When Tenants Go Bad- 8 Tips for Dealing with the Drama

by | BiggerPockets.com

Sometimes despite your best efforts, despite your best screening techniques, despite firmly laying down the house rules at move in, some tenants will go bad.  These tenants appeared fine at the move in, they passed your screening tests and none of the red flags were flying.   Suddenly however, they go bad and are now creating a horror story for you, your property and your other tenants.

What do I mean when I say “go bad?”   Here are a couple of examples.

They spend a long week-end drinking and yelling at each other which culminates in assault and destruction of property.  They stop taking their medications and spend nights screaming at the top of their lungs.   They overdose on heroin and the police become involved, kicking in the door and waking up the whole complex at 3 AM.

Unfortunately, these things would not necessarily show up during the screening process.  This was their first assault case, so there was no police record.  How do you screen for mental illness?  And believe it or not, heroin addicts can be quite functional.

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8 Tips for Dealing with Bad Tenants

So what to do if any of these or a similar situation happens to you?

  1. First, be calm.  Yes the situation may be bad but you are only going to make it worse if you go in half cocked.  Spend the evening thinking about the situation.  Sleep on it if you can.  You will find that you will make a much calmer and rational decision about what to do in the morning.
  2. Review your lease.  You have clauses in there about criminal and drug activity being grounds for automatic termination of the lease right (If not you had better put some in.)?  These clauses are your ultimate trump card, but let’s hope you do not have to go all the way to eviction court because that takes time and is expensive.  You want the problem resolved ASAP.
  3. Get prepared to take very quick action.  Your other tenants have seen what happened or have been dealing with the situation for a while now.  Their eyes are now on you to see how you handle the situation.  They are asking themselves. “Will they make this problem go away or let it fester?”  “Will I have to move to get away from this problem?”  A property can spiral out of control quickly if problems like this are not handled in a timely manner.
  4. After completing number 1 above, talk to the offending tenant in a calm, but firm manner as soon as possible.  Let them know you are aware of the situation and let them know that they are in violation of their lease and are expected to move very soon.  DO NOT back down here.  Let them know you are ready and willing to go to court and evict them.  As an incentive and depending on the situation, you may want to offer them their security deposit if they are out by a certain date, with all of their belongings and if the place is clean.  Get a firm date from them of when they are moving and get it all in writing.  Surprisingly, many will willingly go because they do not want to add to their troubles.
  5. Stay on top of the situation and follow up, follow up and follow up every day until the situation is resolved.  Let them know that you are not going to drop the issue.
  6. Get in touch with the emergency contacts which are listed on your application form.  Be careful not to divulge any personal information, but you can let the contacts know that you are concerned and feel the individual may need some help.  This can help move things along.
  7. Never, ever get angry.  As I said be calm and firm.  Trust me, being calm can really go a long way.  You do not want to get confrontational.  Simply explain your position and be firm.  You want your property back and this problem resolved ASAP and as the old saying goes, you can catch a lot more flies with honey.
  8. While following 1 through 7 above, get the eviction process started.  Talk with your attorney.  Get the paperwork together.  Remember you want to act fast and get your property back.  Hopefully you will not need to go all the way to court but sometimes the threat to do so is just not enough.  You will have to take action.

I wish these types of things never happened, but they do.  I wish I could figure out a way to screen for everything.  But I can’t.  Some things will slip through despite your best efforts.

It can be stressful, but the way you react and the way you handle the situation can make all the difference.  Always take the high road.  Remember your other tenants will be watching to see how you react.  Work hard at resolving the problem with the points I have noted above.

So, how did your tenants go bad?  Share your horror story with your comments.

Photo: eighteen1

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.


    • I as a landlord find things get worse when their is collusion with other tenants against the landlord. I speak nice. I speak again and warnings or not a bad tenant hears non of that. I need to know is a non paying tenant allowed to leave lights and fans on just in spite until he is evicted? Not saying turn off utilities but not allowing them to waste since I have to lose even more money and turning them back on when they walk in the door?

      • Kevin Perk


        I think your situation would be very difficult to control and enforce. I feel you pain and hear what you are saying. But the best thing to do is just get them out as fast as you can and move on.

        Thanks for reading and commenting,


  1. Another great post, Kevin. I like the idea of getting in touch with their emergency contacts as an added measure. If they don’t listen to the landlord, they might at the very least listen to someone they know well. And yes, staying calm is important- shouting matches never do anyone any good.

