New here and first bout with awful tenants

65 Replies

Hi everyone! I am new here and still relatively new to renting my house out, even though I've been doing it for about 7 years now. I'm only on my second set of tenants.

My question/situation is:

I rent my old house. The one I ill advisedly bought when I got married for the first time at the tender age of 20, which was remortgaged once and has not increased in value at all since (and the taxes have gone up). It's old (1920's), needs some work and is in a relatively crappy (but not dangerous) neighborhood.

Anyway, I (STUPIDLY) rented to two guys with less than great credit thinking that they would be working all the time and be able to take care of maintenance issues on their own (in the lease). I have since had them get water on the floor and bring down the living room ceiling (something they deny, despite the plumber telling this to me) - I haven't made them pay for it, instead I had another plumber there and am now moving on to a roofer because there's nothing wrong with the plumbing. This water thing has happened twice now in a month or so, despite heavy rains and melting snow. The second time was almost immediately after I told them the plumber said they caused the issue. Since I can't prove it was them, I'm not making them pair or repair and am working tirelessly to track down and resolve the "issue". Also, the first time the plumber showed, despite me communicating with them since morning that he'd be there and being assured they'd be home, the one was upstairs with his girlfriend and couldn't be bothered to answer the door. 

A bunch of issues occurred - storm window "fell off", front door was broken in "attempted burglary" (according to on of them, other one said that the pane and the lattice work between "just fell off"), gutter fell off the back. despite the lease stating that they must notify me immediately, they did not. Had to send my son there (an hour away) to change a lightbulb, even though I asked if they had changed it and to fix the ceiling fan that "just stopped working" because they broke the pull chain. They refused to pay for this too.

I then discovered they had been smoking and scattering cigarette butts all over the yard, despite the lease stating that it's a non-smoking property and there is no smoking on or in the leased premises. They were keeping their trash in bags on the back deck and my husband and I observed and took pictures of rib bones spilling from a torn bag (lease says they have to have containers). House is not cluttered and everything was put away, but there are food crumbs all over the floor and the steps are full of debris like they haven't been cleaned since they moved in. They also opened a box of linoleum tiles I had in the basement and used them to create a walkway in the basement.

So to shorten this a bit, i talked to a lawyer and sent them a 30 notice of breach of lease. I gave them the option to fix all the issues, included an estimate of replacing the front door with the cheapest available door and asked that they pay the half up front so we can get the door scheduled. They took responsibility for the door, even though one of them claimed a burglary. I spoke with a lawyer so I know I'm within my rights, but man am I anxious because they have come back at me with so much BS that I keep second guessing myself. 

I gave them the option to get another estimate, by putting their preferred contractor in touch with me within the 30 days. I won't let them just have the work done, because who's to say WHO they would hire and what I would end up with?? The estimate is very high, but the door is a custom size. Now he's claiming I should only make them replace the glass and the latticework (basically repair the door) and I am not opposed to this, IF it can be done and I told them that.

They're just making me feel unreasonable and I know that's what people do, they try to justify their horrible behavior, but it's really starting to make me sick (literally) with anxiety. I don't want to have all this confrontation and I don't want to have to watch everything I do (they are not demanding that they be home when I go there, even though the lease only requires 24 hours notice for me to enter, regardless of who is or is not there).

I guess I'm just looking for some commiseration and support :-) It'd be useful to hear what others have gone through, how they've handled and the outcome. Or if you have any tips or suggestions. I'm in Pennsylvania (not Philly) BTW.

Thanks everyone!!

Your awful tenants are nothing compared to what bad tenants are actually like. Most of your problems unfortunately are created by two factors. First you are emotional, there is absolutely no place for emotions in this business. Not sure how you can fix that but it is your primary problem. Second you must learn to operate your business as a business. You do not ask, you tell your tenants what they are responsible for and you never negotiate.  Lay down the law and never compromise on your decisions and actions. Stop giving them choices and tell them how it is going to be. Stop letting them off th ehook for damages they caused. S**t does not just happen unless something is worn out.

I can not commiserate only give advice. Your best option is to either non renew their lease or allow to let them out of th elease if you feel you can get better tennats. Frankly I do not believe they are that bad you simply must learn how to manage tennats. That is your real problem.

P.S. never expect tennats to repair or take care of problem, th evast majority of tennats are 100% irresponsible.

I would get it rectified and then sell the property and move on.. landlording is not for everyone unless you have the mental and intestinal fortitude like @Thomas S. is talking about your next tenant could be 5 times worse especially given the description of the home and area.

I would sell and move on..

It may be too late to "train" your current tenants. Perhaps you could get them to move out with some sort of *written and signed* agreement, and be ready to evict if possible. But first, you need to know your local rental laws.

