Landlord Issues- Advice Needed

34 Replies

So I bought a 3 family in NJ and have gut renovated all apartments and have had great luck thus far but have run into my real first issue. Here is the situation

I gutted one of the units (3 bedroom 1 bath) with a new kitchen, new plumbing, electric, bathroom and the apartment is immaculate. It is close to NYC transportation and I was amazed at how many people applied for the apartment (I had to take the add down). Long story short, I rented to a family with "two" kids, I say two because two turned into "four." Anyhow, I rented the apartment for October 1st. Everything was fine and then I see all of these people show up but they were paying rent and I did not say anything. Then the following week I see all these vases into the common hallway and back yard and told them they could not keep them there

Fast forward to today, I showed up to collect the rent and not only did she not have the rent, but she claims she did not have heat in the apartment for three months (which is rubbish bc I tested the heat back in October when it was still warm out and not only are the furnace that are two years old working, but i installed new thermostats). When I asked why didn't you call me, she said they got new phones and did not have my number. I told them they could have knocked on the first and third floors and they said they never saw them.

I started a new paragraph because I was interrupted in the middle of this rant by the owner of the house next store to mine who claims someone from my house was throwing cigarettes onto their rood (yes true indeed). I had also had a complaint when these tenants move in stating the people from the ins floor were throwing cigarettes on their property (note i did not have any issues with the other tenants until these people moved in). Long story short, the owner of the house next to mine stated the lady on the second floor gave them MY NUMBER and said no one in her apartment smoked. Funny how she had my number earlier today but not a couple of hours ago.

So my question is this, she is going to break the one year lease she signed in October, and is expecting her security deposit back; actually the remaining security deposit as she wants to use the "rent" for January out of her deposit. I told her no that it is not an option so my question is 1) Do I tell her to pay me the rent by the end of this week or else I will legally evict her or 2) Do I wait until the end of the month and hope she moves out on her own? The negatives with option 1 is that she can probably squeeze another 1-2 months due to our sluggish court system and she can destroy the apartment but I will eventually get her out. Option 2 leaves at the mercy of the tenant.

So to my experts, what would you do and why?

Option #1 file for eviction tomorrow do not wait until the end of the month.

I assume you do not have January rent.  So, for one, I would start the eviction process ASAP.  For CO, I would have posted a "pay or quit" notice today and if I didn't have the rent and they were still in the unit on Thursday (three days) I would start the eviction process.  Unless we had an agreement for what to do.  In a case like this I might agree that I would let her out of her lease if she was out by, say, Sunday at 5:00 PM.  I might agree to deduct the 11 days of rent plus any damages from her deposit and give the remaining portion of it back to her at moveout, provided she handed over the keys and left the unit clean.  Meanwhile, the eviction would be progressing on its schedule.  No way would I agree to let her stay until the end of the month with no rent.

Problems like this and tenant damage are just part of this business.  Plan for it.  If it doesn't happen, great, you're making extra money.  When it does, just pick up the pieces and move on.

I'm no "expert" by far, but if she's willing to leave. Do whatever she ask to make it easier for her to go.  You don't want a fight in court. In the long run being out on 1Mo. rent (I'm guessing 2-3K based on your location and description of the unit) is better than thousands in legal fees.  Some "experts" even suggest PAYING her to leave.

May I ask; how did you find this tenant? Who did you use to screen them?

Just my two cents.


Serve her the "Pay Rent or Quit" notice now. Unlikely you will see any more money from her. You can always offer cash for keys. Negotiate a fast move-out and be done with her. Improve your tenant screening for next time.

Also, get wise to landlording. Monitor your properties better and do periodic inspections of the units. Act swift, firm and fair when tenants stray from the terms of the rental agreement. Nip problems with unauthorized occupants in the bud. Rule breakers are rule breakers... they will give you headaches.

Hi Fil,

If this were my tenant I would want them out with the goal of minimizing the cost involved and maximizing your income.

I would give them two options:

a. Pay me $200 now (or whatever amount you think is appropriate), then I will post the legal 3-day demand notice (or whatever is required in your state), but I will hold that notice and I will not process for a court eviction as long as you are out on the agreed upon date at the end of the month. But if you are NOT out on that date I will have no choice but to process the 3-day notice which is going to impact you rental history so badly that you will never be able to rent a home again (make it sound scary), and because I am so nice, as long as you do exactly as agreed, AND you leave the property in good condition, I will refund your security deposit.

b. If you can't pay me now you have 5 days to vacate. I am still going to serve the legal 3-day notice right now, but as long as you get out in 5 days you won't have an eviction filing showing on your credit report for the next 7 years.

If you do this correctly you should be able to scare her out on good terms so that she leaves your property without damage and at minimal cost to you.

Good luck!

Wow - This is unfortunately my firs post (long time lurker) and appreciate the quick response. I have a couple of questions

1) What is the "pay or quit" notice and does anyone have a template to compile one?

