Eight Tips for Dealing with Evil Tenants

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Beware! Evil tenants are real!

If you read my post from last week, entitled “Seven Tenants I’d Never Rent To” – you know the kind I’m talking about. We can do everything in our power to screen for these tenants, but in the end – they sometimes slip through the cracks. (Speaking of “screening” – have you read my Ultimate Guide to Tenant Screening yet?)

If you haven’t yet experienced an “evil tenant” yet- consider yourself very lucky. The truth is, nearly every landlord has or will encounter one. If you are wondering how you should deal with these “vile creatures-” then this post is for you. This goes out to all the landlords who have tenants who drive you crazy with their late payments, nitpicking, neediness, tendency to disturb other tenants, violence, and all around “evilness.”

If that’s you – or ever will be you – here are eight tips for dealing with them.

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1. Be Objective

Evil tenants may be well-versed in deceiving people, and will try appealing to your emotions. Try to be as objective as possible. Set strict ground rules and stick to the policies you create. Enforce those policies fairly but strictly. Perhaps you can modify a thing or two with the payment, if absolutely necessary, but don’t fall for their stories easily without a degree of suspicion. Once you give in, they’ll not stop until they get you under their control.

2. Train Them

They say that you can “train people” on how to treat you in every day life – and this also works with your tenants. Show to them that you’re the one in control. Be empathetic, but objective and strict when giving options. Let them feel that you are a good friend when they are good to you, but you are as strict as a school master when they act evil as well.

What’s the best way to train them? The same way as a pet or a child: with rewards and punishments. While you can’t simply make them stay in their room all afternoon- there are easy ways to punish tenants, including late fees, eviction, or simply returning phone calls at 8:00 am when you start work after a late night of them drunk dialing you all night (true story.)

3. Write Everything Down

When setting agreements or dealing with problematic tenants, always write everything down. An airtight agreement protects you from any damages and liabilities evil tenants may do in the future. When you lay the ground rules out on paper, the tenant will be more inclined to follow the rules. To make it legal, both of you should sign the agreement and the form should be reviewed prior to signing by a qualified attorney. Of course, they’ll think twice when messing around since you made them understand the conditions and the legal ramifications if they get out of line. Somehow, – when something is written down, it has a way of sticking in people’s minds.

In addition, when a tenant is out of line – serve them with an official “notice to comply” immediately to show them you mean business. A paper taped to their door certainly is more convincing than a phone call or text. In my state, I issue a “10 Day Notice to Comply” form, requiring the tenant to comply with whatever part of their lease they are breaking. Most of the time, this official notices fixes any contract breaches immediately.

It’s also wise to record any late payments from the tenants as well as any conversations with the tenant so that you can track their late payments and use your documentation as proof, should you need to pursue legal action (see #8.)

4. Make a Connection

Open communication is the key to every relationship, so be sure you don’t let them feel disconnected and on their own. When dealing with “evil tenants” it’s easy to want to avoid talking with them, but this can actually be a greater hinderance in the long run. Respond to phone calls or emails promptly, no matter how tiresome the tenant becomes. This could soften the hearts of the needy and evil tenants – and even turn them into great tenants from there on.

5. Take Action Immediately

Sometimes, evil tenants don’t start out evil, but they develop this characteristic once they realize they can do whatever they want in your property. It comes down to the whole “if you give a mouse a cookie” thing! This is why taking action immediately is very important. When they have delays in payment or when they have disobeyed tenant rules, then reprimand immediately. Don’t let time pass – be decisive and move quick!

6. Hire Property Management

I often refer to one of my properties as my “cursed house.” I’ve had five bad tenants in a row – and I can’t seem to get anyone to stay (or keep it clean.) I have wracked my brain over and over as to why I have such problems with this house… and I’ve come up with nothing.

So, to fix the problem, I’m simply going to hand the property over to a property management company.

You see, I often think I can handle everything myself… but the fact is, I’m simply too busy. This one “cursed house” gives me more trouble than all my other houses combined! So, yes- it may cost me a little bit of cash to have a property manager look after it… but the decrease in stress and extra time will more than make up for the fee.

7.) Ask Them To Leave

This is one of the most important steps that I personally take when dealing with difficult tenants: I simply ask them to leave. Granted, if you have a long lease, they may not leave until the end of their lease but it doesn’t hurt to ask. This is also why I only sign month-to-month leases with my tenants: so I can easily ask tenants to move anytime with just a 30 day notice.

