As landlords and property managers, we often focus so much on choosing the well-paying tenant, we forget that there are other tenant characteristics that can make managing properties a nightmare.
Here are three of my worst tenant archetypes: their modus operandi, how to spot them in tenant screening, and how to handle them if they manage to slip through your screening process.
Nightmare Tenant 1: The Excuse-Maker
The Excuse-Maker’s M.O.
Over thirty years ago, I entered the dominion of property management. Since then I have heard every excuse in the book.
When it came to paying rent, I’ve heard everything from “My sister’s best friend’s mother passed away” to “I ran out of checks” (the tenant equivalent of “My dog ate my homework”). In my early years, lack of experience and naivete had me believing many of them and worse, falling for some.
As the years grew on and I started to see the common theme of one after another of these justifications and pleas. Enough was enough, I had it! It was enough to make a person cynical and untrusting. I went through a phase where I’d been burned so many times by tenant excuses that I admit I grew a bit cold and turned a deaf ear.
But eventually, I was able to find the balance of enforcing my lease agreement’s rules while maintaining empathy and professionalism.
Screening Out Excuse-Maker Tenants
Some people pay their bills every month on time, come hell or high water. It’s their nature, and the idea of not paying a bill is not conceivable to them.
Others never saw a bill they wanted to pay on time in their life.
This is where tenant credit reports and eviction history reports shine. The kind of tenant who pays their bills on time, no excuses, will have a credit report filled with on-time payment history. No late payments, on anything from their credit cards to their car payment.
Guess what excuse-maker tenants’ credit reports will look like?
Current and former landlords can also tell you exactly what kind of tenant they are, too.
Handling Tenant Excuses
How on earth does one handle these habitual excuse-makers?
You’re a business owner, whether you think of yourself that way or not. So keep your property management business-like.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be empathetic and friendly. Start with “I am so sorry you are going through this” and then take it home: “However, we adhere strictly to the lease agreement and we must receive the rent by ______.”
Do not waver. Keep your emotions at a distance.
Property Management Tip: Fall for an excuse-maker once and you lose footing. Remember, if a customer walks into a supermarket to purchase eggs, gets to the cashier and says “My cat ate my money,” the cashier is going to take the eggs away and say “Sorry.” This is how we ought to think about monthly rent. You don’t pay, you lose the right to live there.
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Nightmare Tenant 2: The Nitpicker
The Nitpicker Tenant M.O.
This is the renter who complains. Endlessly.
Her apartment is too cold in the summer and too hot in the winter. The neighbors are too loud. Her floors squeak. No matter what you do to rectify the situation, the complaining marches on. You see her number appear on your phone and your heart starts pounding. “Change my lightbulb”, she says.
As you gain experience, these stalker-tenants may reveal secrets to their pettiness. For instance, I recently had a showing where during the entire time this interested party picked apart everything as flawed. At the end of the tour, to my surprise, she tells me she is interested. I provided her with the rental application. I let her know I had several interested parties but will be making a decision within the next day or so (fingers crossed behind my back).
I did not sign a lease agreement with her.
Spotting Nitpicky Tenants
There is more to tenant screening than just a credit report and criminal background check. Who wants to invest in real estate to be constantly badgered? Be sure to listen and look for clues during showings. You would be surprised by how much a potential tenant will reveal during that time.
In your tenant screening be sure to talk to not only their current landlord, but their prior landlord as well. Remember, their current landlord might paint a rosy picture of their nightmare tenant, just to get rid of them!
But perhaps you missed this in your tenant screening, and already have one of these pesters; what to do?
Handling Nitpicky Tenants
First, be clear what is considered a repairable item. Who is responsible if the dishwasher breaks? Who is responsible for changing light bulbs? It should clearly written into your lease agreement.
Let her know that aside for a true emergency, please put all repair requests in writing via email or snail mail.
The same rule applies to complaints about neighboring units. Have these consistent complainers put the complaints in writing with details of time, date, and a specific description of the supposed offense. Now, be sure that if there is an issue, you do address it with the neighboring tenant. And if the noise is extreme, I direct tenants to file a noise complaint with the police.
