7 ways to deal with uncooperative tenants so you can act quickly, stay within legal limits and document your interactions with problem tenants.
By Justin Becker
When you’re a landlord or property manager, there are a lot of problems to deal with on a daily basis. There are regular things like maintenance issues, of course. But the most challenging problems of all are related to difficult or uncooperative tenants.
What kind of problems can uncooperative tenants give to property managers or landlords?
Dealing with people is a notoriously difficult business in itself. In other sectors, people working as cashiers or wait staff frequently complain about having to deal with uncooperative customers. They get blamed for the smallest things, even when a solution isn’t in their hands. Other folks might swear that they will never work retail again, just to avoid the constant mental struggle of handling dissatisfied, troublesome people.
Ask the other landlords in your social circle, and you may realize that property management is somewhat similar. However, the upside here is that you might actually be on the side with more power! Tenants are in a rental property, which you either own or manage. While it’s important to stick to the rental agreement when possible, also remember that no tenant really wants an eviction notice.
When to take action against a bad tenant?
If you’re fairly new to the landlord or property management game, you may not recognize the signs of an uncooperative tenant right away. While it’s fine to give some leeway if a trusted tenant is having cash flow problems, you have to draw the line somewhere.
For starters, be on the lookout for the following red flags (especially if they’re consistent and frequent):
- Unnecessary maintenance requests that are not mentioned in the lease agreement
- Lease violations such as keeping pets, smoking indoors, etc
- Late payments
- Late fees (for services or pets)
- Signs of illegal activities
- Unpaid rent or only partial payments
- Property damage outside normal wear and tear
- Disrespect or damage to another tenant’s belongings
- Refusal to move out in case of a foreclosure
Granted, not all of the above issues mean that you have to send a vacate notice to the uncooperative tenants. An uncooperative tenant might only be having a rough time or not know enough about sticking to a strict payment plan. As a landlord or manager, you need to decide between going to small claims court, retaining the security deposit, or starting the eviction process.
If the trouble is more related to a complaint from one occupant toward another, there’s one more decision to make. You may let the tenants resolve disputes on their own if they’re not too serious, or get involved in the tenants’ problems yourself.
7 Ways to Deal with Uncooperative Tenants
Whether you’ve taken over the property from previous landlords or are interviewing prospective tenants at present, it’s essential to do your homework beforehand. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the most common problems and the best possible solutions to problem tenants:
What to Do Beforehand
The best way to handle bad tenants is to stay prepared at all times. Once a problem arises, you need to have a clear plan of action already in place. A late or missed rent payment is among the most common issues; you don’t want to lose out on your income while the tenant remains in a rental property they haven’t paid for. Even if you have a brand new tenant for that 950 sq. ft. two-bedroom apartment, your research on dealing with problem tenants starts now (if not sooner).
1. Do your research
Bad tenants can come in all shapes and forms. Perhaps they missed out on the rent for a few months. They might have shady visitors coming in at all hours of the day and night. Other tenants may frequently complain of their neighbors playing loud music or letting things rot and stink in their apartment.
Act quickly and effectively
When you are informed about the situation, try to manage the issues as effectively and quickly as possible. It’s not enough to simply clear away the trash that a tenant has left out for a day; you have to go in and confront them about it. Start off with being polite; offer flexible payment plans if viable, and see if that will do the trick. Take legal counsel if you have to and see what the safest plan should be before sending a rent notice or jump-starting the eviction process.
Understand your rights
Every state and country may have different rights and roles for the landlord. Make sure you understand these, along with the rights of your tenants, steps for legal eviction, etc.
2. Stay within the legal limits
Signing a lease agreement means that the tenant legally has to abide by the rules, policies, and regulations of the rental unit. Ensure that all of these are stated within the documents. Get a copy (electronic or physical, whatever suits them) for the tenants as well.
3. Double-check the lease agreement before signing
Ensure that the agreement’s details include what you allow and don’t allow tenants to do on the property. The amount of rent, when you will collect rent, security deposit, pets, maintenance, guests, additional occupants, and other items should also get a mention. The landlord and tenant responsibilities should be clear-cut and easy to understand.
