Dealing with problem tenants

Geoff Roberts
Geoff Roberts | 4 min. read

Published on July 20, 2009

Chances are every landlord will encounter a problem tenant at one point or another in his career. Whether issues arise based on noise levels, delinquent rent payments, illegal roommates, or any number of other violations, dealing with problem tenants can be tricky. Following are some tried and true suggestions for dealing with issues as effectively as possible and—better yet—avoiding renting to problem tenants in the first place.

Prevent Problem Tenants from Getting a Foot in the Door

The importance of carefully screening tenants before locking yourself into a lease cannot be overstated. No matter how eager you are to occupy a unit, renting to an unqualified tenant is never worth it in the long run. In addition to checking credit and criminal records, be sure to call former landlords for applicant references.

Remember, some landlords may be unwilling to explicitly state that they do not recommend renting to a potential tenant for fear of litigation. Bear this in mind when speaking with references, and be sure to read between the lines when necessary. Sometimes what a reference doesn’t say is just as important as what she does say. Ask the applicant’s former landlord if she would rent to the tenant again. If the answer is “no,” think long and hard before handing over that lease.

Have a System in Place

Many leases neglect to cover behavioral expectations. Be meticulous and specific when it comes to setting forth your expectations, whether it be in your lease or as part of a lease addendum. Also, make sure you have a clear system for issuing warnings in place and that all tenants know how this system will work from the offset. For example, let tenants know that should problems arise, they will receive two written warnings for lease violations. On the third violation, they will be asked to vacate their unit. Finally, be sure that all tenants sign off on these guidelines before handing over the unit keys. This will ensure there is no room for dispute further down the line.

Follow Through with Your System

Just as important as tenants abiding by your guidelines is that you abide by your guidelines. After all, if you don’t take your rules and regulations seriously, why should your tenants? In other words, if a tenant violates a building rule or regulation, make sure you follow up with the appropriate prescribed action as set forth in the lease agreement. Also be aware that an inconsistent system could cause problems down the line. It’s important that all tenants are treated equally. For example, if you neglect to write one tenant up for a noise violation, you can hardly write up another tenant for a similar violation.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open with All Tenants

When it comes to problem tenants, communication is critical. In cases where a landlord has developed a friendly relationship with tenants, it can be uncomfortable to put on the disciplinarian hat and issue a formal written warning. You have to maintain your role as the resident authority, but you don’t have to do so at the sacrifice of your relationships with tenants. Should such a case arise, keep the channels of communication open. Follow through with the prescribed warning, but take the time to talk openly with your tenant—listen to his side of the story and explain where you’re coming from. Also in terms of communication, if a tenant complains about a fellow resident, be sure to follow up and let the tenant know you’ve addressed the problem.

If tenant problems are serious and consistent enough that eviction is warranted, carefully check your state and local laws and take the steps necessary to begin the eviction process. Eviction is never ideal, but if you don’t address the problem tenant, you may inadvertently lose some of your good ones. And no landlord wants that to happen.

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Geoff Roberts

Geoff is a marketer, surfer, musician, and writer. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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