Shall I enforce HOA and Pet violation fines mentioned in lease?

27 Replies

Rented out a condo 3 months ago. Tenant turns out to be a chronic liar/rule breaker. Second month's rent was late (eventually paid with late fee only AFTER I served a notice). A pet dog was found while I was there to serve pay-or-quit notice. Lease says NO Pets - and I can fine $150 per pet violation incident. I served another "cure-or-quit" notice -- BUT let him away with a warning (instead of fine) and promise to remove dog within 7 days. He claimed dog is gone and I didnt see it when I visited again. NOW, last week HOA sent a letter saying tenant is walking dog without leash and neighbor complained of late night noise/nuisance. Lease allows for $50 "fine" each time landlord has to be involved in resolving HOA violations and also allows for pass-through of any HOA fines. So, the question is -- what is the best strategy to enforce and resolve such issues? Send a notice and actually enforce the $150 pet violation and $50 HOA violation fines? I feel soft "warnings" do not mean much with this tenant. What happens if tenant denies any wrong-doing... or ignores/refuses to pay (asking for proof etc)?

Yes, enforce your lease! My lease says money received is applied to other fees, like HOA fees, first and rent last. I assume your lease was reviewed or prepared by an attorney. So, follow the law and your lease.

Without second questioning yourself, I highly recommend enforcing your lease. 

I'm not sure about the laws in your state, but in CA, if it is established that you knowingly did not enforce certain aspects of your lease, they become null. 

It seem like you have a tenant who will lead you down the road of eviction -- hopefully I'm wrong.

To your success!

As mentioned above yes enforce your lease. In many jurisdictions rules you let slide and are "ok with now" often cannot be enforced at a later date. 

Thanks all for the responses.  My lease was drafted by an attorney of the placement agency (but have not engaged any PM services yet, just self managing for now).  How are these violation fines typically communicated -- do we just mention it on a "cure-or-quit" notice and give 7 days to pay etc?   

Any feedback on the second part of my question -- what happens if he disputes/ignores/asks for proof etc. (which is the most likely scenario). Short of hiring a private investigator (of course not!), how is "evidence" gathered.   Is this serious enough to pursue a dispossessory notice/filing if tenant outright denies?     

By the way, this is in GA... and the HOA did not capture any pictures of the dog or proof of the noise/nuisance .. and I am guessing they wont disclose their "sources". I do not know the neighbors well enough and I feel they will not get involved in this drama or help with sharing details etc.

If you lease has specifics about the monetary penalties, notify him you are imposing those.

You should have enforced the lease the first time. Enforce it now and get rid of the tenant as quickly as possible.

@Jon Holdman   -- yes, lease has monetary penalties. I will notify him on the cure-or-quit notice. 

@Nathan G. -- how can I get rid of tenant and at the same time ensure he does not turn into a hostile non-paying one during these harder-to-rent winter months? The way I see it is -- Option1: I enforce a fine and wait and see if he cures the violation and rent keeps coming in on time and there are no other HOA notices in coming weeks/months. -- OR -- Option2: I start eviction notices and process immediately, turning him into a non-paying tenant and risk losing up to 4 months of rent in weakest winter/holiday months.

Or am I getting this wrong...?    Thank  you for your insights. 

You've already experienced at least three major problems and he's lived there less than three months. In my experience, he won't get any better and you're more likely to end up losing money even if he stays.

You can't get rid of him and ensure he's non-hostile. That's the risk you take.

Personally, I would wait until he pays November rent (make sure the check clears) and then hit him with a 30-day notice. That gives you the rent for the month and leaves the deposit to cover cleaning and repairs. If he continues to violate the pet policy or other terms, keep serving him notice and document everything in case he pushes back. 

In my experience, bad tenants don't want to stay with a tough Landlord any more than tough Landlords want to keep a bad tenant. Do what you can to mitigate your risk but get rid of him before he makes life more difficult.

@Nathan G. Has provided good advice. You dropped the ball with this tenant by not enforcing your lease. Good long term tenants get warnings, new tenants you drop the hammer when they are in violation since they have earned no points yet.

Chances are you will need to evict, you use the HOA notices as evidence of violation, and apply the fines.

You will need to show up at his door unannounced to discover if the dog is there and basically ride him into the ground until he breaks his lease or you start the eviction.

 A little detective work should be useful. If he works he will walk the dog when he gets home from work, sit and watch. Talk to his immediate neighbours and see what you can find out. Your goal will be to get rid of him since fixing a tenant like this will be useless.

Post a cure or quit with the time line specified in your state laws. Follow up with an inspection to make sure that the tenant complies. Decide what you will do if your tenant says that the dog was "just visiting" (they all say that) but is now gone. Pass through your HOA fines and charge the tenant with a deadline to pay. Give them a copy of the HOA notice.

