Nine Easy (and Stupid) Ways to be a Terrible Landlord!

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I’m going to say something a bit dramatic here: I believe 99% of the problems that landlords face is NOT because of the tenant, but because of the landlord.

Yes, that might offend some people but in my experience, most of the tenant horror stories I hear of (and complain frequently about!) are a result of the landlord doing an inadequate job at their job. And don’t think that I’m excluding myself in this. I can clearly look back on my past and see that 99% of my problems have been a result of something I haven’t done right.

So today, I want to share some of my observations and list nine ways to be a terrible landlord. Yes, I want to have some fun with this, but there is also a lesson to be learned. By mastering the craft of being a landlord, you can reduce a lot of stress and conflict between you and your tenants.

Let’s get started

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1.) Don’t Charge a Late Fee

Don’t worry – your tenants will pay soon. They have important bills to pay, trips to take, and TVs to buy. Why worry about getting the rent on time? After all, it will come in soon. Or maybe not – but that’s okay too. Just let your tenant pay when they want and you’ll be the best landlord ever. After all, no one likes a landlord who enforces the rules, so let them get away with paying late, and soon you’ll get the bonus benefits of letting them move their shady friends into the unit, parties at all hours of the night, a trashed house, and more.

2.) Don’t Fix Maintenance Problems

Look – a house is expensive to fix, and if you use all that hard-earned rent on fixing holes and leaks and stuff- you aren’t going to have any money left over for your new car. Besides – water always flows down hill anyways, so it will eventually make it’s way to the ground, just like the rain. In fact, by not fixing the maintenance problems, you are actually helping your tenant by not interrupting and intruding on them.

3.) Hire Uncle Eddie to fix stuff

If #2 is unavoidable – by all means do not hire a professional. They are far too expensive. Hire your Uncle Eddie, because he is pretty handy with the duct tape and hammer. He once remodeled his entire mobile home using nothing but super glue, chewing tobacco, and popsicle sticks – so he’s more than qualified to fix a little problem at your rental house. Save the cash, don’t hire a pro; you’ll regret it when the bill comes.

4.) Don’t Rent to (Insert Race, Gender, Religion, Etc) Tenants

You don’t like them – so why rent to them?

Just say no.

You have the gold, so you make the rules – and if you don’t want (insert race, gender, religion, etc) tenants, then don’t. Just be sure to be upfront about your standards, and include your prejudices in all your marketing for the property.

5.) Don’t Communicate With Your Tenant

Communication is for communists.

Are you a communist?

In the spirit of the Four Hour Workweek – things tend to just work themselves out, so let them. If your tenant calls with a concern, they are just being obnoxious so don’t call them back. Besides, by answering their complaints, you are just training them to call you with all their problems. The next thing you know – you’ll be sitting on the phone for hours as they dredge up deep-seated issues about their abusive fathers. You don’t want that – so keep a lid on communication.

6.) You Own The Place, Right?

So why bother with legal notices to enter? Just walk in when you want. If they have a problem with it – they can leave. If you want to be extra kind and generous, you can knock before entering- but definitely don’t let them know you are coming over or they’ll have time to hide all their illegal activities. Instead, just show up and catch them in the act. As an added bonus – now that you know about their illegal activities, you can simply blackmail them into obeying you!

Just don’t forget a camera, as blackmail works best with photos.

7.) A Handshake is Enough

Paperwork… ugh! Who needs it?

Paperwork is just a way for lawyers to try and get richer, so avoid all paperwork. Ain’t nothing ever been done with paperwork that can’t be done with a solid handshake. Your word is your bond.

As an additional bonus – by not using any paperwork, you can simply avoid any sort of liability! After all, if it’s not in writing, you can never be sued! (Right?)

8.) Don’t Use Property Management

Three words: Waste. Of. Money.

9.) Easy Evictions

Sometimes a tenant can just get so bad you have no choice but to remove them. However, a legal eviction can cost thousands of dollars and take months. What a waste! I’ve got a much better solution for you: just change the locks when the tenant is gone! Simple, easy. Seriously – what would you rather pay: $30 for a new lock set or $2000 for an eviction? Case closed.

After they are gone, there are plenty of ways you can use to sell their belongings, like Craigslist or a giant yard sale. Use the extra money from the sale to fund your next vacation! It serves the lousy tenant right for causing you such stress and aggravation. So hit them where it hurts – and sell their PS3!

