Trouble Tenants...I'm Overwhelmed

82 Replies

I own a SFH in California which I rented out October 2018. Since day 1, the tenants have been contacting me on a daily/weekly basis requesting repairs.

Some of these repairs are warranted (replaced the water heater, fixed broken windows, fixed faulty sprinkler valves) while others I feel are not (most recently the light bulb in the garage isn't working). 

I've spent well over $5,000 in repairs since they've moved in (it's only been 9 months)  and honestly I'm sick of this. What's worse is that they find fault in many of the repairmen I send over. These are licensed individuals whom I have been working with for over a decade who are loved by all other tenants except these.

Most recently, there's apparently a slew of electrical issues in the house, including a few outlets that don't work, the A/C not cooling, along with the faulty lightbulb in the garage. I sent my electrician to take a look and over the course of a week, between he and his team, they fixed the issues...or so I thought. This morning the tenant contacted me and told me they're still having issues and that the electrician didn't fix everything and that he didn't show up when he said he would. I told them it's their responsibility to make sure all the issues are addressed with the electrician before he leaves to prevent consistent visits over the same problems and to follow up with him if he didn't make the visit.

They proceeded to get mad at me and my electrician, saying that it's not professional for the repairmen to forget what he needs to fix, that I'm blaming them, etc. I've been trying my best all these months to give them the benefit of the doubt and I've worked diligently to fix everything they've brought up within a few weeks time max, but I'm sick of making repairs, I'm sick of being contacted nonstop, and I'm sick of these people hating on my repairmen.

Not sure what my question is here, perhaps I just need to rant to fellow landlords, but any advice you can give with regards to dealing with such tenants would be appreciated.

@Wesam S. - Sorry to hear of the headache you are experiencing with this particular rental. Does your lease have any language as to the tenant being at all responsible for any aspect of maintenance and repairs themselves? Do any of the needed repairs relate to possible "abuse" by the tenant? Is the tenant in violation of any aspects of the lease? I can't speak to CA, but were this tenant in NC and they are 9 months into a 12 month lease, I would give notice that the lease will not be renewed.

I do no respond to petty repair requests. Literally just ignore them. If they bring them up in person then I tell them to go on down to the store and buy from light bulbs. If its a legit repair that is needed I get it fixed within 24-48 hours. 

I don’t know about CA but in TX there is essentially not much they can do (such as withhold rent, etc) if you simply ignore their requests. I know that probably doesn’t sit well with your conscious but like Jonathan said...you’re 9 months into a 12 month lease. Also - I’d be sure to include ‘tenant is responsible for X, Y, Z repairs’ in your next lease. 

You told them it's their responsibility to make sure all of the issues are addressed and to follow up with the electrician. I lived in an apartment for years and was never told something like this. I would report any issues to the office and maintenance would come over and fix things. If it wasn't fixed I would report that back to the office. They did the same thing and you're getting upset? Were any of these issues on your inspection report when you bought the property? Have you went over to the house to see what needed to be done and the type of workmanship your repairmen are doing? If the work is satisfactory in your opinion I would just tell the tenants that your not going to pay to make everything perfect.

I bought a house 2 years ago that needed lots of work. The former owner thought he was handy but he wasn't. Everything he "fixed" I had to fix the right way which cost me more time and money than the original repair would have been. I kept getting calls from my tenants every couple of weeks or months and I was about to lose my mind. It took some time but everything has been repaired. Some of it was done by others (I oversaw the repairs) but most of it was done by me. We spent $17k in total.

I'll have to dig in to my lease to see what I have written down for repairs (shame on me for not knowing the details off the top of my head, I know).

The light bulb wasn't working because of an issue with the socket, not the bulb itself. Nonetheless, I still feel as if that's an issue that was not nearly as urgent as they made it out to be and did not warrant consistently bringing it up. I don't think they are abusing the property and I don't think they're violating any part of the lease, they're just incessantly nitpicking at things.

