. As a landlord, I, Mark Roemer, know you’ve probably dealt with all or most of the six problematic renter types listed above, as well as at least one eviction. Having to deal with these situations is unavoidable. Remember that thousands of other property managers have been through this, and lots of solid information is available.