How to Handle Bad Tenants: 5 Pieces of Advice for Landlords

Managing the regular needs of renters is demanding enough and bad tenants only add extra stress.

Building ownership means you’re on the clock 24/7. When a tenant needs something, you must answer the call. Bad tenants only contribute extra chaos and negativity into your jam-packed schedule. Spot the warning signs of bad tenants and learn the skills to handle difficult situations and you’ll see a great benefit your business and your surrounding “good” tenants. Understanding the right way to interact with bad tenants is vital to the success of your properties and the overall housing experience for your other renters. After all it only takes one bad apple, or in this case, bad tenant, to spoil the whole building.

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One of the toughest parts of being a landlord is knowing how to diffuse negative situations. At what point do you stop dealing with the situation yourself and get legal help? How do you mitigate the frustrations of the rest of the renters in your building in the meantime?

According to the real estate experts at Zillow, “When you suspect a potential problem with one of your tenants, it is best to set emotions aside and act quickly to diffuse the situation.” After all, news carries fast and negative energy is toxic to the environments of your properties. Whether it’s a renter who’s been with you for years or a brand new tenant failing to follow the rules, issues must be addressed immediately.

So what makes a bad tenant? How can you spot bad tenant tendencies in advance and head them off before they cause stress in your life and the lives of your other tenants? Being a good landlord is more than just collecting rent. It’s also about encouraging a sense of community and building the connections in your building so that renters treat each other (and you) with respect.

Ready to say bye-bye to bad tenants? Here are five pieces of advice for landlords.

5 Ways Landlords Can Handle (and Prevent) Bad Tenants

1. Do Your Homework and Verify the Prospective Tenant’s Info

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? This applies to bad tenants as well.

As a landlord, take the time to vet your prospective tenants before signing a lease with them

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Just like a job application, prospective tenants often put their best foot forward. Although a tenant may sound like the perfect fit from the beginning, always check their references and background. Confirm prospective renters are a good fit by thoroughly verifying the personal information they provide, including income and employment details whenever possible. Conducting background checks, credit checks, calling references, reaching out to previous landlords, and confirming monthly incomes are all crucial steps in the verification process and should be carried out well before any lease papers are signed or agreements are made.

Set aside the necessary time to complete these tasks before giving eager renters the green light. At the end of the day, this is your best opportunity to catch red flags and diffuse (what might become) a terrible situation before it occurs. Bad tenants will likely show missed rent payments at a previous property or no valid work history. They may offer references that don’t check out or they may assume that you won’t check references and list bogus sources.

Filling every apartment, every townhouse, and every unit is important to your bottom line, but a full building isn’t worth the legal costs that can come with truly terrible rental situations. Bad tenants can hurt your building reputation and bring down the value of other units as well. Protect your tenants, especially if you’re managing a family-friendly property.

Don’t worry about trusting your gut and saying “no” while you wait for the perfect tenant. Don’t get desperate and overlook red flags to eliminate vacancies. Take the time and put in the extra effort to vet prospective tenants and find the perfect fit. Your hard work will pay off for everyone in the end!

One word of caution: be sure to check your state’s fair housing rules and laws when you work on a tenant application. This will ensure that you don’t improperly screen candidates based on criteria that could be construed as discriminatory. Protect yourself by having your tenant application reviewed by a lawyer. Even with the best intentions to find the perfect tenant, you may inadvertently misword your application. Always learn your rights as a landlord.

2. Write Everything Down and Keep Records in Order

Whether you run one building or ten, you’re responsible for multiple renters with a lot of information to keep track of. Carefully write down important details, keep records, and designate a file for each tenant. The reality is, no matter how much background checking you carry out or how many in-person interviews you conduct, situations change, and bad renters will likely present themselves at the worst times.

Document and record every conversation with renters, whether good or bad. A few of the major interactions to include are:

  • In-person conversations
  • Emails
  • Phone calls
  • Text messages
  • Late rent payments
  • Maintenance and repair requests
  • Any warnings you’ve issued
  • Any fines issued
  • Verbal notices issued
  • Written notices issued
  • Exact dates and times you’ve entered an apartment (and the reason for the visit)

If an issue ever arises with bad tenants, documentation helps you ensure a fair solution will be reached. An in-depth record is also key to keeping the facts on your side should a legal situation ever arise with the bad tenants too.

The toughest situation with bad tenants often comes if they choose to fight an eviction or a fine in court. Written proof of your history with the renter will be crucial to your case. History and the way you’ve conducted business will be examined carefully. Detailed records in court will display your trustworthiness as a professional landlord and encourage a decision in your favor.

If bad tenants start giving you trouble and fail to hold of their end of the housing agreement, start by reiterating the agreement they originally committed to in their lease. If the situation fails to improve, turn to your written records and show the documented proof of all the areas where they’ve broken the rules and failed to follow the lease agreement. In most cases, written proof is all you need to scare bad tenants into improving their behavior!

