5 Tips to Handle (& Prevent) Tenants From Hell

by | BiggerPockets.com

Look, as a real estate investor, you have to prepare for the worst.

One of those unexpected things is coming across an absolute nightmare, disaster, shocking tenant. Look, it happens to all of us no matter how much we pre-qualify them. I own a property management company, and I think we do a fantastic job. But before I even had the full operation set up, I had an absolute tenant from hell. They would constantly complain about certain repair items, they called the division of real estate on us, and they called out the fire brigade because an external light, which they installed, exploded. Then they were complaining they got carbon dioxide or monoxide poisoning from the external light of the house. Figure that one out. But the funny thing is, when we sent out a couple contractors to do the repairs, she allegedly revealed herself to our contractors. What I’m saying is, you’re going to come across a variety of people.

1. Hire a property manager.

I encourage all of you to do is hire a property manager because you do not want to be directly exposed to your tenants. I was exposed back in the day to my tenants and this particular individual, and because I got close, they thought they had the power to do whatever they wanted. It probably took us over a year to resolve the situation. That’s how bad it was. So first of all, hire a property manager because they are going to have the experience to know what to do and how to do it just in case a tenant from hell pops up.

Related: 7 Types of Tenants Who Cause MAJOR Landlord Headaches

2. Pre-qualify your tenants.

Another important step is to pre-qualify these individuals. Three things we look for before we place a tenant in a property include:

  1. Income: This is the first thing we look at, and it should be at least three times the monthly rent. This is very important because you need to make sure the tenants can actually afford that rent.
  2. Eviction history: This is kind of an automatic fail. If you have any dent or a prior eviction on your history, this means the landlord or property management company had to file for eviction after multiple attempts to collect the rent. So it’s pretty much an automatic disqualification for us.
  3. Background check: You want to do a thorough background search to see if any criminal activity comes up. A lot of times, we have found specific lawsuits where a tenant was a professional scammer. So you need to conduct your due diligence in that way.

The tenant from hell that we had when I first started in real estate was a professional scammer. Only later did we find out that they had two lawsuits against the city, and one of them was for falling off a footpath. How the hell can you fall off a footpath? A footpath is built for you to walk on and not to fall off. As I said, guys, it’s a funny story. Still, do your best to pre-qualify these individuals.

3. Draft up a bulletproof lease.

Now, these people are going to live in your property and so they going to sign a lease. Over the years, we have developed a lease the size of an encyclopedia. I pretty much want you to sign over the rights to your first born, second born and 17th born. Over the years, you learn from your mistakes and you start adding specific things. Make sure that your property management company understands what some of the pitfalls are when it comes to leasing properties so that they have all the clauses. Maybe even get a real estate attorney to review the lease so it’s as bulletproof as possible.

Related: What to Do as Soon as You Deny or Approve a Prospective Tenant

4. Stay professional and organized.

Let’s say your tenant from hell is in your property right now. What do you do? You have to stay professional. You also have to stay very detailed with a timeline of events. At the first little glimpse of someone being problematic, disgruntled, or a potential threat, keep a timeline of events. You want when they called, when they emailed, when they texted, what they said, and what your response was. Judges love to see this and that you are organized and professional.

5. Look for loopholes in the lease.

In Ohio, rent is due on the first and it’s late on the third. Now, the standard procedure is to send the tenant a three-day notice to pay or quit. This means they have to move out of the property, and we do not give them an option to pay. Then, of course, we file for an eviction, go to court, and ideally the problematic tenant gets evicted. If all goes as planned, we’re done with the tenant from hell at that point.

Having a detailed lease may help you rid yourself of a horrendous tenant. That’s because the only way that you can find a loophole in the lease is if it’s really detailed and has all the mumbo jumbos in there, including clauses that stipulate that you can’t run a business from your place of residence, you can’t consume any drugs on the premises, you can’t smoke in the property, and you can’t have more than one pet. We have so many of these little things in the lease because they protect us in case we get another tenant from hell. That way, we can show proof that they are breaking that lease and we can file an eviction and a three-day notice to pay or quit.

