You have that ideal tenant in mind — someone who’s a delight to deal with and comes with good credit, financial and job stability and a pristine rental history. Tenants like this are not always easy to come by, so you may find yourself accepting a higher deposit to offset fair credit or a more transient rental history. Or you may decide to overlook a few late payments to a previous landlord to get your property rented immediately.
Effectively weighing the risks and rewards of accepting any tenant with questionable items in their background report often will produce a higher quality pool of renters. However, people aren’t always what they seem at first glance and prove to be difficult or hellish to deal with. You may find yourself with a tenant who complains about every little thing, pays rent late, disturbs other tenants or disrupts the neighborhood, and even destroys your property.
Troublesome tenants can make your life as a landlord challenging (to say the least), and there are seemingly endless ways a tenant can cause you grief. So, what do you do to circumvent these touchy tenants and their imposed problems?
Screen Tenants and Advertise to Your Target Tenant
Be proactive in choosing the right places to advertise and develop a screening process to give you better odds of snagging a terrific tenant and protecting your investment. Where are you advertising? Craigslist and Facebook will produce different demographics and quality of renters than other online real estate sites such as Zillow or Rental.com. So be sure that wherever you place your ads, those sites are reaching the type of tenants who are ideally suited to renting your property.
Even with proper advertising and screening, you can end up with a terrible tenant. How do you protect yourself up front, and how do you deal with ongoing problems? Below, we’ve curated some of the most common issues and suggested solutions to help you. Note that dealing with tenants can have legal ramifications, so these suggestions do not negate the need to seek legal advice when the situation arises.
It’s All About the Lease
Your lease can be your savior or your nemesis when it comes to dealing with difficult tenants. Be sure your lease covers each party’s responsibilities for every potential situation from bed bugs to property damage to lawn care. If you put it in writing and both you and the tenant sign off on it, you have the document to fall back on.
A premier property management firm in Bryan–College Station, Texas, has developed a friendly yet effective rental process. It includes a typical rental application, a video explaining each item on the lease, a tenant acknowledgment that the video was watched and a list of actions/non-actions that will get a tenant evicted. By making the tenant fully aware of what is expected of them before renting, you are taking an extra step in protecting your investment. You can also circumvent future difficulties by taking swift action for unwanted behaviors.
Laws addressing the landlord/tenant relationship and lease inclusions vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your state laws or consult an attorney before developing your contract.
Handling Tenant Complaints
No matter how much you try to provide the best property care and maintenance possible, tenant complaints will arise. How you handle them will determine whether a simple request escalates into a situation. Bay Management Group of Baltimore, Maryland, offers seven tips on how to deal with “terrible” tenants, and the number one piece of advice is to remain calm, objective and rational.
Whether you ultimately take action to fix the source of the issue or not, immediately acknowledging their complaint can help diffuse tenant frustration. Avoidance is never an effective way to deal with complaints. Encourage your tenants to come to you with any issue by creating a tenant complaint process. You can provide them with an official online complaint form or a number to text when issues arise. You can set up an autoresponder to provide an immediate response while you decide how to follow up.
Tenant complaints are not always related to maintenance issues; testy situations may come up regarding noise complaints, pet- and children-related issues or drug use. Your lease is your best bet for setting out the process for dealing with these types of complaints, whether it be eviction-related or involves law enforcement.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Significant Damage
Wear and tear is inevitable on any property. Paint scuffs, carpet traffic patterns and nicks on countertops are all going to happen, but they’re easy to deal with. But what constitutes significant damage to a property? That’s where your lease comes in again.
To help keep everyone on the same page regarding expected wear and tear versus significant damage, many landlords create a fee schedule that outlines what is and isn’t considered normal wear and tear and attach a cost to other types of damage based on the property’s age during the lease period. Upon moving in, all landlords should provide a condition of property checklist on which the tenant can note any existing damage or issues. This prevents the tenant from being held responsible for anything noted on the sheet.
Enforcing Tenant Maintenance Requirements
If you expect the tenant to maintain your property in a certain way, be sure to include your requirements on the lease and review them with the tenant. This includes everything from lawn maintenance to trash disposal. Outlining these requirements up front can help prevent your property from receiving a city citation for three-foot weeds or a broken-down car on the front lawn.
Addressing Late Rent and Fees
How will you handle late rent and related fees? These are essential items to cover in your lease. You can provide tenants with a cut-off day of the month for accepting regular rent. For instance, your lease could say, “Rent is due on the 1st day of the month and will be considered late by 6 p.m. on the 3rd day of the month. If paying late after the 3rd, a $10 a day fee will be incurred up until the 15th of the month. An eviction will be filed on the 16th of the month if rent and late fees are not paid in full unless the property owner approves payment of late rent.”
When dealing and communicating with late payers, it is imperative to put everything in writing. That way, if you must file an eviction lawsuit, it will all be documented.
When to Consider Eviction
Your state’s laws will outline which actions or inactions by a tenant are eviction worthy, and those reasons should be laid out in your lease. Whether it is nonpayment of rent, destruction of property or unlawful acts, it’s wise to contact an attorney to make sure there are actual grounds for eviction and, if so, to have them lawfully handle the eviction process.
While owning property and being a landlord can be highly rewarding and profitable, dealing with a troublesome tenant is a major downside. But by effectively establishing your rental processes and tenant requirements up front, you can help reduce the possibilities of tenant issues arising down the road.