Dealing with a Toxic Tenant

16 Replies

I bought my first investment property, a duplex, 6 months ago. From the start a tenant was very angry and difficult. He said he had bad experiences with previous landlords and he trusted no one. I have responded quickly to every issue associated with the property and I thought I earned his trust. I recently had to do mandatory remodeling as mandated by the municipality. I had to tear down an old deck and build a brand new one. Everything is in line with codes and is safe. He snapped on me because the 5 step stairway was too narrow and how could he ever move out large items like a couch. There are 2 other entrances, but anyway, I said if you have to use this entrance you can simply lift the couch over the stairway railing. That seemed to relax him. But before that it had been 2 days of offensive texts and arguing with him. I don't know how to deal with these situations and I'm sure this won't be the last issue. I honestly feel like he is going to sue me for nothing at some point. Any advice from your own experiences would be appreciated. Thank you.

I don’t know how long you plan on living. But my time is worth more than that. 

You have two decent options…

“This doesn’t seem to be a good fit for you, would you like out of your lease so you can find a new place?”

“I’ve hired a property manager, here’s their number…”

Ps. If they are month to month (otherwise when he current lease expires) you can guarantee their rental rate would be market plus 5-10% minimum. That will cover the PM. 

I only have a dozen properties but a BUSY month with a PM is an hour of work with 4 calls/texts/emails. The average is less than 10 minutes (mostly entering their reports into quicken software.) and 0 or 1 problems/calls/texts/emails. 

I already asked him if he wanted to leave in the beginning. He doesn't. He loves the place. But I think he has a lot of anxiety. I have tried to be patient. It has been 3 weeks of loud construction so maybe the remodeling broke him a little. All of his concerns are irrational so I recognize he may have issues. Before this incident it had been 5 months of peace from him. Yesterday when this happened my reaction was to put it in property management but we don't have a lot of good companies around here so I'm not sure what to do.

@Frank Jennings

I would hire out the property to a PM and absolutely increase the rent let the PM deal with the headache. The biggest reason landlords don’t increase the rent is because they have a good tenant and don’t want to lose them. In this case you don’t have a good tenant so I would absolutely increase the rent to be able to hire it out to a PM. It’s obviously causing you stress because you came on here to ask for advice, so piece of mind alone is worth hiring a PM.


Good Luck 

1) property management is NOT for everyone. If you can't take the stress hire a PMC

2) there are some people/tenants, that will NEVER be happy. It is not your job to be their therapist and help them. 

When does his lease end?

When does his lease end?

I will not be renewing your lease...  You really can't get rid of him without a lease violation until his lease is up (in Ohio); other places may make it even more difficult if you have rules that require a lease violation for a non-renewal. This is why I like m2m rental agreements.

@Frank Jennings you need to address your own mindset. What I mean is don't let things get to you. So many people look for validation in others. If you KNOW you are treating him fairly, then you have nothing to prove to him. Some people are just never happy.

Treat people with respect, do your job maintaining the property and respond quickly to any legitimate requests. If someone is asking for unreasonable things, just say no. If someone is being abusive in their tone, tell them you are not able to have a conversation with them until they are calm and respectful. Odds are good you just need to ignore some of his comments. 

I am not sure that "not renewing" his lease is necessary. If he is paying his rent and taking care of the property, just ignore the noise. It only creates stress for you if you let it. Think of this another way. If you hired a PM, do you think they will spend even two seconds caring about "earning his respect"? They will just make sure the property is maintained, rent is collected and they will ignore everything else.

Put him in his place.  Tell him you treat him with respect and you expect the same in return.  When his lease is up for renewal, tell him you are not renewing.  It doesn't matter if he loves the place, tell him you are not dealing with disrespectful behaviour and he can find another place to live.  It is your house.

Originally posted by @Frank Jennings :

I bought my first investment property, a duplex, 6 months ago. From the start a tenant was very angry and difficult. He said he had bad experiences with previous landlords and he trusted no one. I have responded quickly to every issue associated with the property and I thought I earned his trust. I recently had to do mandatory remodeling as mandated by the municipality. I had to tear down an old deck and build a brand new one. Everything is in line with codes and is safe. He snapped on me because the 5 step stairway was too narrow and how could he ever move out large items like a couch. There are 2 other entrances, but anyway, I said if you have to use this entrance you can simply lift the couch over the stairway railing. That seemed to relax him. But before that it had been 2 days of offensive texts and arguing with him. I don't know how to deal with these situations and I'm sure this won't be the last issue. I honestly feel like he is going to sue me for nothing at some point. Any advice from your own experiences would be appreciated. Thank you.

Welcome to managing your own units 101....its a headache. Honestly when I switched to having a PM, it was the best decision of my life!

@Joe Splitrock when someone is really difficult and unreasonable, I believe that they are dangerous to your business. Your business reputation matters. They may be spiteful, bad mouth you and your business. They may stir up trouble with other tenants. They may attempt to cause problems and create maintenance issues. And they may not do any of those things but, once someone demonstrates to me that they are not reasonable and/or once someone makes a threat (direct or veiled) of any kind (and unreasonableness and threats often go together)...they are on the way out the door at my earliest convenience.