Another example: I had a tree cut whose roots were messing with the pipes and the foundation of the house. Apparently the tree cutters left a pile of wood chips where the tree used to be and for a week I couldn't hear the end of it. They kept telling me that the wood chips destroyed their landscaping, that the wood chips were causing allergies to their children and burning their lungs, etc. These are young, able bodied adults and the husband is sitting at home all day. All I wanted to tell him was to pick up a damn rake and clean the wood chips himself but I refrained. 

California is a different beast, especially if the property is located in a rent control neighborhood. Tenants are protected by all sorts of laws and getting rid of them isn’t easy. 

My suggestion: Next time they complain, let them know you are willing to let them out of their lease. 

It is my impressions that the tenants are mistaking your kindness for weakness and it’s time you start channeling your frustrating correctly. Put your foot down and take control of your property. Don’t let them bully you into doing things. 

To your success! 

@Alan Pederson You bring up some good points. Honestly, I don't know if I should be upset or not, I'm just frustrated getting called nearly every day. They originally reported the electrical issues to me. I then touched base with the electrician and told him what needed fixing and he went to fix them. According to them he didn't fix all of them. That was when I told them that they had to make sure while he was there that the issues they brought up were being fixed, not after the guy leaves. That is when they got mad.

I've had other tenants go through everything that needed fixing while the repairman was there and everything was completed in one stroke. With these tenants it's back and forth. My repairmen service dozens of homes every week, I don't think it's bad if they forget to fix something. No big deal, tenants can call them back and tell them that there was an issue that they forgot to fix. But to hate on the repairmen for something like that and then get mad at me for it, I don't think that's right. 

@Wesam S. You can avoid this by not giving your tenants your actual cell phone number. 99 percent of all repair calls aren’t emergencies and can be fixed within a few days

@Wesam S.

There's obviously more to this story, and I'm not seeing the ability to look at things from the tenant's side that every successful landlord needs to cultivate. So let me be the tenant's devilish advocate here and don't take anything I say here personally.

Let's look at what you've stated you needed to do in this house in the nine months that you've been renting it out:

1. Replace the water heater.

2. Fix broken windows.

3. Fix faulty sprinkler valves

4. Fix outlets that don't work

5. Fix (central?) A/C

6. Fix one or more lighting sockets that don't work.

7. Remove tree with roots that infiltrated the sewer line, deal with pile of woodchips left by tree removal.

OK, by any reasonable definition, I think you have to admit the house has been a piece-of-s*** for these tenants and was beat to hell when you rented it to them. Because that's a lot of problems cropping up in a very short amount of time.

Did you just buy this place prior to October 2018 and not do a thorough snagging of it? It sure sounds like it. You can't buy a POS cheap, inadequately snag it, dump tenants into it, and not be prepared for the POS to manifest its POS-ness. 

(Well, you can, but you'll lose money every time doing it.)

1. Did you scope the sewer line before you bought the place?

2. Did you check the electrical board?

3. Did you stick a wiring tester in each of the outlets?

4. Did you make sure the lighting sockets weren't faulty?

5. Did you check the age of the water heater?

6. Did you inspect the sprinkler valves?

7. Did you look at the busted windows?

8. Did you run the A/C?

Now, let's talk about your electrician. I'm afraid he's not passing the sniff test.

Your electrician couldn't fix circuit wiring that didn't work, couldn't check and replace outlets, couldn't check and replace lighting sockets/fixtures, and isn't answering the phone when they call him about the fact that they live in a giant fire hazard. If you think that's harsh, well, I'm not an electrician and I can do all that -- it's not rocket science. But you're telling them it's their responsibility to make sure your house is good and fixed for you, and not to whine to you about it. And of course you've mentioned here that everyone else who rents from you thinks that this electrician-of-obviously-questionable-competence is God's gift to alternating current.

A does not equal B does not equal C here.

The windows...you can't rent a house with busted windows. Did the tenants bust them? Or are you complaining that they should have lived happily paying rent for busted windows?

The wood chips -- It was YOUR tree, YOUR contractor didn't clean up after himself. Send a guy down there with a rake or go down there yourself -- - your tenants don't pay you rent to rake out a large chipped tree's worth of wood chips your contractor left behind. Trust me, they don't think of themselves as your free landscaping crew.