2) To Marc Cunningham - Can you explain to me the "legal 3 day notice?" I am in NJ and just trying to understand your thought process. Also, trying to understand the $200 you are referring to? What would this substantiate? Thanks in advance guys and gals. 

PS -  I used Craigslist and checked previous rental history (rented the last 6 years at one residence) and work history (he worked at the same place for close to 20 years)..

Keep the advice coming! Thanks again so much

I am a hard *** landlord, as being nice has done nothing but bite me in the butt. I have a "very " detailed 14 page lease. So personally I would stand my ground. I would start the eviction process. I would not let her push you around. 

When you rent the house out, I would really screen. Be very strick and squash issues at the very beginning when they arise. You will thank yourself later, I promise :) Being nice has truly done me no good except one time! 

Thanks Elizabeth - Unfortunately I think you are right. I am thinking of seeing he in person tomorrow and telling her that I will need January rent by Thursday of this week. Should she not provide me the rent, I will be forced to start the eviction process. Lucky for me, I have a family who has experience in this but I have not mentioned nor seemed their advice given I am trying to resolve my own issues. For a nominal fee, there is an attorney who takes care of the eviction from start to finish. 

Lesson learned. 

Seeing this is your first eviction, you may want to hire the lawyer to make sure it goes in your favor.  I hear horror stories here in Mass how difficult it is to evict someone especially in the winter with children.  The incidences you talk about, no heat and not paying rent, almost sounds like a professional tenant who know the system.  I could be wrong but it doesn't feel right.  You will need to make sure you know more than they do with the legal system.

As to the extra children, I have listed on my lease every person, adult and child, that is allowed to live in the home.


File immediately. Then take it to collections for money owed.

@Fil M.  says take option one. In Florida, like other states we can post a 3 day notice on the door to start the process and can usually get a tenant out in 30-40 days if it is uncontested. I bet it takes longer in NY.

"Pay or quit" and "legal 3 day notice" are the same thing.  Its a document you either deliver to the tenant in person or post on their door that says "you have three days to pay the rent or get out (i.e., "quit")".  You really should get the form and learn the process from an attorney in your area.  If you don't have an attorney, now's a good time to get one.  You'll need on in this business.  Here's a sample from the attorney I use for this sort of issue:

But that's a form for here in CO and yours may or may not be similar.  No idea.  I would speak to that attorney and get the correct form before speaking to the tenant.  Fill it out and give it to her.  That is really the start of the eviction process.  It puts some weight behind your "rent by Thursday or get out" words.

Did you hire a professional tenant screening service?   PM me if you would like a referral.

PS I have no relationship with them.

Bob E am definitely interested in a professional tenant screening. Any more details would be appreciated. Thank you 

What a challenge,

FYI I have had numerous similar experiences with heat, cooking gas, electric ect- 9 times out of 10 the tenant never turned on the utilities because for the first month or so there is a gap from when you get it out of your name until the service company comes out and formally shuts off the utilities.

I would start the process, and FYI security deposit is NEVER used to pay rent. It is not the last months rent, it is a deposit to ensure they leave your unit in good condition, not incase the decide not to pay rent.

Option 2 is not a real option unless you have discussed with her that she will leave, get her to sign off that she agrees to move out and leave the place in good order, and you are both mutually agreeing to break the lease. Check with your connection who is an attorney doing the evictions, and see what he needs lined up and make sure that trying option 2 does not create another free month before you have to implement option 1

I would advise you get a landlord eviction attorney and don't wait.   All of the advice above is relevant but none of it is specific to NJ.  Since you  don't seem to really know the landlord tenant laws for your area your money would be well spent to mimimize the time this takes to resolve and remove the tenant. This is  a site with some relevant information we consulted when looking into a NJ property and rental.

I believe it had forms but its been a while since I looked into this.  You can get a much better tenant then this one in central NJ with the right rent  and good screening.  In any case the courts can take a while.  I  advise a legal consult so even if you choose to try something other then eviction you comply with all legal obligations so your behavior doesn't cause you issues if you eventually need to evict.

Hi @Fil M.  ,

First, sorry to hear about this situation.  However I am very familiar with Clark, NJ and with proper tenant screening this could have been avoided.

Clark is a great town, very desirable and easily attracts high quality renters.  I strongly recommend you read everything possible on BP about tenant screening so that next time you put in a quality tenant.

Good luck,


@Elizabeth Colegrove -

-I am a hard *** landlord, as being nice has done nothing but bite me in the butt. I have a "very " detailed 14 page lease. So personally I would stand my ground. I would start the eviction process. I would not let her push you around.

Can you please share your lease document so I can compare my lease or if you want I can email you my lease document.

You can learn a lot  by joining your local apartment association, and reading their magazine.  Some of the magazines are on the Web sites of the associations, such as Apartment Age from AAGLA  in southern California.

