Question on how to deal with problem tenants

10 Replies

Hi everyone,

I am very new to land lording and have a question on how you would deal with the following problem tenants I recently inherited when I purchased a triplex. 

I have two tenants, call them A and B, who can't seem to get along.  Tenant A routinely complains about tenant B making noise, blocking the driveway, and having multiple people over, and when I recently brought it up with tenant B and asked them to keep it down and generally be more neighborly, as stated in the lease, they complained about tenant A harassing them and acting aggressively.  Given the number of complaints I've received from tenant A, I recently gave tenant B a 7-day notice to quit.  Tenant A is now threatening to move out due to being unable to live next to Tenant B.  I'd rather he didn't do so since he has been a good tenant.  My question is what do you think the best route would be to get rid of the disruptive tenants?  Is it worth pursuing an eviction or would I be better off offering cash for keys?  Unfortunately, their lease doesn't expire until November.

Thanks in advance for any help!

I advise you to stop caring. If they pay their rent and dont mess your house up ( aka violate terms of the lease)...not your problem. You are not a babysitter, you are a landlord. Tell them to call the police id they have something illegal happening to report.

Thank you Seth.  This is probably what I needed to hear.  Again, I'm new to this and admittedly learning the ropes.

If you believe that Tenant A is really a good tenant, and not a tenant who is just a complainer, and that Tenant B really is the problem, then I'd first continue with getting rid of Tenant B.

Then, I'd tell Tenant A that I'm working on the problem with Tenant B, but if they want out of their lease now, I completely understand, and I will waive notice and let them out of their lease whenever they want to go.  And I'd offer to put that in writing.

My experience, is that once you offer to let a tenant out of their lease if they're not happy, they are usually really taken aback. Often, it takes the wind out of their angry sails, so to speak, and they back down.

In the meantime, continue to work on getting rid of Tenant B.  But, I wouldn't kiss Tenant A's rear any more than just offering them an "out."  Some tenants like to puff up their chests and "threaten" to leave if this and that doesn't happen.  If you then, nicely, say you're really sorry they aren't happy and that you'll be happy to put in writing that they can leave whenever they want to - it usually takes all of the wind out of their sails.  Instead of getting the reaction they want, which is to make you kiss their rears or do something above and beyond what's required, you tell them hey, if you're not happy, there's the door.  

Once in a very blue moon, they'll take you up on it.  9.999% of the time out of 10, they'll calm down and decide to stay.  But, if they are just generally a bullying type of tenant, in threatening you for this and that, it will behoove you to get rid of them asap, too.

But, give them the "happy clause" and see what happens - if you ain't happy, I'm just so sorry, and there's the door.

This could go either way.  Either tenant A is a real pain in the butt or tenant B is causing all the problems.

I agree with standing your ground

Either way they will have to sort it out.

Worst case scenario either Tenant A or B gives notice and moves out.

New to landlording? Start with learning what landlording is all about. I recommend a book called "Landlording" by Leigh Robinson. It is a comprehensive book and you can find it online. The 11th edition is not that much different than the 9th edition and you can get the 9th edition for a bargain price. 

Listen to the BP podcasts about landlording. There are quite a few that focus on that aspect of REI. In BP Podcast #83 I share some of our strategies. I mention moves and counter moves. It's like a chess game. You need to think about when you make a move what the countermove will likely be. With experience you will be able to anticipate that. Study human nature; this is a people business.

When inheriting tenants, first introduce yourself in a friendly manner to all of the tenants. Let them know a little about you and your management style. Let them know your values. Such as you value polite, open and honest communication and respect for others. When issues arise, they need to know you will address them swiftly, firmly and fairly.

You are bound to operate off the terms of the lease that was in place when you purchased the property, which puts you at a disadvantage. It is possible to change to the terms and conditions of your own preferred lease if all parties agree. Offer to them more favorable terms and the tenants will probably be glad to switch to the terms of your lease. But that would have to be done prior to the point where you are now. Make sure they have your contact information and that you have theirs.

When working with a lease that is in place, it will benefit you to review all of the terms of the current lease with each tenant. Set up a meeting to do so. Ask each tenant if there is any term or condition of the lease that is not working for them or they are having trouble abiding by. Note, if they are currently breaking one of the terms they likely won't admit to it, but they will be on alert now and will probably attempt to conform without you needing to serve them a legal notice. The purpose of the discussion is to re-establish the ground rules and to let them know you expect them to abide by the terms of the rental agreement. Let them know you will check back with them from time to time to make sure everything is going okay for them. 

Also, let them know you will need to do a maintenance inspection to make sure everything is working well and to address any deferred maintenance. Schedule an appointment to do so as soon as possible. Ask them what day and time would be best for them. Ask them if there are any things they are aware of that need attention. Show them you are generally interested in making sure everything is working well for them. At the time you do your maintenance inspection (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, windows/doors, egress, etc.) keep an eye out for any lease violations. Address lease violations calmly and politely. Let the tenants know what they need to do to abide by the terms of the rental agreement. Be swift, firm and fair.

If one tenant complains about another tenant, make a note of their concern. They need to feel heard. Let them know you hear their concern, but don't set yourself up to take sides. This is business. If there are legitimate problems to be addressed, you will address them. The tenants need to know this and you need to follow through. The first step in addressing any concern is to acknowledge the concern (whether it is real or perceived). Repeat back to the person what you hear them saying. Ask "What happened?" and "When did you first notice this?" Verify exactly what is going on. If one party, the other, or both are not abiding by the terms of the rental agreement, you will address that swiftly, firmly and fairly. Trust, but verify what any tenant is telling you. Visit the property more often if necessary to see for yourself what is going on. If it is feud, like the Hatfields and McCoys, and you see no evidence of lease violations occurring, let them know they need to resolve this themselves.