  2. Kevin,
    Great article. Not only will the other tenants be watching to see how you handle things, but so will the community if you live in a smaller town. There are some landlords with a bad reputation in our town for throwing peoples stuff out on the curb, changing locks, having cars towed off, etc. All in violation of tenant law, and very shortsighted. You don’t want to be that guy. I have done a form of cash for keys several times. Giving someone undeserved money goes against a lot of things I believe in, but it IS often the path of least resistance. It limits damages, gets the unit back, re-rent. Life goes on. After a few “tenants gone wild” experiences it gets easier to stay calm and be professional even though you want to go all Incredible Hulk on them, ha ha. You WILL have tenants go bad, it’s how you handle it that reveals your character.

    • Kevin Perk


      I think you are right on. The key for me is getting rid of the problem and getting my property back in as good a condition as I can. I hate to pay them too, but I am going to have to pay someone (attorney and court to kick them out). It is just so much easier and less confrontational to deal with it on the front end without the courts.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences,


  3. Yo Kev,

    Nice work on a issue that ties my stomach up in knots. Your post brings back some bad memories, but it’s spot on.

    I encourage every landlord to read you post twice.

  4. I couldn’t agree more! I like the idea of getting hold of an emergency contact for possible extra help. When it comes to a bad tenant, I have always liked to be real with them, and calm. Let them know you know of the issue, how its violating their lease, and how you would like them to move because of the lease violation. Then give them the empowering option- if you move in 3 days you will get your deposit back and I will not file for eviction- which is GOOD for YOU (the tenant) because you are going to need a new place to live. So they feel like they can get a fresh start and hopefully will go quietly. Unfortunately, they will likely become someone else’s problem- but only if their new landlord doesn’t check landlord references. I may not file eviction on this person, but I would be very honest with the prospective landlord. It’s karma and I hope that someone would look out for me as well! If they apply with all smart landlords, then looks like they will be back in the basement at mom and dad’s 🙂

  5. I rent rooms in my home, which presents many complications. I have one room mate who continually goes to the other, making offers she has no legal grounds to offer, and to share any details or agreements made between ‘us’. When she is unhappy about anything she gets very loud and vocal, it feels like emotional blackmail, as she knows I don’t want my other room mate impacted. She places notes of complaint in public areas as well.

    Every time I confront her on ANYTHING, (she breaks the house rules and lease) she simply denies and gets defensive. Meanwhile she is high maintenance, dramatic, and demanding of things not even in the lease agreement.

    I offered her some space in my additional fridge, this was just a generous offer on my part,
    and then she complained her food was too cold and her veggies froze, and she had to throw some food out. I asked her to get her food out, and now she is demanding more space in the ‘common shared’ fridge. This is just typical of her.

    She also demands I turn on lights all over the house, as it is ‘dangerous’ if it is dark when she gets in late at night. It started with the porch light, then I was expected to light the downstairs, now she wants the upstairs lights on, and if even one night the lights are off,
    I get letters about my home being dangerous.

    She throws trash in the recycles and recycles in the trash,
    the lease prohibits this clearly. the few times I have asked her to stop doing this,
    she denied of course. I literally had to show her the clothes, unopened canned foods, kitchen utensils etc I pulled out of the recycle bin and say, is this yours??
    (she said, well….yes)

    She uses my home for storage even though the lease says it is not allowed.

    I list all this, because when you have roomers renting in your home,
    how do you legally prevent drama, such as when she involves the other room mate
    in her issues. I also think it is hard to evict on grounds of breaking house rules.

    These issues may sound petty, but I spend much time cleaning after her,
    sorting her trash etc. and she is so vocal when called out on anything,
    it doesn’t seem worth it.

    I would like to see more info on lease for house share situations.
    and would be interested in what you can legally enforce in terms of
    preventing ‘drama’ and one room mate engaging the other
    regarding their lease and agreements.

  6. First, I have experience with room rentals. If it is not allowed in the lease — do no allow it. Make a copy of the lease, highlight problem areas and tape to her door. If she refuses to comply — evict. Do the proper forms, tape to her door and continue to the eviction process. Hopefully, you have not done more than a month to month lease. A week to week lease is even better with room rentals.

    The light issue outside is a safety factor but inside tell her to get a flashlight. Hopefully everyone has a lock on their door (including yourself). Do not let roommates take over your space. Stand firm. Put noise and loud voice, music and tv sounds in the lease. Put quiet times in the lease. If you have a lease, put in it that they can leave with a 7-day or 30-day notice (depending on the type of lease) by you or by them for any reason.

    Please note–unclean people promote vermin, loud people prevent others from having quiet enjoyment of their space which can cause good tenants to leave and which usually is a legal reason to have them leave.