It not only makes my life easier but it is in the best interest of my business to show them the door. MY trust in them to be a good tenant is destroyed (and I don't give a damn if they trust me or not). I know I have the nicest places at every price point where I compete and that my place will rent in a heartbeat to a nice normal tenant. All of the cray-cray, unreasonable tenants I have had were inherited. 15% of the population has a personality disorder and 5% has a diagnosable mental illness you're bound to get stuck with one at some point and Life.Is.To.Short to deal with that BS when I don't have to. Some of the personality disorder folks are super good at garnering sympathy and making themselves look innocent when they are sneaky trouble makers-- you ignore their **** at your peril.

I would let him know that the property is having deep renovation / systems replaced or whatever... sorry we will not be able to renew your lease.... Get a PM going forward. If this guy bothers you that much tell him bye bye... 

@Frank Jennings ,

First, I would have a very firm conversation with him how you expect to be treated.   This isn't a friendship, we aren't buddies, I expect respect and for you to pay rent on time.  You expect me to fix things and maintain the house.      Tell him you understand-- it SUCKS that he's been there for years, and has paid rent to a landlord that didn't do jack. He had a slumlord-- agree that the prior person was garbage, because they likely were.    Rome wasn't built in a day,   you are fixing things, but in order to keep rent where it is-- you'll fix things over time, not immediately or else rent would need to double.   You won't tolerate disrespect,  and tell him-- it's your choice to be here, he can leave at anytime, no questions asked-- but if he stays, the relationship must be professional and respectful, or you will cut the cord and not renew his lease.    Showing someone the door is open, shows them they have choices and it's not like you're locking them and forcing them in-- this is a CHOICE. 

I only do M2M leases, and am so quick to tell people.. it's just like dating, you're happy, I'm happy-- we go on for as long as it's good... if either person isn't happy, it ends. Period. No drama, no eviction.   It just ends.   I also use the example of them getting a promotion in a bigger city and needing to leave.

How he handles that conversation will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know.    If he's a fair person, he'll understand and apologize.   If he's a jerk and future PITA, he'll push back and whine about more stuff-- at which you have your answer.    

Just like any relationship, tenants test the waters, how is this going to go in the future with this new person? What can I expect?  Fair but firm is how we operate. 

Originally posted by @Jill F. :

@Joe Splitrock when someone is really difficult and unreasonable, I believe that they are dangerous to your business. Your business reputation matters. They may be spiteful, bad mouth you and your business. They may stir up trouble with other tenants. They may attempt to cause problems and create maintenance issues. And they may not do any of those things but, once someone demonstrates to me that they are not reasonable and/or once someone makes a threat (direct or veiled) of any kind (and unreasonableness and threats often go together)...they are on the way out the door at my earliest convenience.

It not only makes my life easier but it is in the best interest of my business to show them the door. MY trust in them to be a good tenant is destroyed (and I don't give a damn if they trust me or not). I know I have the nicest places at every price point where I compete and that my place will rent in a heartbeat to a nice normal tenant. All of the cray-cray, unreasonable tenants I have had were inherited. 15% of the population has a personality disorder and 5% has a diagnosable mental illness you're bound to get stuck with one at some point and Life.Is.To.Short to deal with that BS when I don't have to. Some of the personality disorder folks are super good at garnering sympathy and making themselves look innocent when they are sneaky trouble makers-- you ignore their **** at your peril.

 I know what you are saying, but there is a difference between "challenging personalities" and "dangerous tenants". A property manager learns to deal with challenging personalities. Tenants make unreasonable requests all the time. Usually if you just say no quickly, you can shut it down fast. I also like the "choices" tactic for dealing with requests. If the tenant says "the steps are too narrow", you simply tell them, "that is what I had in the budget and it meets code. If you want wider steps, I can get a quote and you can pay half the cost (or all the cost)." Tenant may say, "why would I pay that?" and the answer is, "because you are requesting it". Most often they back down quickly. 

I sure wouldn't spend the day texting back and forth. I give an answer, "sorry no I will not replace your steps" and that is all I say. As the old saying goes, "it takes two to tango" but in this case, "it takes two to text". If they they keep texting, just silent the text and go about your business. I just don't go there. Arguing over text is never a winning battle. 

But yes, I agree, in some cases they are just too crazy, unreliable or dishonest and you need to part ways. Telling them they are free to leave is one option. Raising rent and charging a PITA tax is another option. Non renewal can also be an option. 

One final consideration is that not only tenants have mental issues. That 20% of the population with mental problems includes landlords. If a landlord has other neurotic tendencies (OCD, anxiety, etc.), they will have a harder time managing tenants. Small problems become big problems. Landlords often make it worse by engaging and arguing with tenants. This is where landlords need to know their own personality and understand when/if a property manager is a better choice. 

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

...One final consideration is that not only tenants have mental issues. That 20% of the population with mental problems includes landlords. If a landlord has other neurotic tendencies (OCD, anxiety, etc.), they will have a harder time managing tenants. Small problems become big problems. Landlords often make it worse by engaging and arguing with tenants. This is where landlords need to know their own personality and understand when/if a property manager is a better choice. 

You are soooo right on that, and they are probably worse than disordered tenants because they have a little power to abuse.

Thank you all for the advice and sharing your experiences, and most importantly your support. It truly helped me. You gave me a voice and the strength to respond to the bs the tenant was throwing at me. The contributors on this site are the best!