If you ask a tenant to leave, and they don’t (whether they have a lease or not) you can always try “cash for keys” in which you pay the tenant to leave. If you do this strategy, however, be sure to make it clear that you will only hand over the cash once they have 100% vacated the home and left it in broom-clean condition. Often times, paying a few hundred dollars to an evil tenant is a much cheaper option than step eight…

8. Legal Action

Finally using legal action may be your only option when dealing with evil tenants, especially when the problem is from non-payment or illegal activities. If you followed the tips above, you may already resolve the issue – but if you are still having major problems (as I had last month) an eviction might be necessary (and very costly.) Be sure to hire a qualified attorney to help you with your eviction and follow every rule required to make the eviction go smooth. Don’t do anything stupid (like turn off their power or remove their windows!) and let the courts settle the matter.

Conclusion

Evil tenants are not fun, but as a landlord – dealing with them is probably going to be inevitable. However, by following the eight tips in this post, your experience with evil tenants doesn’t need to cause undue stress and strain on your life. Continue to treat your business as a business, don’t take things personally, and follow your policy and your evil tenant will soon be a thing of the past.

Have you dealt with evil tenants before? What happened? How did you respond? Share your experiences in dealing with problem tenants in the comments below!

Photo: Farrukh

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on BiggerPockets.com. Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.

20 Comments

  1. La Nae Duchesneau on

    I have a rule that if you are behind in rent, I do not fix anyting till you are current. Now I would fix whatever is wrong if it would damage my house to not fix it like a leaking faucet. However I would not fix airconditioning (and we live in Florida so that is brutal in summer and you simply can’t live in a house without AC), or a fridge.
    Also I do all my own evictions, it costs about $300 and it is relatively easy. Just a little bit of time is all.

    • I don’t think that is wise to violate the lease as a response to the tenant violating the lease. Do you think that it would be ok then if a tenant did not pay rent because you have not repaired something yet?

      • Kyle, not fixing A/C or a fridge most likely wouldn’t be a breach of the lease as those are not items that a landlord is required to provide. If it were heat, running water etc., that would be a different story. Also, most leases require rent to be paid without demand, setoff or counterclaim, so the answer to your question would be no, it is not ok for the tenant to withhold rent, unless the items needing repair were ‘habitability’ items.

        • If you expect the refrigerator or A/C back at lease end I would say that it was included, regardless of wether it is legally required to provide or not, as you provided it. Then on the tenants witholding rent, at least in my state of Wisconsin, a tenant cannot just withhold rent if something even with a habitability issue but must place the rent money in a trust as designated by state law. I feel no need to nog continue to provide an excellent service and use the more than adequate legal means to enforce the lease and rid my property of misbehaving tenants.

    • I am in the middle of a really scary situation. I did hire a property manager who originally rented my house to a nice couple who after the lease was up moved out and bought a house.
      I wanted to redo the kitchen after they left, but got a call from the property manager who had a “wonderful tenant who worked for Disney, made tons of money and want to rent the house”
      So I caved and said ok. The next call from the P.M. was”oh and by the way she has two roommates”
      The third call was “oh and the roommate is pregnant and so they want to hurry and get in”
      The fourth call was “OH and they have a dog”
      This was over several days, You know I didn’t like the bums rush but agreed.
      After about a year of no problems, the mailman who is a friend, called and said there was a lot of cars parked all over my property, did I know who was living in my house.
      I had to admit I had no idea, There was new names on the mail being delivered.
      So last summer I drove by my house just to get a look. There were several strange cars and the house was looking pretty ratty on the outside.
      I contacted the P.M. and told him I wanted copies of the lease and who was in my house..
      So the original girl with the good income had moved out, the roommates had subleased a bedroom, I was not happy.
      The P.M. being caught not doing his job hastily got a rental application from this new tenant back dated, but signed 12/15.
      So now my red flags are up and I want a walk thru inspection which I set up only to find my yard a complete mess, the interior had been painted even though in the lease there was a clause that no painting was to be done with out permission. The tenants then claimed there was mold in the furnace. I called the company that installed the furnace. There was no mold but someone had removed the panel on the outside of the furnace, possibly to change the filter but had left the panel off.
      The property manager has not raised the rent, so I told him I would take over the yard maintenance but I wanted to rent increased to cover that expense.
      He made up some strange reply that he wanted to raise the rent but I had talked him down.
      I waited till the rain stopped then 3 months after my walk thru I called a clean up crew.
      It took 6 dump trucks to get my yard back. In the process of cleaning the yard I noticed the renters had a greenhouse on the back deck and low and behold there was illegal drugs growing inside.
      That evening, after the yard clean up, the renter called and left a voice mail stating there was mold in the bedroom and since they were pregnant(again) they were concerned.
      So I went back with 4 witnesses, we all looked at what was being called mold, nothing more
      than mildew because of the overgrowth in the yard the house was not being ventilated.
      Red flag number 2.