4. Keep records
As a property owner or manager, you need to protect yourself at all costs. Documenting and keeping a record of the important things can really help you out in a tight spot:
Even if the rent payments are regular and there’s nothing to hold against a tenant yet, you should have documentation of all your interactions with them. Unless you’re good friends with your tenant, your text conversations will probably be short. Don’t delete these; or at least have a backup if you do. Make sure your tenant legally can’t touch you by claiming or denying certain elements of your interactions.
Document the policies, procedures and agreements
When there’s a tenant complaint or some other issue, always document the procedures that take place afterward. Include the communication forms, response times, warnings, rental history, notices served, and so on. If applicable, make incident reports and escalate the issue when necessary. There’s now software for customer-relations management that can help you with proper documentation for late rent payments, all sorts of emails, notices, warnings, and even text messages.
5. Train yourself and your staff
Many times, all you need is careful, respectful communication. Whether you’re in charge of only two tenants or a whole apartment complex, know the difference between a legal and a non-legal problem. If it’s the latter, you or your staff should first engage the tenant in a direct discussion and let them know the consequences of non-compliance.
For instance, phrase the discussion as saying “rent is due on X day/week; if you don’t pay rent by then, you’ll get an eviction notice/penalty.”
Give some leeway
If the credit and rental history of a particular tenant is good, a bit of conflict resolution might be all you need. It could be that the tenant simply doesn’t have enough to pay rent this month. If you trust them enough (limit emotional or personal feelings, though), talk about a partial payment instead. However, they shouldn’t withhold rent for more than three or four months.
6. Have a screening process in place
All sorts of people might apply for a rental space, so an extensive screening process is a must. This will help you weed out the people who might create problems and disputes down the road. However, even the best tenant might encounter problematic situations, changes in finances, or unexpected emotional states that were not present during the interview.
7. Know about termination notices
Before issuing a notice or warning, see if you know what it entails. Take a look at the local laws, especially if you’re thinking about eviction. You need to serve the right kind of notice that deals with the issues instead of exacerbating them. Start with these three most common notices:
- Nonpayment of rent: Issue this when the tenant doesn’t pay rent at the required time; it notifies them to either pay up or vacate the place.
- Cure or quit: Use this when your tenant is in violation of the lease; it gives them some time to either pack up or rectify the problem.
- Unconditional quit or vacate: Issue this when the tenant is causing dangerous or severe problems, or constantly repeating a lesser problem; this notice will categorically state that the tenant has to leave.
Every notice needs to have certain elements to stay valid. The rules might differ according to where you are, so consult the local laws and legal professionals before issuing anything.
Responding to Common Uncooperative Tenant Problems
After covering how to prepare yourself for problematic uncooperative tenants, it’s now time to check out the most common issues that you may face. No amount of screening can give you an absolutely perfect tenant. So, it’s best to know what to do when the following issues come up:
1. Late payments and non-payments
The most basic responsibility of any tenant is to pay rent when it’s due. Failing to do this will adversely affect your income or that of your direct employers.
What to do?
First of all, the rental policy should outline the guidelines surrounding rent: the amount, when it’s due, late payments, fines, and so on. In case of any payment issues, act quickly and make sure the tenant knows of the repercussions. For complete failure of payment, a nonpayment-of-rent notice is the most common choice.
2. Noise, disruption and uncooperative tenants
Are your tenants regularly fighting each other, playing music too loudly, or just generally being disruptive? They might think it’s not an issue. But they’re actually taking away from the quiet, more muted enjoyment of their neighbors. Everyone has the right to be at peace where they live, and too much noise is simply not acceptable.
Your tenant’s lease should have a clause that states such a right, though the wording might be a little different. Quiet enjoyment also includes no sexual harassment, intimidation, disturbing people, or racial slurs.
What to do?