In their minds, they feel you should have known the roots were infiltrating the sewer line before they rented it out to you, and now you're hoping they clean up the rest of the mess that they should have never had to deal with, and you should never have put on them.

Just step back and look, once again. They're pissed off because you rented them a POS with a  bad water heater at the end of its service life, bad windows, electrical problems, sewer-line problems, busted sprinklers. You're sick of the situation? You think they're not sick of worrying what the next problem the POS you rented to them is going to throw at them?

I'm not one of those BPers who insist brightly that running rentals is a 100% people job. It isn't. But when you deal with unhappy tenants, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. You need to be as harsh on yourself as they are likely to be. Otherwise, you'll never understand their point of view.

I'm sure the analysis I've presented above is unfair to you at certain points, maybe at all points. But what I wanted with you was give you a picture of what it might look like from your tenants' point of view. The goal was not to be accurate, but to run some of your statements through a tenant filter.

Updated 4 months ago

PLEASE NOTE: Wesam has replied directly to this post later in the thread, explaining how far off-base I was taking the devil's-advocate position here that a house with this many problems had undergone minimal maintenance prior to being rented out. In point of fact, this was clearly a FLIPPED house, and Wesam bought in the expectation that the remodeling had been done competently, worth the price that he paid for it. This keeps on getting lost in later comments in the thread and so I added this update. This goes from being a story of buying cheap and renting cheap to a warning about watching out for flipped houses with their cosmetic renovations masking significant unremediated issues.

@Jim K.

I would tend to agree . I almost never side with the tenants in these situations but I’ll make an exception here . The house was clearly not rent ready and this stuff should have been done BEFORE you got people in their . Best I can tell is These are legit concerns and you would find it equally frustrating had you switched roles with them .

I usually don't agree with Jim but this time I do.

I bought a house that I knew needed lots of work. I did a lot of work to it before putting new tenants in it and thought my problems were over. We bought the house at the end of July 2017 and tenants moved in middle of September 2017. Tree roots clogged up the sewer line the day before Thanksgiving in 2017 and they wanted action because they were having family over for the holiday. I was out of town but still called in a repair man to look at it. Repair man couldn't fix the problem so I offered to put the tenants up in a hotel until the problem was fixed. They couldn't flush a toilet or take a shower so I felt obligated to pay for hotel. They decided to deal with it over the weekend until I had it fixed a couple of days later. The plumber fixed the problem but left the yard a huge mess and they also left the new cleanout pipe sticking out of the ground a foot high right in the middle of the yard. I went over there and graded the yard smooth, cut off the excess pipe, and put in a meter box to cover where the new cleanout was. Fast forward a few weeks. I get called back to deal with their electric bill running close to $300 a month. They claim it needs more attic insulation. I inspect attic and find 40 year old ductwork and places where there is no insulation at all. I spend one Saturday replacing ductwork ($300) and another Saturday blowing in a foot of insulation ($300). I also notice that the ground in the front yard has settled and their is now a crater where the sewage pipe was replaced (add another project to the list). I came back a few days later to grade the yard again. The following month I hear that their electric bill is now in the $125-150 range. This is a 1320 sf house so that's about right. I drive by and notice that the yard has settled once again. I have to return and re-grade the yard again. Now the ice maker doesn't work (Feb 2018). Ceiling fan stopped working (May 2018). Trees hitting power lines (July 2018). Garage door opener not working (Nov 2018). OMG will this never end... In Feb 2019, the water from the AC backs up and takes out the wood floor. I spent 3 weeks replacing the floor. Jun 2019, I get a call about the fence needing repairs. I go over there and sure enough, they have a couple of fence sections that are rotted out. I also notice that the previous owner did a poor job of installing the fence. I have to install about a dozen brackets to secure the current fence to the fence posts so the fence won't bang against the posts when the wind blows. For 2 years I was going back over to this house for something about every month or two. I really thought about selling this lemon and moving on. Every time I go over there I apologize for the things they have had to deal with. They pay to have a nice place to live and enjoy. They shouldn't have to put up with things falling apart all the time. Even though it's been a big pain in the rear, I knew what I bought and was getting into. I'm just glad they were understanding and patient.  They're very nice people, keep the house very clean, and always pay the rent on time.