  2. La Nae Duchesneau on

    Well Kyle, what has happened in the past is they know that I do this so they try to pay their rent as soon as they can so I do fix that something. Quite frankly, if they are late payers (and have a history of that) I would not be sad to see them go anyway. I would hate to fix an AC for someone who is not paying me rent to begin with. Get them out as soon as I can I say. If the did buy a fridge from Craigs List for $100 I would let them take that off the rent.

    • If it works in your state I think that it is fine.
      I would just caution anyone that thinks it is a good idea to check the local laws, the exact wording of what is and is not included in your leases and talk to people that have gone through evictions to see how things go.
      While I don’t think it is illegal here in MA and I would not have those things included specifically in my lease if I stopped fixing ANYTHING and ended up in court there is a really good chance that I’d get crucified.
      I’d get my possession but I wouldn’t be shocked if the judge gave them an additional 60-90 days to actually vacate and reduce my claim on damages by triple whatever perceived damage I caused the tenant.
      Or none of that might happen, but it is a real possibility here so it is a bad gamble.

  3. Great post brandon. I have not had a tenant I would describe as evil yet but a couple that no onewould mistake for holy either. I do year leases and also do notices for tenants that are not complying with the lease. I have not had to evict anyone but in 3 cases over the years I have asked tenants to leave. All mid-lease, after several notices and not making progress I was able to issue a 14 day termination notice. I have been able to work with the “problem” tenant and explain that if they do not talk to me and negotiate an orderly moveout, I will file for an eviction and that will not look good on their record for the rest of their lives. This has always worked for me. One took longer than others but complied. I stress communication from day one and am very thorough on my explaination on what lease violations have occured.
    You are dead on that you need to keep the lines of communication open. Even if you are upset you must remain in control of the situation.

  4. I like option 9 (my option). Pay a PM well and let them deal with all the BS.

    I have been involved with tenants before on a 20 unit. Not worth the time and aggravation. if I ever do it again I will go 50 units or higher and have a full time PM and maintenance person.

    I am way to busy to deal with the drama and I am not a social worker……………. : )

    • Actually Brandon did cover that with Item 6, Joel.

      So there’s a huge gap in acquisition capital needed between a 20 unit and a 50 unit. What does an investor do if they can only afford to get started in the 10-20 unit space? Are you saying only onsite PM for an apartment buildings is acceptable? That doesn’t seem practical to me.

      I’ve seen you say this before on the forums, so I’m curious what you think investors starting out in the MFH niche should do to overcome this issue if they can’t afford to start out with 50+ units. Thanks!

  5. Nice post, but I’m not sure about #7, “cash for keys”, when it comes to multi-family buildings. I know that in my buildings the tenants talk to each other and are in some cases friends. If I offered one cash to leave, the others would definitely be looking for the same handout. They may even be willing to become a nuisance until I offered them the money.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Brooks,

      It’s true there is that risk but I haven’t had it come up yet. It takes a special kind of person to willfully refuse to pay rent and be forced to leave, with a bad recommendation, just because they heard the neighbor got $300 for doing so. It’s true that it’s possible, but the chance (I think) is minimal. I haven’t had it happen yet, anyways! Thanks for the comment!

  6. Wonderful article Brandon as a DIY sort of owner I am like yourself. Fortunately I have not yet had to ‘legally’ evict any tenant yet, even though evicting all the original tenants in this 4plex I bought [looked at another just listed that I liked today but gotta wait cause it’s Homepath ;-]. So far 4 of the 6 tenants I’ve had since Dec 2012 I’d consider ‘evil’, although 2 came w/the building, and I rented to the other 2, of which I still have one I’m trying to get rid of. So I’ve rented to 2 good ones out of 4 so far – 50/50. Apt B tenant I rented to in June bounced 1st NSF check in July, then just left a 2nd bounced check on my doorstep w/out knocking this month. My fault for taking it the 2nd time – you know, fool me 2x shame on me.. Posted 3 day or quit, and this time she put a MO under my door mat without paying the late fees and NSF charges, so I posted a 7 day notice with cure to collect the $60 punishment.