If you get noise or disruption complaints from your other tenants, document these for future evidence. Give fair warning to the offending person, and document that as well. If they don’t stop, remind them of the lease terms. After that, it’s time for a cure-or-quit notice through email or regular mail.
Another way around
If you’re considering renovated one-bedroom apartments, do look into soundproofing the units. This could eliminate a lot of the complaints and also increase the value of your property. It will also make the current tenants happier, which might make them less disruptive!
3. Destruction of Property
Many tenants might not care about damaging rental property. In their mind, it isn’t theirs and hence not their responsibility. However, you have the right to demand the repair of damages if they’re beyond what is considered normal wear and tear. Again, keep a record of the first request and preferably have it in writing.
What if the tenant can’t repair the damages?
If the tenant has caused damages that are too expensive or difficult for them to correct themselves, you’ll have to take action. After all, damage to the property adversely affects the property owners most of all.
In the case of a huge hole in the structure or some plumbing issue, it’s wise to call in a professional. You can then send the bill to the tenant, let them pay it off in installments, or suggest deducting the cost from the security deposit.
If the tenant isn’t open to any of this, issue a cure-or-quit notice. The next notice will be to vacate the place. To be on the safe side regarding such disputes, make sure the lease explains all responsibilities in case of damage to the property.
Finally, if the tenant has a record of causing damage, make sure you conduct routine inspections of their unit. This will hopefully keep them on their toes and they’ll be wary of damaging anything in the future.
4. Illegal or questionable activities
Sometimes, tenants might be really shady people who want to use the property for illegal activities. If you strongly suspect anything like drug abuse, selling of illegal drugs, money laundering, or some other serious problem, call the police first. A call to the local narcotics division will let you find out about any reports that are connected with the rental property.
What to do?
If the neighbors call with suspicion of illegal dealings, request them to deliver a letter or send an email detailing their observations. Also, ask them to send a copy of the same letter to the local narcotics department. This will help to document evidence. Finally, assure any witness that their details will not be disclosed to anyone, and people dealing in drugs can be quite dangerous.
Consider a cash-for-keys offer for uncooperative tenant
Evicting tenants for illegal activities might serve further problems. So, you may have to play it safe here. If you fear that the tenants might threaten someone or cause damage to the property before leaving, think about a cash-for-keys offer. This means that you offer them money in exchange for vacating the apartment before their lease is up. While you’ll have to part with some cash, it’s a small price to pay for everyone’s security and safety.
5. Consistent complaints and disputes
At times, problem tenants may not be up to anything sinister or damaging. However, they can be the most annoying of all by always coming up with maintenance disputes, complaints, and other hindrances to your routine. It would be fine if these complaints had some grounds, but they’re usually too many in number to take seriously.
For instance, a certain tenant may complain that they don’t like the color of a certain room and demand repainting even if the paint is still new. They might also demand repairs for minor things that lie outside your liability coverage. The complaints and requests could flood your inbox and voicemail. If they accost you in person, these uncooperative tenants can make your daily life a burden.
What to do?
The first step is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of how pesky they are. Document each request; if there’s just too much communication, sit those tenants down and have a serious conversation. If they’re making unreasonable demands, remind them about the lease terms.
In case things are just getting out of control, wait until the lease is up. You may then refuse to renew the lease or make the conditions so strict that they might prefer to leave.
The Takeaway On Uncooperative Tenants
The current landlord and property owners in the market certainly have their work cut out. While they do get monetary compensation for their pains, the mental and emotional burden can take a physical toll.
Keep in mind that every landlord and property manager will come across bad tenants and problem uncooperative tenants at some point in their lives. The tips above might help you prevent future squabbles between many tenants, property management, and even family members. Stay professional, communicate clearly, and be ready to take firm action if a tenant fails to comply after repeated warnings. When in doubt, a legal professional team can come to your rescue.
About the author:
Justin Becker is a property owner in the state of Michigan and has a passion for managing communities. He owns apartment complexes and mobile home communities, and has been writing his own blogs for his properties for several years.