@Wesam S.

Shame on you. The property was obviously not ready to be rented out.

This sounds similar at least to buying a $30K dump property and spending $2k on it,calling it done, and then being astonished when your getting dinged to death on repair cost. Like the old AC Delco commercials, “you can pay me now, or pay me more later”. Sorry, but this was a predictable problem.

Offer to let them out of the lease. Once they are gone get the property right, then lease it out.

After reading this thread, I'm reminded that - especially for those people that are new - hiring a good, reputable home inspector prior to closing is ALWAYS money well spent.

After reading all the posts, it sounds like there are a few things going on.  There were ongoing problems with the house, you are getting tired of dealing with this house, some bad luck and a mix of reasonable and unreasonable requests.

Be blunt with them.  Tell them that you've been working with these professionals for many years and neither you or any of your other tenants have ever had a problem.  Have your team go through and do a thorough inspection of the house and fix anything that needs to be fixed.

I agree with David's suggestion.  Offer to let them out of the lease and explain that clearly they are not happy with the house.

@Jim K. is right to point out the tenants side.  All houses have problems but it appears these people have had a very bad first impression of you and your house.  Some tenants will be angry if any repair comes up feeling that they should never have the need to call in a repair. All of the issues you mentioned I consider major repairs and a tenant should only need to ever deal with one or two in the time they are renting.  Hot water heaters, electrical work, AC failing - big problems.  However, it does now appear that the property is where it should have been 9 months ago and it would seem a little counter productive to lose tenants after you have done all this work.  

If they pay on time and keep the property in good repair why not repair the relationship with them? You could consider offering to meet with them and do a walk - through inspection of sorts. This has worked well for me when dealing with angry tenants.   You get to talk to them face to face and they get to see you are not an evil rich jerk.  In addition, you get to see how they are living and if they are indeed worth keeping.  When major repairs such as this have caused my tenants a good deal of inconvenience I have even offered a small piece offering - a $10 Starbucks gift card or the something like that.  In a way these tenants have worked out all the "kinks" in your property all while paying you.  

@Alan Pederson reading what you went through put the troubles I’ve had with my tenants so insignificant. I’ve also learned the hard way that I rather keep the house at least one month vacant without any income and just check everything throughly to make sure everything works than having to deal with the problem after tenants settled in.

So I’ve dealt with many crappy landlords over my years of being a tenant. I am NOT saying you are a crappy landlord at all, I don’t know you so hear me out.

I have moved into three different places (all sight unseen, which is my fault but cross country relocations are hard all around) that needed lots of work done as soon as we moved in. Sometimes they have taken care of things properly and promptly, and other times they thought I was nuts. I have always listed these things on my move in inspection sheet, btw. One example: I have young children and moving into a place that has things like the gas furnace (upstairs in the closet between the bedrooms) not working properly and the HVAC tech telling me it was installed wrong are not things that would warrant me being seen as a complainer. In your situation, electrical problems across the house - it’s completely understandable that they would complain as it’s not just an inconvenience but a safety issue, like mine was with the gas furnace.

Work that was done and not finished or where the contractor left a mess for the tenant to clean is something I would complain about. It’s not my fault the work needs done, and it’s not my fault they didn’t try to clean up (this has also happened to me in the house I’m currently in - guy got caulk all over the bathroom after reseating a wobbly toilet, and I didn’t notice till it was hardened).

I wouldn’t complain every day but if I felt I was being ignored, and it was a habitual issue, I might get increasingly more upset with you.