    Also posted a ‘notice to enter’ to replace AC Filter to get in the apt. because she was hiding from me. I told her I had to charge her late fees ‘this time’ to ‘train’ her to be a good tenant just as you referred to it in this article. I’d prefer she didn’t pay them by this Fri. so I can evict her [for other reasons as well I won’t get into]. Fortunately I collected last month’s rent out of her even though ‘approved’ by the credit/background check company I use because I didn’t trust her from the get go. I think I need to go by my instincts as well as all the things you said about pre screening in another article. So if she doesn’t pay, I guess I post another 7 Day notice without cure? She’s paid up till end of month anyhow.

    Thanks for another great article on deadbeat/evil tenants Brandon! You’re the best!

  7. I think #6 is the one most people should really consider and the one that people will resist the most if they don’t do it from the get go.
    That 6-12%, depending on your property and your market, seems like SO MUCH when nothing is happening. However in a situation like the one you had where it was sucking up all your time it will be the best money ever spent.

    Now I am a tad of a hypocrite as I self manage all my local stuff still (One of many reasons I have also been investing out of state so I am FORCED to not do it). They are condos so I have a lot of maintenance and management built in and have only had one evil tenant a long time ago.
    The 95% of the time that nothing is going on I love it and the 5% that I have to deal with a ton of BS I always think I need to outsource this crap! 🙂

  8. Perhaps, but I think you are assuming that evil tenants are forward-thinking.

    This situation is, in fact, quite similar to something I’m going through right now. The difference is that my tenants seem to be willing to go over the cliff even WITHOUT the cash incentive. In their case the motivation may be that I asked one of their buddies to leave. They protested by stopping rent payments. The sheriff is coming by later this week.

  9. My first tenant wasn’t evil, just unwilling to take responsibility for what the grandkids were doing (pets, drugs, friends dealing drugs from the house, etc). Ended up taking longer than I would have liked, but I took to heart something a co-worker had done in breaking up with a crazy ex — he wrote on a 3×5 card the mantra “I’m not happy. You’re not happy. It’s over”, and while the ex was having her tantrum, throwing the furniture off the balcony etc. he refused to let her get any leverage by answering her accusations (she called the cops—they took HER away LOL!!!). My tenants were less dramatic
    My mantra was “I’m sorry, but you have to leave”. For the most part I stuck to it. Once I w weakened and started to give a reason (“the neighbors don’t feel safe”) & regretted it (got a text back that said ” says there were no guns…is that what the police report says?” —-Police report? Guns? – What the heck!!!). I went back to nothing but “You have to move” with a renewed conviction! It took close to 90 days to get her out. The best thing I did was that I freely & cheerfully negotiated with her low-income/senior lawyer in allowing an extension. By the time she left after 90 days her own lawyer thought I was wonderful, and was VERY annoyed with her own client. To give credit where credit was due, my tenant did leave the house in basically good shape, she did pay her rent in full. I did also give her back 100% of her deposit, despite having to replace the carpet in the room where the teens had been doing drugs.

  10. I would be very wary about not fixing items if one is behind in rent as one poster mentioned. This could come back to bite you in a retaliation law suit. Also, there are certain state mandated laws one must follow. I own in San Francisco and have an evil/professional tenant that I am in litigation with. The SF tenant laws allow these tenants to extort money from property owners. Horrible situation,,total Pacific Heights story. Just saying know your states laws prior to making any moves..Here the offer of cash for keys would be taken as a bribe and they will again,,,sue you. I wish somehow advocates could make the SF tenant laws allow for even a small amount of justice !!!!!

  11. I have a version of evil tenant problem. I own a condo below someone else’s tenants. I have tried to talk to them and now they won’t open the door. I called the police and the HOA, and they’ll do nothing. I called the land/slum lord and she was nasty and rude. They have kids that they NEVER take outside, that run like rabid barn animals at all hours, to the extent that things have fallen off of my walls. My teenage daughter is in some college level courses and routinely has to leave home to study and do her difficult work.
    They are in clear violation of the county noise ordinance but inevitably leave or shut up by the time the police come. I can’t move, and turn this into a rental property for 2 more years. Help!

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