Conclusion: Let’s Get Real

Hopefully by this time, you know I’m not serious (though, I’m sure I’ll get some mean Twitter messages calling me a terrible slumlord after this post!)

However, while these items may seem funny and absurd – I guarantee they have all been done, over and over, and there is probably more than one ex-landlord serving time in jail for some of these offenses.

Don’t be that guy.

Don’t be a terrible landlord. There are plenty of them out there, and they give the rest of us bad names. Offer good properties at fair prices and treat your tenants with respect. Follow the laws of your government (even when that government is shut down…) and genuinely try to help those who you rent to. Being a landlord doesn’t make you any better than or any higher on the food chain than your tenants. Treat your business like a business, be fair, and continually try to improve your landlording skills.

Stay close to BiggerPockets and when you have a landlording question that isn’t as obvious as the issues in this list, jump onto the forums and ask. There are thousands of people on the forums each day willing to help you out. So don’t be that guy.

Finally- for some more tips on being a good landlord, check out:

Photo: _Teb

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.

23 Comments

  1. Going off 2. There is a slum lord I my area with a pretty large area and lots of properties. Start by buying completely rundown (cheap!!) Properties. Then put unqualified tenants in sometimes the same folks that just got kicked out by the bank for not paying and trashing the property (don’t worry by then you know the neighbors are already used to them terrorizing the neighborhood) Paint is a substitute for any real repairs at turnover. Just paint everything in sight and it will get rented. Once the tenant is in and there happens to be a mold issue (in the tenant’s childs room in this case) send you maintenance guys over to brush a lottle bleach on it and another coat of paint. Now here is the key, when they call back a week later because the mold is back. Tell the tenant they have two options, call the health department and they will condemn the house and they will be out on the street or option two they can suck it up and take it and pay their rent and be thankful for what they got.
    I hope I can be in a position to get that guy out of business and hopefully banned from it in the future. He is a neighborhood destroyer. Pitiful!!

      • From what I understand this guys is prolly sitting on close to 100 units. I can’t imagine he isn’t doing alright by that but it just doesn’t make sense. All that work, all that hassle, all that risk, when if he did the right thing he would be doing even better by far. Might have less units but would actually contribute to stabilized property values. I will just continue doing the rightthing which only makes my efforts easier in some ways with guys like him and I guess it also leaves an inventory for me to work on down the road 😉

  2. Dawn Anastasi on

    I have definitely seen this before — landlords who don’t fix anything, who don’t CARE, and who put ANYONE in their rentals. You have to wonder how they sleep at night and why they are a landlord if they aren’t acting like a good one.

  3. Brandon –

    There are a whole lot of landlords that actually have a business that looks like this; too many in fact. I believe that if you spell out your procedures and policies and enforce them from day one, the tenants know they are expected to follow the rules or go somewhere else.

    I really do like #9 though. I can say there were times I dreamed about doing that.

    Sharon

  4. Kevin Perk

    Brandon,

    Why waste time changing the locks on a non-paying tenant? Plus, locks cost money.

    Just remove the front door for “maintenance.” Let them know you will get it back in “a few days or so.” 🙂

    Folks, I am just kidding. Do not do that!

    Nice post Brandon,

    Kevin

  5. I’d like to make sure all those folks in New York, Florida, and California who own blighted/slummy/empty buildings in Ohio read this!

    If you research the auditor’s website you can pretty much guarantee that any blighted or empty building is owned by a person or LLC in one of those three states. I am sure these folks are not reading BP, but I wish they would. You are hurting my city, folks.

  6. I don’t understand why number #3 would be an issue. If my relative does the work at the same quality as high paid professionals, and for half the price, it would be stupid to ignore this perk. Maybe I misunderstanding your point here.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Robert, Yeah I’m all about finding cheaper folks to do work. However, by hiring guys who are unqualified – you only set yourself up for bigger problems down the road. In every property I’ve ever bought – there are some absurd repairs – like duct tape wrapping a pipe to stop a leak or making a door fit better by simply hammering the snot out of the door frame. This stuff happens all the time – and I bet they are typically being done by Uncle Eddie. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Brandon,

    Good list. MY own #1 is not treating tenants like human beings. So many landlords treat tenants like numbers. They talk about all tenants like they are trash. Words lead to actions. Treat tenants like garbage and you will only have garbage tenants. I think your communications paragraph is key to this.