If to them it seems like “it’s always something,” they might be happy to leave. One landlord let me out of the lease after I complained that the heat wasn’t working (this house had so many problems including him promising us a kitchen remodel when we moved in and then he got mad when I told him the contractor left the cabinets outside overnight - with dogs in the adjoining unit who liked to pee on everything, anyway this was winter in Wisconsin and he flat out ignored me for several days when I told him the heat wasn’t working). If you think it’s annoying to you, they are the ones living it and it’s worse for them. And if they feel you don’t care about the problems YOUR place has, and they have to contact you constantly to get a response, it’s not a good fit and you should offer to let them go with no penalty. I would make sure their complaints are checked over throughly while turning the unit. They’re probably not just liars and are as tired of you as you are of them.

With our own tenants, we ALWAYS address repair requests or urgent issues like a frozen air conditioner immediately. It’s our house and if it gets messed up due to our own negligence, we are not only screwing our paying tenants but our own selves.

@Wesam S. Na, i dont agree with @Jim K. or @Dennis M.

Older houses need repairs always. You needed to show them what is wrong before they move in and get them to acknowledge it. You need to get them out immediately and get new tenants in there and maybe charge less in rent if you are charging market rent. These tenants are taking you for a fool and will always constantly complain about everything no matter what you do. If they want perfect, tell them to go buy their own darn house.

They have taken you for your weakness and kindness.

Originally posted by @Maugno M. :

@Wesam S. Na, i dont agree with @Jim K. or @Dennis M.

Older houses need repairs always. You needed to show them what is wrong before they move in and get them to acknowledge it. You need to get them out immediately and get new tenants in there and maybe charge less in rent if you are charging market rent. These tenants are taking you for a fool and will always constantly complain about everything no matter what you do. If they want perfect, tell them to go buy their own darn house.

They have taken you for your weakness and kindness.

Whaaaaat? 

“The water heater might go out, I know a window is broken, there are tree roots destroying the plumbing and you may not be able to flush a toilet soon, and I know some of the electrical is fussy...but I have no plans to make any of it right. You can take it or leave it.”

That is the definition of a slumlord.

Some good stuff here, thank you everyone! 

In no way am I saying that I am right in this situation and that the tenants are wrong, I'm completely open to the idea that I'm in the wrong here, I'm just frustrated.

First off I will say that this house is most certainly not a POS. It was newly remodeled by the previous owner when I received it with custom cabinetry, tiling, carpeting, and paint. The A/C & heat worked, the water heater worked, the sprinklers were all tested and they worked, the electricity worked. The windows were not busted in or broken. 

Many of these issues were not present when they immediately bought the house: I only recently replaced the water heater, I recently serviced the A/C, the sprinkler valves recently were replaced. Apparently the windows in the master bedroom came off the hinges a few months into the lease so I got those promptly repaired. The kitchen window had a small chip in it and I had one of my repairmen go in and seal the chip. The tenants were unhappy and insisted that the entire window needed to be replaced. 

Could I have spent more time with the house vacant before renting it to make sure it's perfect? Probably, and my fault for not doing so. But I am doing absolutely everything I can to make every repair in a timely matter. They have my personal cell phone number and I always answer within the hour and I immediately notify the repairman, in no way have I ever ignored anything they've ever said to me.

They're expecting perfection and when it's not met, they're unhappy and hating on the repairmen. One of my guys won't go to the house anymore, he told me they were very rude so I had to find another guy. They didn't like the first electrician I sent over so I sent over another and they didn't like that he sent over his workers instead of him coming over (he went over initially to take note of all the problems). As far as I know all these repairmen are human, with families, and dozens of other homes to work on. They're going to occasionally forget something, they might not be able to be there personally to fix something so they'll send over one of their workers, is all that so bad? 

@Wesam S.

I am not saying you are the slumlord, I was responding to the other poster I quoted.

It sounds like they are being difficult, but it’s hard when you rent a place and a bunch of stuff goes wrong. We all let our tempers flare at times when we get frustrated and it could just be that they are frustrated with all of it.

They may not have the means to up and move but I would offer to let them out if they are unhappy. They might decline and say they prefer to stay. You do have the option to not renew the lease, which sounds like it will be coming up soon. It’s your call.

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