How to overcome emotionally difficult tenants?

44 Replies

I knew this would happen eventually, but I still don't know how to overcome it mentally.  My goal is to grow my business (currently 3 rental properties) and work on systems and whatnot, yet I'm deeply troubled by one of my tenants. I've had a nightmare or two, even 2-3 months after the incident. 


Apparently I'm a conscientious person and assume others would appreciate that I care about them and the property they reside (I own and manage). I literally walked into this one. My B+/A- property is in a good area with high income earners and generally well educated people with good social skills. However my new tenants just had a baby 2 weeks prior, and I went to inspect the house, as agreed, and they happened to be home and watch me like a hawk. The new mother got very angry with me being there doing my job, didn't understand why I needed to be there, and was aggressively demanding that I leave them alone! She was staring daggers at me, making noises at me, yelling, that sort of stuff. So uncouth for our higher-end market. Thankfully I stayed cool while my blood boiled. She thought I was looking through all her things and invading her space. It's more like I was looking beyond her things to check for leaks and mold - you know the drill. I found 3 rats under the house, collected them, got rid of them, and instead of a thank you, they just verbally pushed me out and asked that I do not come back until our lease is up and demanded that I agree not to visit until the lease is up (9 more months). We verbally agreed before renting that I would inspect quarterly, so I asked that we hold off on that decision.

She did acknowledge that she is a new mother with emotions running wild, but nonetheless, it really left a deep imprint on me.  I feel offended by her behavior towards me.  Not only should we aim to have a good working relationship, but I've done nothing but be friendly and helpful at every opportunity, even distancing myself as much as reasonable.  However she felt that I invaded her living space (again, we agreed on the inspection beforehand).

So now I'm confused what to do. If they don't want to tell me anything about the property, how will I know the condition? They claim that they know how to keep a house, but I don't accept them to manage my 900k property. It's too important that I need to manage it. Maybe a 50k home I would entertain letting my tenants self-manage, but not in this case for obvious reasons. And besides, I am the business owner, I determine how to conduct business. But I find myself considering their emotions/thoughts way too much. I'm still trying to be such a nice guy. Part of the problem is that my wife and I lived in the house, and when we moved out, we moved them in (so they know we are the owners). The cash-flow is not good enough for an 8% fee property manager, though I'm considering taking the hit for the greater business goals.

Anyway, I think she is just a really mean person at heart, and while I really shouldn't care as long as they pay the rent and take care of the house from a renters perspective (they do seem to be doing that perfectly), part of me does not want to rent to her anymore.  I don't need that in my life.  I'm trying to help people have a place to live and they treat me like crap for it?  However, I feel that some owners would love them for not bothering them, paying on time, and keeping the home nice for their high standard of living.  Really great qualities, right?

I understand that to grow, I need to let go of these emotions and think bigger and focus on the business. Please, do you have advice on how to "not care" about emotional baggage in this game? Real estate is my new hobby/career and I want to continue to love it, but my concerns about management have been shown to be an issue for me, but oddly a personal and emotional one, which should be easier to get over (or so I thought). Any helpful ideas on approaching the tenants for our next interaction and how to treat them in general at this point? Perhaps the friendliness is not warranted and I just tell them what I need to do, but I don't want to hear more of that offensive talk towards me when I'm there.

Hi Matt,

Step one might be to get them a new baby gift or two---like a couple of little stuffed toys from Target or Walmart.

Drop them at the door in a box like FedEx does with a nice little card of congratulations on the new baby.

If that doesn't make YOUR life easier, then wait until the lease runs out.

(and imagine Mr has to live with this kind of stuff all the time--poor guy)

Good Luck!

Thoughts:

1. What does your lease say? That's what you should do.

2. I would be appalled to have rats underneath a $90k house, much less a $900k house. What kind of a/b neighborhood is that that has enough rats for you to find 3 under the house?

3. Send a representative to inspect. I think quarterly is kind of obnoxious, frankly, on a house, especially one at that price level. I don't inspect my $90k house tenants quarterly. If something needs to be looked at, I do a quick one-over look while I'm there - mostly checking HVAC filter, floors, and under sinks for leaks. Beyond that, no adult wants a grown-sized babysitter coming to check on how they live. Besides, I learned long ago that people who live like slobs will live like that no matter how much money they have. 

4. It's just business. I have 3 rules: 1. Rent, in full, on time, all the time. 2. Don't damage my property. 3. Don't cause trouble for me, the neighbors, or the police. Beyond that, I don't care if they hurt my feelings or I theirs. It's business. 

Baby two weeks prior. My wife and I did that. I remember shaking the little guy at three in the morning and screaming STFU!!!! He's still alive, phew. Grew up to be quite a successful young man.