3. Communicate Clearly on Important Topics

Bad tenants are typically not the best communicators which is why it’s SO important for YOU to over-communicate on all topics. Use communication to verbally enforce rules, ensure bad tenants understand what’s expected of them and what will occur if they fail to change their behavior. There is no such thing as too much communication between a landlord and renter. Over-communication on all topics, especially rent payments and the parameters that warrant an eviction notice, will bode well for both parties.

Open communication between a landlord and a tenant helps alleviate conflict and tensions

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Embracing communication is also a great way to encourage a healthy landlord-renter relationship and decrease the chances of elevated toxic situations with bad tenants. Remember, although the goal is probably to get the bad tenants out and off your property, in the meantime, they’re still living in your establishment and for this reason, it’s important that respect is always maintained.

Rentometer says it’s critical to remain professional despite your emotions when communicating with bad tenants. “Whether they are the perfect renters or they are causing you major issues, professional and thoughtful communication will go a long way in building a good relationship and protecting your property.” Respectful language and relaxed tones will keep the situation in control and reduce the chances of bad tenants harming your property or business.

Good communication with any renter is important. Brush up on healthy communication methods to learn the best ways to answer renter questions, addressing ongoing issues, and explaining tough situations like repairs.

4. Consistently Enforce Rules and Regulations

Consistency is a large part of properly handling bad tenants. Eviction law clearly states you must provide bad tenants with a warning before threatening or deciding on eviction. This rule is so you give renters the opportunity to fix the issue at hand, i.e., catch up on their rent payments, stop blasting the loud tunes, find another place for the extra roomie who’s not on the lease, etc.

After the heads up and numerous warnings, if no changes are made in the appropriate amount of time, you then have the legal right as a landlord to file for unlawful detainment, or in other words, evict those bad tenants.

When you decide that a situation necessitates and eviction, consult with a lawyer to solidify your next steps. Typically, a 30 to 60-day “notice to vacate” is standard and you MUST have a valid and specific reason for taking the action. Consistency is extremely important; for an eviction to hold up in court, there must be proof the property manager took the proper steps to inform bad tenants about problems, issued warnings, and gave the renter the appropriate amount of time to make the situation right.

It’s equally necessary to maintain consistency across all your tenants. Always ensure you’re enforcing rules and regulations the same amount across ALL your properties with ALL your renters. Consistency will help you win any disagreement against bad renters who may feel they’re being singled out or targeted unfairly for their bad behavior. This will help you fix the issue in a timely manner.

Stay consistent and the moment a tenant is late with the rent on a regular basis or the instant you suspect illegal behavior, check in with the renter and send a proper warning notice. If bad tenants ignore you and implement no changes, you’ve informed them and now have every right to (and should) take more aggressive action!

5. Enforce Consequences When Necessary

Bad tenants are occasionally created when landlords fail to enforce the rules and expectations stated in the renter’s lease agreement. If your tenants think they can get away with breaking the rules, the unfortunate reality is that they might. Part of keeping bad tenants in check is following through with the consequences and fines when you said you would.

Enforce rules and consequences for breaking rules outline in the lease agreement to ensure bad tenants correct their behavior

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Encourage bad tenants to take you seriously by charging that $50 fine when rent is even one day late or when a check bounces. Enforce the violation fee if bad tenants fail to do their part and take the trash cans out or pick up their packages. Following through and administering consequences is the only way bad tenants will (hopefully) start to respect you and your property more.

Don’t let bad tenants be the unfortunate result of flaky management. Although you have a lot on your plate and are likely managing several different properties, you must keep in mind the units with bad tenants need extra special attention and care! Don’t let bad tenants get away with illegal or bad behavior, or it can cost the whole building (and cause you to lose good tenants). A landlord can even be held liable for a tenant that interferes with a neighbor’s comfortable enjoyment of their own space.

Even if the neighbors aren’t ready to move out, it’s important to the safety of your building that you follow through. The neighboring renters will not appreciate the lack of fairness, and failure to enforce consequences will only cause more tenant issues and headaches in the future.

As a property manager, attracting happy, responsible, and seemingly good renters is always the goal but no screening process is ever foolproof and sometimes bad tenants make it through. Don’t let difficult situations with bad tenants get the best of you and use these helpful insights to improve your skills when handling a tricky renter.

Keep in mind, law plays a large role in the process of eliminating bad tenants, so educating yourself on your rights as well as the legal rights of your renters will help you stay ahead of the game. Even if you do your background homework, you may still end up with a frustrating situation. The housing industry is unpredictable, as is owning a building. Odds are, you’ll always have a few bad tenants giving you issues.

No landlord-tenant relationship is a breeze and not every disagreement is easily solved. Maintain your reputation as a leader among other landlords by handling bad tenants the right way; professionally and with respect!



Featured image and post images licensed via Pixabay licensing.