Dealing with Problem Tenants Made Easier

Problem tenants are a property manager’s worst nightmare. If you’ve been working in the property management space for more than ten years, chances are you have already come across at least a few tenants who fall into these problem categories – the habitual whiner who is never out of reasons to complain, the rule-breaker who runs some illegal activity out of the property, the late-payer who never pays the rent on time, the non-payer who refuses to pay the rent—and the worst kind, the destroyer who trashes your property without a second thought.

While rigorous tenant screening can sometimes help you weed out potential troublemakers, a few still manage to wiggle their way through. As a property manager, you need to have one or two tricks up your sleeve to deal with such people before they make life difficult for you, the landlord, and the other tenants.

Tenants who are late paying the rent
They pay the rent every month – but after the due date. If you talk to them, they’ll most likely have one reason or the other why they couldn’t make the rent on time. But late payments, while inconvenient, can also put your landlords in a financially difficult position. So what is the best way to handle late-payers?

If the tenants are not habitual offenders and you have a good working relationship with them otherwise, your first step should be to send out a late rent notice reminding them that the payment is due. If it was an honest mistake, they will clean up their act and send you the rent immediately. If you don’t see any signs of that happening, give them a call and try to find out what is happening.

If your tenants have made late rent payments a habit, then you need to start taking tougher measures. But be careful not to call them repeatedly because they can turn the tables on you and accuse you of harassment. The next time they miss the due date, send them a pay or quit notice, which will give them three to 14 days (depending on the local laws) to pay the rent or move out.

If proactive property management is more your style, try preventing such situations by sending out reminder emails before the due date or setting up incentives for making timely rent payments over a fixed period of time.

Tenants who love breaking the rules
The majority of tenants are decent, law-abiding citizens. However, there are always a few bad apples. If you have a tenant who has become a regular nuisance to his neighbors or is violating the terms of the lease blatantly, you need to take action immediately.

As a first step, talk to the client and find out his version of the story. Explain the situation to them and ask them to stick to the terms of the lease without fail. Remember to stay calm and non-confrontational. Showing hostility or hurling accusations will only aggravate the situation. If the problem persists and you see no signs of the situation improving, you may have to send out a cure or quit notice.

If the problem is more serious and you suspect the tenants are using the property for some kind of dangerous or criminal activity, you may need to contact the authorities to ensure the safety of your property and that of your other tenants.

Tenants who damage the property
While most tenants take pains to take care of the home/apartment as their own, there are others who intentionally damage the property or leave behind a terrible mess out of spite or pure carelessness. Of course, you also have the ‘remodelers’ who change the flooring, paint the walls a new color and replace the fixtures without your permission.

While you can’t expect the tenant to pay for the normal wear and tear of the property, in most states, you can ask him to pay for damages that were caused by his activities. If the tenant agrees to pay for repairs, you can either send him the bill directly or add the charges to their rent. If worse comes to worst, a detailed inventory at the time of move-in, proper documentation of the condition of the property, and time-stamped photos or videos can help you claim the damages from the security deposit.

Regular home inspections are the best way to stay informed on the condition of the property. In addition, make sure that your tenant signs up for renter’s insurance, which will help cover most damages caused by negligence.

Tenants who are chronic whiners

As a property manager, it is your responsibility to keep your tenants happy and provide them with first-rate customer service at all times. But what if you have a tenant who is a chronic complainer and never happy no matter what you do?

A good property manager tries to resolve every tenant complaint – big or small -even if that particular tenant has made a habit of raising a work order every week. It may be that your tenant is feeling ignored or is not happy with some particular aspects of the property or lease. Or you made the mistake of setting unrealistic expectations in the beginning, which is causing dissatisfaction now.

Most often than not, timely and effective communication can resolve most issues. Small but essential actions such as keeping the tenants updated on the status of their work order and following up with them later to find out if they are satisfied with the outcome will make them feel that they are valued members of the community.

Some people, however, are chronic complainers for life. If nothing works, you may have to consider letting the problem tenant move to a different apartment or move out without any penalty. In the digital world that we live in today, it is better to lose a tenant than risk keeping an unhappy one who would not think twice about venting his dissatisfaction on the Internet, valid or not.
Kurt Jacobson is a snowboarding enthusiast with a background in real estate. Having moved 11 times in the past nine years, he thrives on helping others learn from his experiences. When he’s not out shredding the mountain, he writes about all things rental related for the website and serves as a thought leader in the real estate industry.