Yup, no sleep, kids is waking mom up every two hours for a diaper change and food. I'd cut her a little slack. From reading your tomb, I'd say you might be a little too involved - might want to take a chill pill and give 'em some space. Take your cutting edge systems and put a fuzzy edge on them. BTW I like @Scott Mac 's idea.

Graham Stephan has some great life hack ideas, including meditation. I'm not a believer either, nor was he, but watch his video and see what he is saying now: 

just do what they want, but invent reasons for someone from "your team" to check the furnace or some other system. I have a woman like that who's a nurse and a hypocondriac, asked me not to email her because my emails scare her. She makes up stuff that she says is in their lease, but cant find it.
I now work thru the man and he's much easier to get things done with. She has 3 of the laziest teenagers i ever saw, and is a budding hoarder. cant wait till they are GONE. She said housework relaxes her but the place isnt that tidy.

tell them your "exterminator" has to check for roaches, the neighbor had them. 

Those are great suggestions!  Jane nailed it that even an email is too much for my renter as well.  Her thinking is that she pays me every month to stay out of the way completely and that I should just trust her that she "knows how to take care of a house".  

Follow the lease. Right now I would just say I am sorry you found the inspection inconvenient and that you know it is difficult to accomadate with a newborn.. Let them know you will schedule something in a few months when you are there to do xyz (some routine maintenence) basically to see if there is anything in the house that needs attention.

You need to convey that the inspection is about early identification of house issues. With this class of rental I think you will see more demanding tenants who don't want to see you.. Curious does it make sense to rent an expensive house Like this moneywise?

@Colleen F. I think it is worth renting so that we may hold onto the property for appreciation. Purchased for 675k in 2015 and worth 900k today. My loan is at 3.675% and the house is a simple 3/2 completely remodeled everything in 2012 and the rent is $300 over PITI. The house is very low maintenance. Not nearly 50% rule but the house is in a high demand coastal city of Santa Cruz CA with limited new construction boxed in by silicon valley and the ocean, not to mention the city planning's anti-building codes. Owning a SFH around here is considered a major achievement all on its own! Obviously that doesn't satisfy an investor.

One might suggest to sell, take the 1031 exchange profits or no tax profit up to 500k for married couples from living 2 out of the previous 5 years, but my strategy is not complicated. I want to buy and hold forever.

That said we want to get into multi family but our area is not easy to break into.  Looking more out of state for cash flow properties while we do the live-in rehab and house hack locally.

Ignore the noise.

Cite your lease - 24 hour notice required before entry, right?

Continue with your regular inspections with proper notice.

If you can't handle that then hire a PM.

@Matt Mainini

It's a learning process, Matt. Chalk everything up to experience, amend your lease, go back and do it again next year. Sooner or later your wins will pile up and overtake your losses.

But I wouldn't be renting out a $900K SFR and managing it myself because "the cashflow's not good enough." Those ain't the kind of properties you rent out.

There is some good advice above- but you've put yourself in a tough situation. Letting your tenant know that you are the PM and the owner is a dangerous thing to do. I've been in your situation before and it is not fun. 

Separate yourself from the personal side of this business. Start a small PM company that only exists to manage your own portfolio. Have a friend or PT employee do those inspections on your behalf- you can use simple software to make it more professional- take a look at Zinspector. 

If you make the property management/landlord side of things "you," then it WILL be personal. It sounds like you handle things professionally, just remove yourself personally from those processes and create a professional system to shield yourself from your tenants.

@Matt Mainini

I am a big fan of @Scott Mac 's approach. Sometimes, kindness and understanding will shame people out of their bad attitudes and behavior. As my mom tells me constantly "heap burning coals of kindness on their heads."

This approach sounds odd, but it is really hard for "normal" people to be mad at someone when that person goes out of their way to help them or be kind. Obviously, do not take this approach too far - make sure you are calibrated in what you offer or do. Too often, we as landlords, forget the human aspect of our business.

With all that said, some people will still not respond positively even after you are kind - these types of people will generally always be difficult to work with and lease to; which just points to the importance of a solid lease agreement. 

I also agree that quarterly inspections are a bit much. I inspect my units bi-annually but I do not usually call them inspections. For instance, I am replacing a heater filter today in one of mine - when I do this I will also conduct a visual inspection of all plumbing and electrical as a courtesy to my tenant. When I play it out like this to the tenant I usually leave with them thanking me. 

You got this, hang in there! 



I think the best approach is to assume that the ENTIRE scenario was fueled by emotions/hormones, and make the conscious decision to block that out. Go back to your business as usual, and hope/assume that your next quarterly inspection will go MUCH better. If they give you more pushback, just remind them that this is in the lease and agreed upon prior to leasing. Then, continue business as usual.