You have a decision to make.   You have to decide what kind of LL you are going to be.  Are you going to be in charge or not?  Are you going to be raising rents each year, or let your tenants "slide" in the hopes that they like you?  Are you going to inspect, enforce rules, and maintain your properties or let them gradually disintegrate into slums?  Are you going to snap photos with your phone so you have "evidence" or pretend that you do not see the dog dishes and dog when inspecting your unit?  Are you going to enforce on-time rent payments or let the tenant get so far behind they can never catch up?

Early on, we chose NOT to be afraid of tenants, vacancies or lost rents.  I have evicted, rehabbed and rented apartments  in the dead of winter (in Northern Idaho).  I learned not to do favors for tenants, because it usually  comes back to bite you in the rear.  I have a clear set of rules, and go over them with prospects before renting the apartment.  I tell them not to rent from me if they can't live with the rules because it will not end well.  I only rent to adults who have freely agreed to the rental agreement which is a two way contract.  I do my part of the contract, and expect them to do their part. 

Now I have better tenants, higher rents, and love being a LL.  It took getting over the initial discomfort of enforcing our rental agreement.  It took growth on MY part.

Originally posted by :

Option2:  I start eviction notices and process immediately, turning him into a non-paying tenant and risk losing up to 4 months of rent in weakest winter/holiday months. 

 This is the risk you take being a landlord.  There is very little to do to prevent losing rent when you have a bad tenant.  As Moe Greene told Michael in Godfather 2 when Michael was complaining about Moe killing one of his guys "this is the business we have chosen."  Careful screening will help, but even that is no guarantee.  Don't let this risk prevent you from taking the action you need to take.  You will have to do it eventually.

Here's where cash reserves give you courage.  If you're dependent on the tenant to cover your mortgage, they have you over a barrel.  If you have six months rent in cash reserves, you will survive this hit.

I would give him statement NOW before the 1st of month listing all what is owed. Then when he pays rent on the 1st the money goes towards unpaid balance, fines first and balance on rent.. So you send out second notice on the date the rent check clears and it says balance due, include a pay or quit, and if he doesn't pay up in time notice you will file for eviction.

Don't ***** foot around with stuff like this,, as soon as you get notice of HOA fines you give tenant pay or quit if not paid in 3 days.

Just make/keep your reality "matter of fact".  It's not you doing this, it's the lease.  "Our policy requires..." and "Our lease requires..." are great ways to begin your sentences in order to keep yourself on track.  You're the landlord, BE the landlord.  Otherwise what's the point?

Unless there is some very rare circumstance like a long term tenant with a great track record is late to pay rent because they are in the hospital, ok fine.  This isn't that.

When I go to Taco Time I expect to be able to get a taco.  The day I show up and they don't sell tacos anymore what's the point in what they are doing?  Stop calling yourself Taco Time, just shut down.

You're gonna have to evict. Just go ahead and bite the bullet, and act immediately. You will do better next time. Bad tenants don't magically get good, ever.

Thank you all for the support and sharing your wisdom... I appreciate it.  Can you please help me with a couple of other basic Qs -- 

1) What kind of "system" do you follow for delivering time sensitive notices with hard to reach tenants?  

    A) I guess delivering "in person" is the best, but is it acceptable to knock on door at 8PM "un-announced"  to deliver if I see the car outside? (he usually gets back home around 7.30-8pm I think)  

    B) Posting on the door --  is that legally considered "delivered" ? And is that still unsafe/considered trespassing if I go at door-step unannounced?  

    C)  Certified/Registered Mail --  how does this even work if no one is available or keeps refusing to "sign" at delivery?  And how do you alter the time deadline and give a hard date in the letter -- if you have no clue when the mail will actually be considered legally delivered?   

     D)  Email  --  I have tried this before, and never got any acknowledgement or email reply back after that :)   When confronted, I got the same BS --  "internet issues / phone issues / never saw it"  blah blah. 

2)  What is a typical/reasonable reason for a LL to get routine access to the unit (with 24-48 hour notice)... without it being considered excessive or deliberate etc?    My lease allows for QUARTERLY inspections with notice, and then emergency visits are always allowed. But, when I highly "suspect" violations, I would like a way to go and inspect it myself right away (and not wait another 2-3 months).  I don't think giving the "possible violation" as a reason -- or fabricating new "emergencies" is the best approach... or is it?    Any other tips here?  

Thanks again! 

You need to discuss these questions with your landlord/tenant attorney and find out applicable laws and customs.  If you don't have such an attorney, now's the time to find one.