  7. Question: can I deduct any cleaning done while room mate was in the home? My problem room mate has been defiant, she went into my garage and took a new bag of ice melt, which did not even belong to me, and literally poured it all over the drive and entry stoop, in an effort to melt the snow. She is somewhat paranoid about being safe and thinks that if there is 2 inches of snow, she is in ‘danger’. The ice melt actually makes it more dangerous, as the concrete keeps icing back up (colorado weather goes cold to warm to cold) when there is not some snow on the concrete. There was so much ice melt, she tracked it into the home, it was all over the entry way, and then tracked all over the house. I instructed her to never use it again, she responded she would if she wanted too. And she did. I had to clean every floor in the house, and will have to have all the carpets cleaned when she leaves as they are full of salt. Can I deduct for this? this is just one example.

    She has been so hostile, that I have just kept a log and photos on a daily basis.

    she also is constantly leaving angry notes posted publicly in the house, which impacts my rite to ‘peace and quiet’ and affects my other tenant as well.

    what is the best way to diminish her frivolous complaints?

    she complains about things like missing mug lids…..and demands I return them to her.
    (several times after harassing me daily on matters like this, she then finds them at her work or in her room) this is ridiculous as she chronically violates her lease, causes me endless work, and then complains about things like the rain is making too much noise running down the gutter!

    She has 5 months left on her lease my main issues are:

    I want her to comply with lease….
    I do not want her complaining to my other room mate,
    who will have grounds to leave if she is bothered by her drama.

    If I didn’t have my ‘other room mate’, who I like,
    I would have evicted her long ago.

    utilities are included in my lease, but she is wasting electricity leaving lights on
    constantly, she leaves her laptop plugged in 24/7, and runs fans in her room.
    lease requires she inform me of any additional electric use due to fans and so on.
    my usage has gone up 8 % since she moved in, even prior to my other room mate moving in, so she can’t blame it on her. (I have always had 3 people in the house, so usage should be the same. as the utilities are included in lease, can I deduct for her leaving lights on?

    does anyone have a good form for tenants to file complaints,
    that will discourage frivolous complaints?

  8. Great post. I am unfortunately going through an eviction right now with very bad tenants. I over rode my intuition and wanted to share some red flags which I saw at the time I rented to them.

    These people, in their 40s, were still living with his parents or in one of the parent’s houses. He worked for his father, wife did not work. He made good money, but in working for the father, likely the father will hide his money or pay the son in cash if turned over for collection. I also should have dropped any thought of renting to them when seeing their driver’s license photos (I have a woman who helps to rent my property), as he had the look of an ex felon and she, not much better.

    I have since gone to a professional screening company and also interview the people’s employers myself, in a nice way, but garnering what I can not only about their job futures but about their personal habits, if reliable, if clean people, etc. I look to rent to people with at least one year at a job, ideally both have good jobs and good income, Not working for a family member or business. Most people are leery of burning a landlord is they know that you will likely pursue them through collection if they do damage or don’t pay rent, evictions show as well with a computer search, and few tenants with good jobs wish to jeopardize their jobs with a garnishment of wages.

    And as I’ve learned only too well, go with your gut feeling, if a tenant does not feel right, pass, even if you have to have a vacancy for a month or so. If you are priced fairly, in a good area, it will be rent.

    • Kevin Perk


      Thanks for sharing your story.

      Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, but what you have written regarding your experience is very wise.

      Trust your gut. If you sense something is wrong, dig deeper, ask more questions. double check and recheck, and stick to your guns. The truth has a funny way of surfacing in these situations.

      Thanks for reading and for commenting,


  9. Thanks for this post. I learned the hard way. Did not feel great about the male tenant during interview but the professionally done criminal check and other checks turned up nothing of concern. Female held very responsible job at local hospital, seemed sincere and pleasant. Upon move-out the place was a disaster, and they disappeared. No forwarding address. Damage to property, kicked in door, hole punched in wall. I found it hard to grasp what the heck had happened until I did my own criminal background check online using county records in male’s former place of residence and found over a dozen convictions, one for domestic violence and bodily harm. Should have trusted my gut about the male from the start and should have done my own double-checking on criminal background. Should also have done thorough quarterly inspections. I’d only been in the front end of the unit during their tenancy and everything looked okay. Damage was all in rear areas, bathroom/bedrooms. And as I look back, much of their behavior that struck me as slightly odd on occasion made sense. They are obviously people with big problems. Yes, definitely trust your gut and dig deeper!

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