Tips on Identifying and Handling Problem Tenants

Even a single problem tenant can make a landlord’s life extremely difficult. Some tenants are charming at first, but quickly show their true colors when they begin causing trouble. Other tenants may rack up three months or more of past-due rent and then disappear, leaving you high and dry. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who are skillful when it comes to not paying rent, and they will go to great lengths to achieve their goals.

Here are some ways to avoid renting to problem tenants, and strategies for dealing with them if you already have them living on your property.

1. Put everything in writing. Place a code of conduct in your rental agreement that clearly states what action you will take if the code is broken. Make sure you spell out exactly what can lead to eviction. However, also make sure that you adhere to local laws in regard to evicting a tenant.

2. Perform background checks. There are many services that will provide you with background check information, such as criminal records, that can help you find out ahead of time if your applicant is a problem tenant.

3. Check their credit. In addition to background checks, get the necessary information from your applicants to perform a credit check. You will need their full name and Social Security number on their written application, as well written permission to perform a credit check.

4. Do not get taken in. If a story sounds too heartbreaking to be true, it probably is. Some problem tenants are masters at crafting sob stories. Think with your head — not your heart — when making a decision about potential tenants.

5. Beware of inaccurate references. If an applicant’s references do not check out, something may be wrong. Many people count on the fact that landlords will not follow up on the references they provide. Do not make this mistake. Contact the references, and if more than one is either unreachable or the information is inaccurate, do not rent to this tenant.

These tips will help you deal with existing problem tenants.

6. Record late payments. If your lease states that payment must be made by a certain time each month, document each late payment you have received. This will assist you in having grounds to serve an eviction notice.

7. Listen to your other tenants or neighbors. If you are not living on the premises, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s going on. If your other tenants are complaining about one tenant’s actions, listen to them and make note of what is going on.

Look for patterns, such as repeated complaints of loud music, or garbage not put in the proper place. Your first course of action should be to write a polite letter to the tenant, who may simply be unaware that such activities are bothering other tenants. If you suspect illegal activities, ask neighbors to let you know if they see or hear anything unusual. Be careful, however, because you can’t accuse someone of illegal activities without proof. If something is clearly illegal, consider talking to the authorities rather than confronting the tenant directly.

8. Don’t delay action. Problem tenants can become worse over time if you allow their behavior to continue. If they know you won’t enforce the terms of their lease, they will continue to take advantage of you. First, make sure you know your rights as a landlord, and are operating within the law. Then, stand your ground, document any problems, and take action swiftly.

No matter what problems you may have with a tenant, you should have a written rental agreement in place to protect your interests in your property. This will give you legal recourse, should something go wrong with a current — or potential — tenant.