Now, specifically to what you said about what you did.... You served a "Notice to Quit" on Tenant B based on the hearsay of Tenant A. Not a good move. There is likely to be negative fall-out when you do this, as you are now seeing. It may not even be legal. Complaints related to noise, parking, and guests are common in multifamily properties and can be easily addressed without going to such an extreme as serving a "Notice to Quit" or eviction.

And what about Tenant C; is the third unit in the triplex occupied? Are there other neighbors who are witnessing this? Do you really know the character of Tenant A enough to say he is a really good tenant? He may indeed be harassing and threatening Tenant B. He may be violating the lease too in some way. Be alert.

If you have your own evidence that Tenant B is violating terms of the lease agreement, then address each type of violation directly with Tenant B. Stick to facts. Give Tenant B a chance to turn it around. They may come into compliance with the terms of the rental agreement once they have clear direction from you. It's sorta like breaking a wild horse. It may not be necessary to serve a legal notice to get the results you desire.

If a tenant doesn't cooperate and you need to serve a legal notice, such as a "Notice to Perform" or "Notice to Conform", do so. You need to know and understand the landlord-tenant laws for your jurisdiction. You need to know how to properly serve legal notices before you do so. Then you need to be prepared to follow-through if the tenant does not do what the legal notice requires.

Wow.... longer response than I intended. I'm passionate about landlording, as you may see.  It's about landlords helping other landlords to be better landlords. You will make mistakes along the way and can learn from them. It's good that you reached out for help. Now, see if you can apply what I have shared to your current situation. Good luck!

Originally posted by @Seth S. :

I advise you to stop caring. If they pay their rent and dont mess your house up ( aka violate terms of the lease)...not your problem. You are not a babysitter, you are a landlord. Tell them to call the police id they have something illegal happening to report.

It is a multiplex and the complaints are about noise, parking, and guests. Certainly common in multiplexes and certainly something the landlord or property manager needs to address appropriately. Ignore this and it is likely to become a bigger issue that could affect the bottom line.

I would keep the mindset that they can both go and you can get better tenants.  Neither seem to play well with others.  Don't gossip, don't get overly involved, keep it objective.

Similar to what Sue said, they could be all bark and no follow-through.  We have an inherited tenant that some people love and some people loathe.  I would not cry to see them give notice.  They have threatened to move out due to the other tenants a few times, but are still with us after 5 years.  I've been around the duplex enough to know that when things are flaring up both parties are at fault and likely deserve each other. 

At move in we explain that it is their responsibility to get along with their neighbors, but let us know if there are on-going issues.  When tenants contact us, we ask them to call us when the offense is happening so we can pop over to photograph and witness it.  They rarely do, usually they just want to blow off steam.  

We find excuses to spend more time there, with yardwork or such to get a pulse on the situation.  While the rental agreement is being broken is the best time to knock on the door and hold someone accountable.  "I'll follow this up with a written notice, but the rental agreement is clear that you cannot feed the stray cats, and putting milk out for them on your porch has to stop..."

Good luck!

Not sure if your city offers it, but one option is to have the local police department neighborhood conflict resolution department get involved. 

Sometimes they will come out and help mediate the problem. 

Good luck!

Thank you everyone for the advice!  Great to be able to come here for help.  It's clear I have some learning to do, but I definitely appreciate all of the information everyone has shared.  Marcia, I have added "Landlording" to my reading list.

Thanks again!

Hey Patrick,

We had a similar problem at our triplex, but with tenants I placed that just had a hard time getting along.  Person A and Couple B would call me instead of addressing the noise and neighbor issues.  I addressed the problem and the rules with both parties- asking that both be respectful of others during the designated quiet hours, and asking both to refrain from painting in the basement or on the porch.  We didn't renew A's lease when the time came due to other reasons, Couple B renewed their 12 month lease and Couple C moved in.  Now we had a problem with parking and noise- Couple B complaining about both.  So, I made a parking schedule and spoke to C about noise, things got better however Couple B was "uncomfortable" living near the other couple and chose to end the lease early.  They claimed they felt harassed and threatened.  They were liable for the rent until I could fill the space which I did quickly- had their been a police report they would not have been liable.  Now Person D lives in their apartment and there have been a few disputes however mot of them were handled by the tenants themselves with conversations, I only heard bout them after the fact when another issue came up.

So in retrospect, I think in my case A, B, & C were both somewhat "problem" tenants, all were a bit immature and had issues having a direct conversation with a neighbor, somewhat to be expected when renting to college students in their 20's.  D is more mature and seems to be handling speaking to the other tenants when their is a problem just fine, sometimes coming to me for clarification on the rules or advice.  Both C & D are renewing their 12 month leases, and amazingly the 3 different tenants I have had in the 3rd apartment at that triplex have never complained about anyone else.

I have learned from the experiences myself- we have a parking schedule for the driveway, both C & D were offered the chance to pay for a permanent spot and declined, deciding to continue to share.  The backyard became an issue this spring- it was always intended for one unit (D in this case) and C took over the garden and moved some things around, which D didn't like.  D agreed to share, and now my leases indicate who has access to the backyard and who doesn't- along with what happens if someone wants out of their lease early.

I have been at this for a little over 2 years now with 6 apartments (up to 10 as of last week) and feel I learn something from each tenant.

Kelly