Like mentioned, you need to be much more tough. It doesn't mean that you're the angry old landlord. It's a nice balance of firm but still approachable. It is a must that you develop this ability, not fear conflict, and not fear upsetting/disappointing/whatever your tenants. If you know that you can't do those things, then yes, landlording isn't for you and you need to either sell or just get yourself a Property Manager. 

This is likely also a great learning experience to help you understand how to run your business and that being nice does not do you any favors. Never rely on tenants to repair problems. You get the repairs done by a professional, and if it's a repair due to the tenant's damage, the tenant must reimburse you.

Hi everyone. Thanks for your responses. Believe me, if I could sell the house, I would. The rent I receive is almost exactly equal to the mortgage payment with taxes and insurance. I'm not doing this to make money or because I want to, I'm doing it because I can't sell the stupid house and I can't really afford to let it just sit there while I pay the mortgage. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad house, it's nice, lots of wood work and a great backyard. Neighbors are awesome, but it's in a lower income area and there's not really a huge market for a tiny 2 br cape code that needs new windows.

I am emotional about it because, again, I'm not doing this for "business", I'm just trying to pay for the house and be responsible versus foreclosing because I can't sell it. The guy I had for 6 years was great, not without problems, but no major complaints. So I have never dealt with the legal side of this. I have no idea what my rights are, looking it up leaves me all over the place and it sounds as if I'm basically at the mercy of whatever judge I get should I go to court.

I have been very firm with these guys, I don't generally let stuff slide (I can't charge them for damage if I can't prove it was them!!! Or can I?) - but they throw everything back in my face as if I am being unreasonable and I guess the lack of confidence that I have the law on my side (concretely) is making me nervous. I'm not making a bunch of money off this place that I can afford a huge legal battle over it, and these guys sounds like that's the direction they are going to make me go in. THAT'S why I am anxious. I don't do this "for a living" (I'm a Director of Technical Quality Assurance, for the record) and I don't know what I am within my rights to ask or demand of these guys.

Reading the internet is a scary thing... It always seems as if the laws favor the tenants and I am afraid to do something wrong and have these guys living in my house, continuing to damage it or, worse, to have them sue me for god knows what... If I seem emotional, that's why :-) Also, I've tried to talk to them like an adult, and they make excuses not to answer my calls and want to hash everything out over text. I don't want to be unresponsive, so I reply. Plus, I figure it's probably better to have it in writing. I'm clearly dealing with overgrown children who don't know how to take responsibility for their actions or deal with conflict like adults. And, YES, I know I probably got myself into this situation and I've certainly picked up some lessons learned with this one about screening and not being in a hurry to get people in there to rent.

Just wondered if anyone else has experienced a similar situation.

Also, where I said I gave them the option to fix the things and whatnot... I meant to continue with "or move out" without me filing an eviction, which I noted would make it very difficult for them to rent in the future. They don't seem to want to take the easy way out, they probably think they're going to get their security deposit back. They just seem like they're going to fight with me on this. I gather, from what you all are saying, that this is pretty typical and that what I really need to do is stand my ground (which I have been with them since I sent the notice of breach). I guess my confidence just lacks in whether I am doing everything legally and within my rights.

Is this a single family home? If so, why are you responsible for changing any light bulbs? That should be well within what a tenant is capable of doing, unless you prefer:

How many tenants does it take to change a light bulb? Zero, because Amanda's taking care of the lightbulbs.

Tenants are humans and humans crave strong leadership. Provide that leadership and the sky is the limit. Fail to be the captain of the boat, and anarchy ensues. 

Based on what you've explained, I dont need to think you're not being the captain. I know it. The moment the lease is breached, the leader takes action. 

"I understand you say you didn't do it. However, it's in your unit and I have professionals telling me it wasnt an accident. Fix it or pack." 

That'sit. One ultimatum. That's all they get. Otherwise you'll find daggers in your back.

You can't be afraid to stomp out things that you're experiencing. These tenants aren't going to magically stop taking advantage. Remember they're messing with your bottom line!

One final thought on leadership. When I was in the Army as a SGT I stuck by one simple rule. 

"Don't demand respect, command respect. "

Meaning be a strong leader. Guide, and mentor. If you're an unmovable, beacon of leadership then people WILL follow you.  

Steve it's a single family home, yes. And they were told when they moved in that I live an hour away and I am not going to be coming to change lightbulbs. When they refused to pay, I figured I didn't have a leg to stand on because I didn't have a "professional" come do it.

Anthony, I appreciate and totally agree with what you are saying, my fear has always been whether or not the law will back me up if I try to evict or if a judge will see me as unreasonable. I have no bottom line because I'm not making ANY money off that house (I'm losing money). I'm not a professional, I'm simply trying to pay the mortgage on a house I couldn't/can't sell. I get that I need to be more firm, but I guess where I lack confidence is in what I am and am not allowed to do. I have had different opinions on that, even from lawyers!