Thanks everyone, the responses are all very good!  The line between owner and PM when the renter knows is more tricky than I thought.  One of the things I've learned from the podcast is that successful people recognize their strengths and weaknesses.  Perhaps the PM side is simply not one of my strengths for how my brain reacts to tenants and that it can easily bring me down mentally after an argument...but reading the comments here show there are paths to deal with that.  I think for now @Jonathan Pflueger is right that I should kill them with kindness, but behind the scenes I'll work towards pulling myself out of the PM responsibility to keep my sanity and keep my eye on the ball.  When I think about it, I really dislike spending time dwelling on this negative feeling when there is so much fun growing in other areas that I would like to get on with, as @JD Martin and @Max T. mentioned. 

Follow the lease... it’s your investment and you have the legal right to inspect it with proper legal notice. Don’t like it? Move out.... I’ll let you out of the lease with no penalty .... otherwise tough ****

I’d give her a “pass” on this one due to the new baby.... lots of emotions, hormones, stress and lack of sleep.... so you get a pass. Be an a-hole next time and we will have a problem 

With new tenants I’ll inspect every 3-4 months... if all is good I drop it to every 6 months or so...

Who had the baby and is being emotional? You or her ? Geez man get a grip . You want to grow your portfolio and self mAnage but can’t hack such a simple misunderstanding . This is nothing to get huffy and upset about . You are being way too nice . Seems to me You are going to need thicker skin or hire on a property manager going forward . If this bothers you wait till you find out the tenant spent all the rent on crack rock and left in the middle of the night!

@Matt Mainini

You have rights and responsibilities, learn them well and adhere to them. You also have a legally binding lease contract, follow it. They don’t get to waive your rights for you, even if that means a quarterly walk through with baby batsh*t and mommy both screaming at you. Spending the next 9 months too scared to inspect the property or communicate with your tenants would be unwise. And as I’m sure you’ve already concluded, unless MAJOR improvements happen once mommy starts getting more sleep, they’re leaving at your requirement at lease end.

@Matt Mainini a few comments:

1- according to CA law, you technically do not have a right to go in their home (even with a 24+ hour notice) just to do an inspection. There has to be something wrong that needs attention, which is usually instigated by the tenant. Technically you can make an excuse like check smoke alarm batteries, replace furnace filter, etc., but a determined tenant could push back on that too and say that they will tend to those things. You can enter for true emergencies however.  Be aware of the law, especially if you end up going to the matt on this issue. Also beware that the new CA rent control law is now in effect. Once a tenant establishes a 12 month residency, you can’t just terminate their lease without cause. So if you have a 9 month lease, and you feel like you can’t get along with them, then don’t renew. Once they stay 12 months you can’t do that.

2- you're smart to keep the home as a long term investment. If you can invest in prime CA RE that can be your retirement fund, or a source of equity for future investments and ventures. I wouldn't sell it

3- Judging from the tone of your post, I personally think you’re too involved in the tenants and the home. Especially if they seem to be taking care of it, are normal responsible people (being in a prime area it sounds like you’re dealing with solid professional people.) I just leave my tenants alone. Usually I end up going about once a year into the unit for something they called me about. So it’s my opportunity to see the general condition while I’m there. But I do think that if I told them that I’ll be making quarterly inspections I’d get some pushback from at least some of them. And while I may not have a angry new mom on my hands, the ones that would acquiescence could possibly resent the seeming invasion of their space. 

So...be thankful that you can own an investment property in prime CA, be content that you’re dealing with responsible and quality tenants, and just take a chill pill regarding home inspections. Problem solved :)

@Matt Mainini  

First of all, you are doing an inspection after 3 months, which is highly irregular in the rental business (unless there is cause). One year is most common. You can hire a third party to do the inspection. Some home inspectors, property managers or handy man offer the service. Give them a checklist and have them do maintenance like changing a furnace filter. Then it is not a nosy landlord, but rather a trained professional inspecting and doing maintenance. It is also just not scale-able. If you had 20 doors, are you really going to do 80 inspections a year - that is one every 4 days!!!

You say, "Apparently I'm a conscientious person and assume others would appreciate that I care about them and the property they reside". You act like you are doing them a favor, but your statements and actions show that you are doing this out of distrust. Would you be appreciative if someone invaded your space out of distrust? 

You should be screening tenants such that you are placing only tenants you can trust. I am assuming to qualify for that type of rent payment they are high wage earners with good credit. They probably also placed a large deposit on the property. In other words, they have financial means to cover damage. You need to have a level of trust that they will report problems and take care of the property (which you said they are).