@Fil M. , I'm very sorry to hear about this. Been there, done that. We own two properties in Trenton, NJ, and use an attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant law. They do at least 40 evictions a week and have it down to a science. Depending on how inclined a tenant is to appeal the eviction, the fastest timeframe is about 6 weeks. Weather and children don't matter - at least in Trenton.

Private message me if you want my attorney's name. They may not go to court for you in Clark, but can advise you on next steps and a possible attorney in your area. Do not wait for Thursday to post a notice. Call an attorney today and get the ball rolling. Eviction for nonpayment of rent is straightforward. I wouldn't trust anything the tenant tells you about when they'll be gone. It's only when they see a legal notice posted or mailed to them that they realize you're serious. Sounds like at least one tenant is collectible. Don't argue with the tenant about what they say they will or won't do regarding the security deposit/last month's rent. Let them argue with the attorney.

The longer you wait, the more you lose. Have the same attorney review or write your lease. They'll be the ones defending it in court.

First – I would like to thank each and every one of you for talking me through this situation. Although troublesome for me, hopefully this will serve as a lesson for others.

Pam – I am definitely developing thicker skin and this experience has been eye opening – lesson learned

Tom/Kevin/Seth/Jon/Steve – Thanks for your input. I spoke with the attorney today who handles 50+ cases a week in this county and someone from his office is in court every day. For roughly $200-250 this will be taken care of legally. The FDCPA form will be filed today for non-payment of rent (which was due the 1st of the month and a late charge of $50 will now be applied as outlined explicitly in the lease since not received by the 5th). Getting a court date can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks and then there could be several additional days where the court can grant tenants “an orderly voluntary removal” of the property. If they fail to move after this period, then they will be formally evicted. Nonetheless, this attorney will appear in court (if it gets to that point) for me and in very few circumstances I would actually need to appear which I have no problem with. This apartment is brand new, I was made aware of an issue, and am taking care of it immediately (even though I find it hard to believe there is anything wrong given I was denied access to the apartment and the boiler was on downstairs).

With regards to the lease, I actually have an 8 page lease which was originally drafted by an attorney. It outlines terms in a great degree and I actually reviewed the lease which has the following clause “Access by Landlord to Premises – Subject to tenant’s consent (which shall not be unreasonably withheld), Landlord shall have the right to enter Premises to make inspection and provide necessary services, or show the units to prospective buyers, mortgagees, or prospective tenants.” My current attorney actually commented on how this was a well drafted lease and was impressed. I also had an application prior to signing the lease that has all relevant information including names, work history, rental history, and other pertinent information which is proving to be helpful. I do screen these individuals to what I thought was quite thoroughly, as I followed up with both employer and prior rental (who were there for 6 years) but I felt like I simply just got a bad hand dealt as they found something with a driveway (which they had made complaint of my residence since it down not have one at a lower price in a less desirable neighborhood).

Lastly, the attorney also told me that it felt like these tenants have done this before because the only thing that would “delay” things is if I was not providing heat. I am protecting myself, documenting my interaction with the tenants, have documentation of text messages illustrating that last night was the first time I ever was made aware of the situation and was sending over a certified plumber there today to inspect all heating units/systems in each of the three units to ensure proper working order. This will more likely than not be a waste of his time, but it is money I am willing to spend to illustrate how I immediately attempted to rectify the situation as a landlord. Not sure how much more I can do as I think time is the only thing that will needs to pass to get over this issue

In summary, this is unfortunately part of the game but I fortunately have a prime location in a great neighborhood. Now one can only hope these tenants do not retaliate and do not wreck the place but that is out of my hands. Thanks again and will keep everyone posted on this. 

@Fil M.  Glad to hear you have made progress on your unfortunate situation.  Which city is this property in?  I assume not Clark.  Please keep us posted on how things are going.  Thanks

I would serve them properly (according to the laws of your state) with a 3-day notice to pay or vacate/quit.  Then request she submits her repair/service request in writing. The date of the service request will be after the 3-day so you won't be seen as retaliating.  After serving the 3-day, I would do all I could to just get them to leave.  You don't need this.  In the future, have an 'additional person rent' clause in your lease! If they are going to sneak others in, you will at least have a clause addressing it. 

Determine your priority, and act accordingly.

If your priority is to get the most rent you can out of her before she leaves, proceed as some above have suggested.

If your priority is to get her out in a timely manner, consider compromising on the question of the security deposit.

If your priority is to ensure the property is not trashed, give her money and tell her you won't pursue the pat-due rent, if she is out by the 15th.

But think with the rational part of your brain, and don't get caught up in one-upsmanship.  

Even if you are believer in "training" tenants (a phrase and mode of thinking I personally find incredibly offensive when applied to adult citizens, rather than children or pets), recognize that this tenant is past the "training" stage, as she will soon be past the "tenant" phase!  

"Tenant training", "not be pushed around", "bad precedent", etc. etc...  they're irrelevant.  This person will soon not be your tenant.  You will not have a further relationship with her.  It does not matter who "wins."   Or rather, if you achieve your priority, you automatically "win", even if she thinks she did.

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