Right now, for the leak, I'm doing everything I can to make sure something isn't wrong with the house (which I'd want to get fixed anyway of course), also because I feel that burden of proof has shifted to me. What wad I supposed do when they refused to pay the first time and said it must be the roof? Do I need to pay someone to come look at that too or is the burden of proof on the renter to show they didn't cause it?

I'm not trying to be "nice" or "weak", I'm trying to be fair and reasonable. Obviously, there a subtle difference that I have not mastered and I will work on that.

It's all good advice, I really appreciate it!

And how many tenants does it take to screw in a light bulb? I'm not sure because between two of them and a girlfriend, they can't even manage to sweep the floors!

The more proof you can furnish the better obviously. That said, just because you can't 100% prove something doesn't mean that you should kowtow to them. They are YOUR tenants. It is YOUR house. Also, YOU are in control of the lease. Once again, this shouldn't be a discussion with them. You decide what you want. You tell them what the end result is going to be. They do end result or court enforces it. 

If it were me, I would take all the documentation and my contractor to court with me to evict these tenants. That should be more than enough proof. The judge will make a logical choice. If the judge is unsure they damaged the place they will probably just kick them out and not return your money for damages. If the judge can be convinced, you might get both. There's about a zero chance though that you go there with your story and proof and the judge tells you that you have to keep renting to them. WORST case scenario is just don't renew their lease. End of story. 

In light of the fact that you have been a landlord for 6 plus years you should be comfortable with landlord tenant law by now. It is your responsibility as a landlord to know the laws governing your business. Money aside it is time you hire a lawyer and get rid of these tenants.

As for the property not selling, unless there is some legal reason you can not sell you need to sell know even if it is at a loss. You will pay now or pay more later if you do not sell asap after the tennats are out.

@Amanda B. You can't let fear prevent you from taking action on this situation. The tenants are not going to be able to sue you and take you for all your worth. Stop letting your imagination run wild. You need to have a chat with a local attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant law. Get a game plan to get control of your property again, and implement it. Letting your emotions and fear dictate your behavior is not going to help you.

@Amanda B. I'm sorry for what you have to go through it. As to Thomas' remarks - he doesn't have emotions - just read any of his posts - so, don't let him scare you. 

I also don't think it's all bad being emotionally vested into your properties. I fall in love with every house that I renovate. My tenants know that I'm the owner and I don't hide behind a facade of companies. 

With that said, yes, they're taking advantage of you and you need to take charge. They can't just not pay rent, whenever something's not to their liking. You said you spoke to your attorney - did you have your attorney write any letters to them or is the only communication coming from you? I would definitely get the attorney involved in writing a letter, so that they see that you're serious. 

You don't have to prove that they did something. They have stewardship of the house and they are responsible while they have it. If something's broken they should prove to you that they didn't do it. 

It sounds as if it's too late to deal with these tenants in a reasonable manner, because it's gone on too long. How long do they have left on their lease or has it rolled over into month to month? If the latter, then I'd give them notice and hope they won't destroy anything else. 

Thomas I understand that you and many here have multiple properties and this is what you do for a living. I'm not taking $10,000 out of my kids' college funds to sell a house, I just don't have it. I'm not a professional investor, buying this house wasn't a business decision. I lived in it for 6 years and was unable to sell it when I had to move, that's it. I work full time in a completely different field. I did rent it for 6 years and my tenant wasn't a turd so I never had any reason to look  into notices or evictions. I also feel that the law isn't very clear. I've read it several times and have spoken with several lawyers, the answers and advice I have found all differ. THAT'S where my confusion comes from.

Anthony, I believe you are correct, no judge is going to force me to continue renting to these guys. I do have all of my paperwork ducks in a row should it come to that, I'm just trying to make sure I do everything by the book.

It's kind of like here, I haven't had a really straight answer on whether or not I can charge them for the ceiling without proving conclusively that they caused the damage. They already took responsibility for the door, so the only question there is how many estimates do I need and what can I reasonably make them pay for (the estimate we got includes the entire doorframe because that is the only way that company does it).

Maybe I'm over thinking all of it and I can just demand that they pay for any damages, then we go to court and they tell the judge the house is 100 years old...

@Amanda B. Charge them for whatever you think is fair. Provide an itemized list to them. If they have a problem then they can take you to court over it where you then will crush them. Odds are they either will pay and won't take you to court because it's not worth the effort when they know they're in the wrong OR they won't pay and you can evict them. 

@Amanda B. , I really like what @Michaela G. had to say. These tenants have possession of the house, therefore any damage to it is their responsibility. Obviously, acts of God are out of their control but this does not fall into that category.