Do you have children or a wife? I will tell you that after having our first child, my wife was still recovering from a difficult birth at two weeks. The house was a little messy and she would not have wanted strangers parading through the home. My wife was in sweat pants or pajamas for three weeks. Birth can be very painful and traumatic. On top of that, my wife experienced postpartum depression. You have no concept of how horrible and personality changing that is. If this poor woman is going through what my wife went through, shame on you for calling her evil. Even best case, birth is a 6-8 week recovery, so why are you there after two weeks?

I think part of the problem is that you rented your personal home. You are having trouble in your mind separating personal from business. Compound that with trust and control issues and you are naturally going to end up conflict. Nobody ever thinks they are wrong, but in this case I think you are out of line.

If you inspect every 3 months, they will move out at the end of their lease because nobody wants an overbearing landlord. If you want them gone, go ahead and keep inspecting. My opinion, if they are paying on time and taking good care of the property, move the inspections to once a year and send someone else. Turnover is the largest expense in rental property. With only $300 over mortgage, one month of vacancy is a loss on this property. I don't think you can afford to turn tenants every year.

Originally posted by @JD Martin :

Thoughts:

2. I would be appalled to have rats underneath a $90k house, much less a $900k house. What kind of a/b neighborhood is that that has enough rats for you to find 3 under the house?

It's CA, there are rats everywhere. Podcasts I listen to with very rich people and nice houses complain about the rats going through their yard or making a house in their chicken coupe. I don't get it, but I guess you just get used to them like squirrels 

 

Originally posted by @Bryan Devitt :
Originally posted by @JD Martin:

Thoughts:

2. I would be appalled to have rats underneath a $90k house, much less a $900k house. What kind of a/b neighborhood is that that has enough rats for you to find 3 under the house?

It's CA, there are rats everywhere. Podcasts I listen to with very rich people and nice houses complain about the rats going through their yard or making a house in their chicken coupe. I don't get it, but I guess you just get used to them like squirrels 

 

That's freaking crazy. I just can't see rats in a 900k neighborhood, but maybe with California's insane priced-out market 900k is a rat-infested neighborhood! I've lived in 8 different states and been to a lot of places (US Navy) and I never saw a clean place that was rat-infested. I lived in some areas that had a lot of rats, but the neighborhood was a slum. 

 

Originally posted by @JD Martin :
Originally posted by @Bryan Devitt:
Originally posted by @JD Martin:

Thoughts:

2. I would be appalled to have rats underneath a $90k house, much less a $900k house. What kind of a/b neighborhood is that that has enough rats for you to find 3 under the house?

It's CA, there are rats everywhere. Podcasts I listen to with very rich people and nice houses complain about the rats going through their yard or making a house in their chicken coupe. I don't get it, but I guess you just get used to them like squirrels 

 

That's freaking crazy. I just can't see rats in a 900k neighborhood, but maybe with California's insane priced-out market 900k is a rat-infested neighborhood! I've lived in 8 different states and been to a lot of places (US Navy) and I never saw a clean place that was rat-infested. I lived in some areas that had a lot of rats, but the neighborhood was a slum. 

 

 From what I have heard and the videos I have seen, you can have a $10M house in CA and there will still be rats running through your trash every night. Maybe the trash outside is the issue? The neighborhoods are all picturesque so it isn't like it is just thrown all over. One of the many reasons not to live in that state 

I agree with @Amit M. and want to add some thoughts.  

@Matt Mainini   you state that you had only a verbal agreement ( "We verbally agreed before renting that I would inspect quarterly, so I asked that we hold off on that decision" (she had stated not to come back until the lease was up).

A verbal agreement is not a written one.  A verbal agreement that allows you to deviate from standard business practices (quarterly, rather than a move-in and annual inspection make your request a deviation) is not good business practice.  My guess is your position will be hard to defend with this type of tenant reaction combined with no written documentation of their consent.  

For the record, here is the actual CA statute and (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1950.5, 1954)  https://leginfo.legislature.ca...

I'd also like to add that the moment she told you to leave, if I'm not mistaken, that she had to right to do so as the "person with lawful possession" of the property. You might own the home but typically those that are on the lease have "lawful possession".  She might have agreed to your request in writing (it was in writing wasn't it?  In California you have to request entry in writing with some exceptions - this is not one of them) but once there she has the right to tell you to leave.

An experienced property manager in the state might be the best best for you.  It's the smartest money you can spend and my guess is that the cost of frustration, emotion and upset that this one interaction has caused you would be more than worth having someone else do this for the fee.

*caveat - I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice though I do know some great attorneys*