Of course every state, every company, and every landlord has their own way of doing these things. This is just my way. I’m not an attorney, so be sure to check the legality surrounding Fair Housing laws and eviction processes in your market to stay on the correct side of the law. Ultimately, treat your tenants with respect, be patient, be lenient, fix their repairs, and communicate—but when you get that tenant from hell, you have to evict them at all costs. Just make sure to do it in a legal way with respect to the laws in your state.

What’s your tenant from hell story?

Please comment below. 

About Author

Engelo Rumora

Engelo Rumora, a.k.a.”the Real Estate Dingo,” quit school at the age of 14 and played professional soccer at the age of 18. From there, he began to invest in real estate. He now owns real estate all over the world and has bought, renovated, and sold over 500 properties. He runs runs Ohio Cashflow, a turnkey real estate investment company in the country (Inc 5000 2017 & 2018) and is currently in the process of launching a real estate brokerage called List’n Sell Realty. He is also known for giving houses away to people in need and his crazy videos on YouTube. His mission in life is to be remembered as someone that gave it his all and gave it all away.

16 Comments

  1. Nate Duncan

    This post brought back memories! Ugh! I rented out my previous residence and we had tenants from hell! They basically squatted for four months. The first month they paid their rent no problem. Then the wife started complaining about small things. The fridge was broke, we fixed it. A door in the bedroom had a dent in it and she wanted us to replace the door. Before we could do that there was a bad storm and water got into the house and ruined the roof on the garage and some of their belongings. Insurance took care of the cost but they saw an opportunity to say that she had mold poisoning lol. Then the husband started offering to fix things in return for money off the rent. We declined. First mistake was exposing ourself to them. They found out that we built a new home and it was on! They sent the rent to escrow with city because they said we wouldn’t repair anything. Then they moved their daughter in without notifying us. Then they renewed their vows and rented a limo bus. Lol. After that 2nd month they never paid rent to escrow therefore surrendering their money then three months later they decided to move out. We tried to sue for the $3k they owed us and they came to court with docs from a doctor saying she had mold exposure! After hearing both sides, the magistrate pulled us aside afterwards and said he felt they were professional scammers and that we could take them to court and win but would probably never see that money. So we took it as a loss and lesson learned! Short saled the home because we were paying two mortgages! Left a bad taste in our mouths and will ALWAYS hire a PM! Thanks for the post! Thanks a lot for making me think about them again ?

  2. Katie Rogers

    Let me see if I understand your “loophole” section. You are saying that you have all these little petty rules that you know the average tenant is breaking one or more of them. If they are a good tenant, you ignore these petty violations, but if they are the tenant from hell, you use the petty violation as a pretext to get rid of them. Did I get it right?

        • Engelo Rumora

          I guess you have never had a tenant from hell.

          We don’t use petty violations to evict.

          We evict when a tenant breaks the lease.

          Thanks and much success

        • Katie Rogers

          Then what exactly did you mean by that whole loophole paragraph? I have very rarely had tenants from hell. Good screening, good maintenance and the golden rule pretty much prevent problems. However, when I was was tenant, I had many landlords from hell. Out of 11 total landlords, only 2 were good. The other 9 turned out to be varying degrees of terrible, even though I tried to screen landlords, and in fact refused to submit applications to many. A lot of landlords basically disdain tenants in general. Many people that a tenant by definition lack financial responsibility, “otherwise they would be homeowners.” A landlords who harbors such negativity is going to have difficulty developing positive relationships with tenants. Landlords would definitely benefit from some self-examination.

          PS I once broke an ankle falling off a footpath, actually falling off a paver. I once amazed that a drop of less than 2-inches could cause such an injury. If over time, your pavers have heaved out of the ground, I suggest having them resunk as a preventative measure.

        • Engelo Rumora

          Thanks Katie,

          I’m not an English teacher but rather a real estate investor.

          My apologies if you missed the point of my blog and choice of terminology.

          Over the years and after doing 500+ real estate transactions, I have seen it all and heard it all.

          There is no doubt in my mind that you would have a very different perception if one day a tenant intentionally tries to sabotage your home and “get you you for everything you’ve got”.

          We have heard that one way too many times also.

          I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very important to protect your investors and employees first.

          We are firm but fair with all tenants and that is visible in our online reputation (A 4+ start rating is unheard of for a property management company).

          When someone takes things too far, we will do whatever it takes to protect our investors and employees.

          I wish you much success with your endeavors.

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