Your first plumber said it was their responsibility. Give them an invoice for the entire cost of the damages, and tell them it is due on April 1. They won't pay and it sounds like they  won't pay rent, either. Take them to court for non-payment of rent. I'd hire an attorney to evict them, to make sure the process is followed. If you miss one step, the judge will throw out the case and you have to start all over again.

For future tenants, screen like crazy. As you have found out, it is better to have an empty property than one with bad tenants in it. Set a standard for tenants (such as minimum credit score, no past evictions, clean criminal record, etc) and do not sway from this standard.

Well, in PA landlord tenant matters are handled by the magisterial courts; the magistrates aren't necessarily well-trained on all aspects of law, and their decisions sometimes are counter to what one might expect based on the letter of the law. So part of this is to get an attorney who regularly practices before the magistrate in that magisterial district where the property is located; that could help in determining what might be needed as proof.

Let's see if we can get some attorneys to weigh in: @Chris K. and @Tom Gimer

@Amanda B. I'll only chime in on the "not able to sell" aspect of your post. has a market place. If you say that the property is in a great neighborhood and if you have enough equity in it to make the price reasonable. You should strongly consider listing it here, I'm sure someone will find value in it, if the price is right.  Selling it should really resolve some of your headaches. Not everyone can deal with all types of properties. 

Good luck.

@Michaela G. - thanks for this! I responded before I saw your post. Really that's what I am looking for, can I charge them and who has the burden of proof. I won't lie and say that house has some sentimental value to me at some point (I raised two of my kids there for many years), but now it's just become a headache and a nightmare. I don't want to be doing this and I am sure it's affecting my ability to do it. I don't have time all day to be contacting repair people, fighting with the tenants, getting stressed out, etc... I have a job!! That being said, it IS my problem and I am trying to be responsible and deal with it, there are many times I've considered letting it foreclose (it's not in my husband's name so he will maintain his good credit hopefully, if we did that). 

They have until September. That's just too long to have to deal with them unless they make a real 180. I'm doing all the communication right now, I didn't pay the retainer yet and don't want to dish out $1000+ if I don't have to. I'm still hoping they will just leave (I told them in the notice they can leave in 30 days if they don't want to comply and I won't file an eviction).

@Mindy Jensen - I'm ALL OVER the screening next time. Not worth having idiots like this to deal with.

@Henri Meli - I'm truly, literally, not able to sell it at break even. It's not in a great neighborhood (I mean, it's not the projects or anything and it's not a HORRIBLE place, but it's lower income for sure). I don't have any equity in it because the house has actually LOST value. The windows all need to be replaced, the once partially finished basement once flooded, then had water problems after (it's waterproofed now, another $5500 I had to sink into that house), is now just a typical, gross, crumbling concrete floor typical Pittsburgh basement.

Also @Michaela G. I just want to be clear that they have paid their rent. They were late twice since they moved in in September, had stupid excuses both times, but they paid and paid the late fee without hassle. Other than that, they've paid their rent and on time. It's more the other issues with breaking stuff and causing damages and refusing to pay for it.

@Amanda B. Just a say you can't sell because you would lose too much money (in your estimate $10k out of your kids college fund). I would contend that if, as you say, the rent barely covers the mortgage, you will end up losing a lot more than that over time by holding onto the house.

Repairs and maintenance on a house are not cheap, especially on one that is 100 years old. You mentioned you had to put $5k into the basement. The longer you hold, the more major capital expenses will be needed (roof, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, etc.) Do you want to lose $10k now or $20-30k over 10 years?

Hire a property manager.  They will bring the rent up to market and screen the tenants.  They WILL run the place like a business.  You might even make more and not have to deal with any of this.  

People will treat you exactly as you allow them to. There’s a continuum from Ned Flanders to Tony Soprano. You can only move one way on that continuum. You seem to be stuck at “Ned”... start dialling in uncle Tony.

@Amanda B. two things I don't understand:

- The source of the water damage. You say it is the tenants, but how do you know? When does the water occur and where does it come from? If they claim it is not them, then next time water occurs, someone needs to be at the house immediately to inspect. I have seen water leaks travel some very strange paths. It is hard for a tenant to cause water problems, unless it is an overflowing toilet or taking showers without the curtain closed. I had an old house where the tub was angled so the water that got on the ledge ran right out after showers. I have seen roof vents leak and had water travel weird places. 

- You have owned the property 12+ years and the value has decreased? Seems strange given most markets are rebounding. It is also strange your rents are barely covering the mortgage. I would expect even if you had a 100% mortgage for 30 years on the property, that payment should be less than rent. Especially after owning it for 12 years. I think you should consult a property manager in that market. Tell them you are considering passing it over to them to manage and have them do a rent analysis. You could also have a realtor do a value analysis. It just seems something is off.

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