    Jason

    • Brandon Turner

      Thanks Jason. I agree – that bothers me a lot too! I don’t know a lot of landlord’s personally like that – but they must exist because I hear tenants complain a lot about it! (but who knows … maybe they complain about me that way too!?)

  8. For #8, I was one of the guys trying to not pay for property management with my first rental. Money was tight and I didn’t think I could afford it. It didn’t help that I was really bad at managing as well. Letting payments slip, trying to fix everything myself, not advertising vacancies, etc. When the Army moved me away I had to get property management and I was blown away to find out that it was going to cost me 10% because rent was only $300. $30 bucks per month was well worth it.

  9. My motto is to pay respect forward and hopefully it will come back. I have just one property for now and am learning all sorts of neat stuff. My first mistake? A 12 month lease. No more! Month to month from here on out. I had an issue (otherwise my tenants are very good) where I had some typical moisture in the basement. I had a dehumidifier going on auto and explicit instructions just to leave the thing on and alone. One day I get a call about mold. I go over there to find the house like a sauna (heat up to 80 in winter), the dehumidifier unplugged, the toilet seating so bad there was a puddle on the ground that ruined my vanity and mold all over my recently painted windows and trim. ARGH!!! My tenants, who are for the most part great, are unfortunately not very bright. They really had no idea that their actions caused a problem that could have been avoided. I wanted to scream. I wanted to kick them out with my boot up their fanny and obscenities out of my mouth. Instead, I went over their with a six pack and smokes and after we finished them, let them know what was wrong and how we would move forward. Letting the tenant know I am no different than them and am not out to get them and that taking care of a house is a team effort has gone a long way. All is well.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Merritt, I only do month to month leases because I want the ability to simply ask people that I don’t get along with to leave – and I love it!
      Thanks for the comment – and your story with the 6 pack shows you are a pretty cool landlord 🙂

    • Agree 100% on month-to-month. That let me ask my first (bad) tenants to leave w/out an eviction, & my two good tenants have only left when they got jobs out of town (what was I really going to say even if I HAD had a 1 year lease “no you can’t leave”)? My parents have their places on month-to-month & have had the same tenants for years.

  10. Pretty amusing and sad that a lot of it happens far to often.

    I will say that I think you can lump things into 2 categories.
    You have the stuff by being lazy and cheap, but not necessarily trying to avoid doing the right thing. Then you have the people that just don’t care about the residents at all and will flip off the laws and basic decency towards people.

    Not being a great communicator, mickey mouseing some repairs and self managing etc. are forgivable sins that many people do starting out wanting to save money and be a hands on owner. These will often get better with experience.

    If you discriminate, don’t respect the resident’s right to privacy and bypass the eviction process those are serious issues and illegal. That isn’t the kind of things you can look back and be like “Man I can’t believe I used kick down the door with my shotgun and threatened to blow their heads off if they didn’t get out of my house when the rent was 5 days late. Man those were the days!”.
    People who do those things are generally going to be scumbag slumlords.

  11. Hey Brandon,

    Very funny list. I was laughing all the way through it.

    I would also add one more:
    #10: I only need to follow the lease terms sometimes.
    “The lease is really only applicable for the tenant. I can do whatever I want, and can choose to follow it when it’s convenient.”

    You hinted on this in #1 – if a landlord only charges a late fee when they feel like it. If the lease says to charge a late fee, then do it. If a lease says the tenants must clean the carpets before the vacate, make them do it, and charge it to their deposit if they don’t. If the lease says you need to give 24 hours notice, do it. Follow the lease, 100% of the time. In doing so, the lease becomes the “bad guy” and not the landlord.

    When a landlord honors some rules, and gets lazy on others, he/she puts themselves at unnecessary risk. If a legal dispute were to ever arise, a judge would see that the landlord was inconsistent and liable.

  12. I’ve got a good one for you..Every time you hire a new “manager” for your property, allow them to make up their own procedures and policies, especially if you change them every 18 months. That way, your old tenants will be confused, your new tenants will think it’s the way it’s always been and nobody has a clue what is working or not.

    BW, it’s not only the states you mentioned. WA has it’s own brand of “slumlords” that makes you wonder.

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