Lastly, consider letting them go. Sometimes it may be better to cut the losses. If the grumbler is living within a multi-unit, chances are that other renters are being bothered as well. To save the good tenants, and your own peace-of-mind, sometimes you just gotta let go.
How? First, simply be stern and say “Ms. Whiner, if you want to stay, you must follow our lease agreement’s terms and conditions. However, it does appear that you seem to be very unhappy here.” And then provide a mutually beneficial arrangement where she leaves and you find a new quiet, non-complaining tenant.
Remember, you can always non-renew her lease agreement as her lease term end date is approaching. Just make sure you send her notice in writing, in the time frame prescribed by your state’s landlord-tenant laws.
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Nightmare Tenant 3: The Slob
The Slob Tenant’s M.O.
My favorite tenant. NOT! (People still make “not” jokes, right? No? Oh well.)
These messy tenants have their stuff everywhere. On the front lawn, in the common areas, balconies, you name it.
In a single-family investment, you drive by and feel the pulse beating in your neck as you see kid’s toys, cigarette butts, old furniture (you get the pic), strewn everywhere. For those multifamily dwelling slobs, they have literally taken over every bit of space there is. Stairways, halls, laundry rooms, yards, decks… the other residents cannot even get to their own front door without tripping on a toy or a box. Trash is placed in the hallway, waiting to be placed in the dumpster, five days in advance! Can you say “stench”?
Tenant Screening to Avoid Messy Renters
Want in on a little secret? You can easily spot these scallywags before you even rent to them. Look at their car. Not the outside, the inside. Find a way to peep into your applicant’s vehicles. More often than not, if their car is an absolute mess and filled to the brim with junk, then your rental will be treated the same.
Furthermore, see how they handle their children during the showing. Are they little angels? Or, are they just little mini-terrors that are left to run amuck in the kitchen while mum and pop are viewing the bedrooms? These are all in-your-face clues that you may have a slob. Run!
To truly know how clean they are, drop by their current home. Tell them you’ll be in the neighborhood and you want to drop a copy of the lease agreement to go over it with them. While you’re there, be sure to ask to use the bathroom, so you can walk through their home and see how they treat it.
That’s exactly how they’ll treat your property. If you don’t like what you see, don’t sign a lease agreement with them!
Handling Slob Tenants
Find yourself stuck with a lease with these scoundrels? Keep to the policy. Start with a written warning: clean up this mess, or we will be filing in court for eviction. If they ignore your first informal written notice, serve them a formal eviction notice.
By the way, be sure to take pictures! You’ll need tangible evidence for eviction court, if you have to evict them.
It’s tempting to ignore messy tenants, if they keep their mess in their own unit. But they invite ants, cockroaches, rats, and other infestations, they drive away your good tenants, and they add to the wear and tear on your rental property.
Nightmare Tenants Don’t Happen “to” You – You’re In Control!
Remember when doing your tenant screening, it is not simply a credit score and employment verification. Look beneath the paperwork! Check for behavior, look inside their cars and make a drive-by to their current rental unit. What you see is exactly what you will get.
Stick to the script! That would be the lease agreement. The more specific you get, the better. Your lease’s rules create order and peace. Even describing specific maintenance responsibilities. Dude, we do not change light-bulbs! That creates peace for the landlord, and clarity for the tenants.
Don’t be a slumlord and expect a tenant not to be a slum-tenant. Just as there are bad-egg renters, there are also bad-egg landlords. And frankly, if you want a higher caliber tenant, provide a high caliber rental-unit.
Show tenants that you care about the property. Take off your shoes as you enter for showings and politely ask your rental applicants to do the same. Put a shoe rack right by the entrance. Not only are you setting a precedent, but you also are showing the renter that you do care about your property. You just set the tone for no tolerance for slobs!
What solutions have you used to get those troublesome tenants in line? What clues do you look for before renting?