15 Tips For Dealing With Problem Tenants

Dated: 02/22/2016

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Even if the majority of your tenants pay rent on time and keep your units clean and well-cared for, there are destined to be a few glitches: rent is a few days late, or there’s a miscommunication about a maintenance issue that’s cleared up in a few days.

But, some tenants are chronic problems. Efforts to gracefully resolve any situations with them fail, and you might feel like there’s nothing left to do but evict them (and make them the next landlord’s problem).

According to recent research from TransUnion for their quarterly eviction report, most evictions cost about $3,500, but can be as much as $10,000 in certain circumstances. So in some cases, it may be worth trying to resolve the situation before moving towards eviction.

Here are 14 of the best tips we’ve collected from experts for dealing with troublesome tenants without causing extra legal hassles.

Start by doing your due-diligence before they sign the lease:

1. Always check credit and references. Troublesome applicants have been known to fake references, hoping landlords and others don’t double-check them. Get a security deposit up front, it will cover any costs if the tenant breaks their lease early or damages the property.

2. Ask good tenants for referrals. Work your social contacts, current tenants, neighbors and other people in your natural market to find quality tenants.

3. Prepare qualification and eviction criteria in writing. Ensure its objective, so you cannot be accused of illegal discrimination.

4. Build in a process to recoup eviction costs in your lease. For example, if you have a tenant who pays late, and you send a notice-to-quit with help from a lawyer, evict, and then he comes up with the rent a few days later, it’s ok to insist they pay any past-due rent and attorney’s fees.

As soon as they start causing problems:

5. Document everything. Start building your case and documenting infractions or lease violations at the first sign of trouble.

6. Maintain professional distance from the tenant. Conduct correspondence in writing as much as possible, using well-crafted language approved by an experienced attorney. The more you stick to the basics and work the process, the less you give tenants to grasp on to fuel any eviction defense strategies.

7. Provide an incentive for problem tenants to cooperate. The last thing you want is an angry tenant to vandalize the apartment or steal appliances on their way out. A robust security deposit is helpful here: let tenants know that a quick and easy move out will result in a clean break with a full refund of their security deposit (which they can use to secure a new apartment). This may minimize your expenses and any damage to the apartment.

If you decide to file for eviction:

8. File on the same date each month for all residents who are in material noncompliance with lease terms. This will help keep you organized, and protect you from having complaints filed against you if any person you’ve filed against is a member of any protected class under state or federal law. Perception is everything, even if no illegal discrimination took place.

9. Understand the eviction process and timelines for your jurisdiction. From the initial notice-to-quit to the judge’s final decision, there’s a timeline for every step. Residential property owners cannot normally just tape a sign to the door and expect the tenant to be gone three days later. There’s a process. Evictions are subject to appeal in court, and clever tenants and their attorneys may have a number of measures they can take to delay eviction.

10. Limit contact with the tenant. Refer all communication attempts to your attorney. If you say the wrong thing, you could wind up limiting your options or open yourself up to counterclaims.

11. Do not change locks or shut off utilities. This is a “self-help” eviction and is almost always illegal.

12. Don’t enter the property until the tenant is gone. The only exception is for a maintenance or safety emergency (where you would have to enter anyway), or if you can bring a law enforcement officer or private detective with you. It’s usually a good idea to have one with you, even if you think the tenant has moved out. Failing that, have someone videotape your entry and all actions you take.

13. Be prepared for the eviction hearing. Lack of rent payment is pretty straightforward. But other things, including pet problems, housekeeping complaints, and other lease violations will require you to come with written or photographic evidence or witnesses. If you show up to the hearing unprepared, the judge will delay the hearing, and your eviction.

14. Be prepared to move tenants’ belongings legally. Most of the time, tenants will move out on their own. If they don’t, have a plan in place: make an appointment with local law enforcement to have them present when the eviction occurs; have a moving crew in place; arrange for storage. Some jurisdictions require landlords to place former tenants’ property in storage for a certain amount of time.

And last, but certainly not least, no matter which stage of the process you’re in:

15. Be consistent and patient. The Roman Army was nearly invincible for centuries because they had a system in place. When they decided to take a city, they would use the same process, again and again. It was methodical, extremely difficult to counter, and extremely effective. It also took time. Don’t get impatient, and work the process.

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LaDawn Westbrook

With more than a decade of experience, LaDawn enjoys educating first time home buyers, working with the 55+ community, relocation clients, sellers who want to downsize, step up purchase or anything in....

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