Dealing With Tenant Drama: Are You Ready?
Tenants are the reason we survive as landlords. By paying their rent, tenants put gas in our cars, food on the table and hopefully a little money in the bank. Tenants, however, are human, and being human means they bring drama. Are you ready for it?
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Sometimes the drama is petty.
“My roommate and I don’t like each other anymore, she needs to leave.”
Sometimes it is more serious.
“I lost my job.”
You as the landlord need to be ready to deal with tenant drama. Here are my methods of tackling it head on.
Six Keys to Dealing with Tenant Drama
First, be aware that tenants will try and drag you into the drama. Don’t! Be cool, and firm. You do not do tenant drama!
Second, be clear at move in that renting an apartment is an adult experience and you expect everyone to act and behave like adults. You will not get into, nor will you resolve disputes between tenants. Rent is due when rent is due no matter who is mad at whom.
Third, have a strong lease that every adult living in the property signs and is a party to. Ensure that each tenant is ‘jointly and severally liable” for the payment of rent. This will protect you if one roommate does not pay. The last thing you want to do is get involved in the he said-she said of “I paid but my room mate did not.” If you have such a clause you can respond with “I did not get paid the full amount, you are all out.” Such a phrase makes money suddenly appear.
Fourth, have policies in place for the more serious matters. If someone loses their job or gets a divorce, it does not matter what your lease says, things are going to change. Managing the change is your number one job now. You want your unit back ASAP so you can get it re-rented.
The key in these more serious situations is a firm but fair hand. Listen to your tenant and let them know you understand their problem. However, also let them know that they need to make arrangements ASAP. If a tenant needs to break a lease, explain that your policy is an extra month’s rent and forfeiture of the security deposit (know what your local laws allow here). Most will understand. If they have lost their job, you are not going to get blood from a stone — let them go, but ask for things to be cleaned out by a specific date and provide them a good future reference if you can. You do not need to stick it to them at this point. You may even want to pay them a little to go if they cannot afford it. Remember the goal is to get the unit back in good condition ASAP. Court for me is an expensive last resort.
Fifth, have a section on your rental application for tenants to list emergency contacts. Tenants do odd things. They fall off the wagon, they stop taking their meds and start screaming in the middle of the night. You need to be careful in these types of situations, especially with privacy issues. A good idea is to contact a family member and suggesting, without saying too much, that they check in on your tenant. I have had success with this approach in the past.
Finally, be aware of your local laws and the potential liability they may impose on you. For example, if you become aware of drug dealing or child abuse and do nothing you may become liable. Be careful and act if you must.
If you want to be a landlord, expect the tenant drama. If you want to be a successful landlord, protect yourself from the drama with a solid lease, application, firm policies and knowledge of applicable law. You cannot predict or be ready for all of the drama you will experience (we change our house rules every year as we gain more ‘experience.”), but you can minimize it.
Please share any thoughts you may have on dealing with the drama.