Give a Tenant an Inch, They’ll Take a Mile…And More!

While we all try to get the best tenants possible, occasionally a bad one slips through the cracks, or we may purchase a new building and inherit such a tenant. They may pay their rent late, create nuisances for other tenants or create safety hazards in the building.

While it can be a frustrating and expensive process to deal with these nuisances, your lease should protect you from such issues. Therefore, you need to make a habit of following leases to a tee, and treat all tenants equally and consistently.

Oddly enough, I see most tenant issues arise when landlords are nice and let bad behavior slip. Maybe a tenant asks if they can start using an empty garage, or store some items in the common areas and you acquiesce. Soon your nice gesture may turn into a tenant taking over the whole backyard and blocking fire exits.

As opposed to setting a precedent for giving tenants what they want and forming their habit of asking and receiving, you need to get in a habit of reminding them that their bad behavior will not be tolerated.

An easy answer to tenant requests is “your lease does not provide for that.” Don’t be combative. Be business-like and rely on the lease for support. The lease is there to protect both the landlord and the tenants by setting forth the terms of the lease so that both parties have a guideline of their responsibilities. Most tenants usually understand that they signed the lease, and in doing so, agreed to and accepted the terms. So in effect, you are saying, “we agreed to this, this is what you are going to get,” and most reasonable tenants will accept that.

In the event that the tenant commits a nuisance without asking first, or in opposition to your response, you need to act quickly, intelligently and diligently. In essence, POUNCE!

In your first warning to the tenants, you should include the lease covenant they broke, details of the infraction with dates and times, and the penalty if they don’t remedy the behavior immediately.

Not all tenants are going to follow the rules or quit their unruly behavior with just a simple letter. If they don’t, the second letter is a three-day notice, which states the same as the first letter. The three-day notice starts the eviction process.

If after three days, the behavior has not changed, you need to contact an attorney to proceed.

I know what you are going to say. “I don’t want to pay an attorney.” Remember, a tenant who is allowed to behave badly will continue to behave badly and will probably get worse.

It is better to pay now rather than have the situation deteriorate, which will make a bigger fight for your attorney and more legal fees for you.

Do your research and hire a qualified, ethical attorney. A loss in this case may inspire the offensive tenant to act even more brashly, which just starts the whole process over again, resulting in more legal fees.

Here are some quick tips:

  1. Serve letters and three-day notices with the first offense
  2. Continue to serve three-day notices with each additional infraction
  3. Go to an attorney early on and do not scrimp. The best attorneys are expensive, but the ethical, aggressive ones will save you money in time, their negotiation skills and frustration.
  4. Try to take the emotion out of negotiating with tenants. As landlords it is frustrating that we sometimes have to pay a difficult tenant to leave when we have worked so hard for our money. However, if paying a tenant a sum can make your life easier, make your other tenants more comfortable, and you can recoup the costs fairly quickly by rerenting the unit at market rate, it really is a win-win situation.
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