Good afternoon fellow LLs. Just wanted to give an update on this situation. So, I took @Deanna McCormick 's suggestion above and served a 7-day cure-or-quit notice detailing the 2 fines due ($150 pet violation and $50 HOA letter) on Oct 30th. Tenant gave another story/excuse claiming a "guest's" dog was just visiting for 3 days and is gone-gone this time. Of course I didn't see any traces of the dog when I visited to serve notice/do inspection either... coz he cleaned up the "crime scene" well :) Tenant also tried to resist the HOA letter claims. Anyway... he ended up paying just the regular Nov rent on Nov 4th. He is avoiding any talk about when he will pay the $200 fine. Soo.... if my lease says any payment is first applied to outstanding fees etc... what is the best way to approach this?

1)  Serve a 3-day pay-or-quit for remaining $200 now, and file eviction on 4th day for the mere $200 unpaid?

2)  Wait for Dec rent, and refuse any "partial" rent payment (i.e. pay the full monthly rent + $200 fine; else I refuse).. and then do the pay-or-quit thing? 

3)  Do not confront any more and notify/plan that the $200 fine will be deducted from security deposit?  

Also, lease says "if rent is not paid in full within three (3) days of date due, late fee of $75 applies" .  Due date is 1st, and he ended up paying on 4th.  Is still considered timely...  or would u generally interpret that lease language as meaning late fee applies starting 4th itself (which is what I have communicated to him in the past)?  

Thanks!  

What does your lease say about fines? Are they treated as additional rent? They should be--assuming that's legal in your area--and you would therefore file for eviction as if rent wasn't paid.

Again, you need to know your local rental laws. It's extremely important. Find a local good attorney and ask him/her these questions today. Get the ball rolling on how to enforce your lease properly!

@Manny K.

You do option 1 as you stated as his rent is now late.  Apply the late rent fee. Always refuse partial payment as this can cause evictions problems.  You need to know how accepting partial payments affects evictions defined by your landlord - tenant laws of your state.   Send him a certified letter, email the same letter and snail mail the same letter.  He will get the info one way or the other.  You need to review your states landlord - tenant laws of what you can and cant do.  At this point I would engage a lawyer.  Option 2 is horrible idea as you are letting the tenant train you on what is acceptable.  Drop the hammer now and cut your losses as fast as possible or the bleeding will continue, otherwise hang on for a wild ride and it won't be fun.  Do not do option 3! Security Deposit is for damages (typically) and can only be uses after the lease is over and tenant is out of the rental.  

The tenant has you trained already.  You have received a lot of good info from people (5) here that are major contributors to this site.  In the future I would use a property manager for your properties.  Good Luck.

Originally posted by @Deanna McCormick :

I would give him statement NOW before the 1st of month listing all what is owed. Then when he pays rent on the 1st the money goes towards unpaid balance, fines first and balance on rent.. So you send out second notice on the date the rent check clears and it says balance due, include a pay or quit, and if he doesn't pay up in time notice you will file for eviction.

Don't ***** foot around with stuff like this,, as soon as you get notice of HOA fines you give tenant pay or quit if not paid in 3 days.

 Noob question. What is the proper way to not accept partial rent payment?

If rent is $1,000 and there are $150 in penalty fees due also... $1150 total... but tenant sends in $1,000 only... do you accept $150 for the fees and sent back the remaining $850 and say that rent has not been paid?

@Pablo Mendez   -  I am a noob myself (so, no legal advice here) and in the same situation you described.  Tenant sent in $1000 in certified funds. Based on previous replies, and the fact that the lease says any money paid is first applied to oldest outstanding balance first,  I am thinking it is OK to cash in the $1000,  and then send another pay-or-quit notice for the remaining $150.  On one hand, the Georgia Landlord/Tenant handbook indicates if LL accepts partial payment for a month, he cannot file for eviction (or might not get eviction judgment) for THAT MONTH  - but can sue in small claims court for remaining rent.  On the other hand, several posts indicate that as long as any partial payment is accepted BEFORE (and not after) serving the pay-or-quit notice for remaining rent, it is OK to file for eviction - even for $1 outstanding rent for that matter (assuming tenant does not pay up the remaining $1 rent by pay-or-quit due date).  Is that correct??    Any seasoned GA LLs out there who might be able to shed light?   Could also use a referral to a good local ATL based attorney if anyone can recommend. 

Another confusion is -  if a 7-day cure-or-quit / $150 fine notice was sent on Oct-30th, does it mean that the "due date" for the fine is actually Nov-6th,  so that rent recd on Nov 1 cannot technically be applied to that fine YET... since it was not "due/outstanding" or not "older" than the Nov1 rent due date?   Arrgh... maybe I overthink and worry too much :)       

Btw, this is the snippet from the GA Landlord/Tenant Handbook: 

"If the landlord accepts partial rent he cannot then seek to dispossess or evict the tenant for failure to pay the monthly rent. If the tenant fails to pay the remaining amount of rent due, the landlord would have to sue the tenant for payment but could not dispossess or evict the tenant for nonpayment. " 

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