The Professional Tenant – Just How Painful Can Evicting One Tenant Be?

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Let’s tell a short story.

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The Tenant from Hell

Imagine a lovely little old lady in her ’70s wants to rent from you. Her application is flawless, her rental history sparkling, and she has a credit score in the 700s. You rent the top floor of a duplex to her, and for a few months, everything is perfect.

Related: Tenant or a Professional Bum – Do You Know How to Tell?

Then, suddenly, the couple renting the bottom floor calls to complain of a strange smell. Before you can get out there to investigate, the police call and tell you that your downstairs tenants are accused of stealing things from their neighbor upstairs.

When you get on-scene, you find that the lady has had the locks changed without telling you. You promptly begin the eviction process.

You call one of her previous landlords back (because naturally you called them the first time; you’re always thorough like that), and he has no idea who you are or why you’re calling him.

Being a clever person, you scan her photograph into your computer and do a reverse Google image search. What you find is a mug shot. Turns out this woman fed you a false identity, and she’s been doing this for decades.

She has five prior evictions, and every single one of them led to a long, drawn-out court case wherein she got to stay rent-free on the property for months until the case was decided.

You promptly show up at her (your) home again, only to find a cop waiting for you. She’s got a restraining order out against you, and you’re not allowed to get within 400 feet of her until after the court case is over.

Related: Professional Tenants: 8 Tips For Screening For These Nightmare Renters

That case is dragging on, however, because she’s flooding the prosecutor with motions and has presented to the judge seventeen separate police reports she has lodged against prior landlords to show that she’s had a long history of being abused.

The longer the case draws out, the more it costs you, until finally after months in court and discovering that the nasty smell was in fact chemicals used in drug manufacture, you were forced to tear down the house and sell the property — after paying to have the chemical mess cleaned up, naturally.

End result: the lady got five months free housing, and the landlord lost his shorts. Sure, she couldn’t ever rent again…except she’s already pulled this trick off five times. How long do you think it’ll be before she finds a new mark?

The Painful Realities

OK, so that was a fairly dramatic example, and it’s not likely to happen to anyone, ever.

But it’s nevertheless important to know that evicting a tenant is very much like getting a divorce — you don’t evict the same person that moved in; you essentially evict a complete (and very, very angry) stranger.

They might look the same and have the same name, but you can be guaranteed that the moment they understand that they’re getting kicked out, they’ll transform like a Decepticon into a petty, vindictive entity that you’ve never experienced the wrath of before.

The problem, as you can imagine, is that it puts landlords in a bit of a catch-22. If you decide to push the eviction forward, you can end up poking a hornet’s nest and provoke them into damaging your property or interfering with the legal process. If you decide to be less stressed about it, you might end up unintentionally leaving them with the impression that you’re not serious about getting them out.

The Right Presponse

Yeah, that’s right — presponse.

In a catch-22 situation like the one above, there’s no right way out except to stick strictly to what the law says and do what you can to keep the angry tenant from damaging your property on the way out.

But before you get in the situation, there is an obvious solution: screen your tenants deeply, consistently, and every time. Fail to screen a single prospect and you’re basically driving without insurance: depending on your luck.

Related: Tenant Screening: The Ultimate Guide

There is, unfortunately, actually a class of ‘professional bad tenants’ out there who won’t hesitate to take advantage of you — and in this case, you can’t judge a book without reading it to the last page. So get your tenant screening process set in stone, and run it to the letter Every. Single. Time.

One other quick note about how to get a tenant out faster is to copy a strategy foreclosing banks used the last several years – ‘Cash for Keys’.

It is often cheaper to pay a tenant to leave than take them to court! Before you screech your nails down a chalkboard at the thought of paying a deadbeat to leave, remember you’re supposed to be running your rental(s) like a business.

Take the emotion out of the idea and just look at the cost-benefit. Just be sure to put terms in writing to have the property broom cleaned and nothing damaged by a certain date to be eligible for the bribe to leave.

Have you ever came across a tenant like this in real life?

Be sure to leave your comments below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

Drew is the manager of Royal Rose Property Management, a fairly high-tech solution for Detroit Metro area property owners & investors.


  1. That contrived tenant is similar to a real Section 8 tenant I once had…. That one soured me on the program, and never again will I take a tenant that has access to free legal services. It costs me $7K in legal fees to get her out. After my eviction, her first, she had four more in about two years.

    I find it is difficult to come up with a SSN, a drivers license, past landlord and an employer who can validate a stolen identity. That is, at some point some things do not match up. The person either did not live there, or is not really moving. Stolen identities generally have bad credit scores, or more likely no credit scores. That is why a credit score check is so important. Regardless of what your screening criteria is, you should at least understand what a risky tenant looks like on paper.

    Criminals generally are lazy. They do not go through the effort to make a perfect stolen identity. Sure, James ‘Whitey’ Bulger was able to do it, but most of the punks cannot. I am not afraid of renting to a professional criminal that has a perfect stolen identity, I am worried about the punks. Whitey was probably a perfect tenant, he did not want to draw attention to himself.

    • ERIC: we’re not aware that Section 8 offers their participants free legal advice. We’ve had more issues with “Free Legal Aid” nonprofits more than anything. They offer their services to ALL tenants, not just Section 8 participants. The State of Michigan even has a hotline number for free legal aid on the eviction notices we’re required to use!

      • We just ran into the “free legal advice” on an eviction. The tenant never gives the true story to whomever gives them the advice. Then the advice usually makes it harder for the tenant. We were willing to work with the tenant, the free legal advice forced our hand to go through with the full eviction process. Now we will be going for a judgement.


  2. Graham Mink on

    Great article! Something to think about and help kelp your guard up. I have a big issue philosophically with Cash for Keys. All you are doing is kicking the can down the road for the next landlord to get screwed over. If you make the mistake (or get fooled) into renting to a deadbeat tenant I feel that it is appropriate that you take your medicine and go through the process to get them out and establish a court history to help the next person. If every landlord did cash for keys then there would be no court history to screen. If word gets out that all landlords will pay their tenants to leave after screwing them out of rent for a few months then you could have 20-30% of the population acting this way and then what? I understand that it’s a business and you can’t get emotional but this isn’t about emotion, it’s about doing the right thing, standing up for yourself and other landlords, and preventing the system from taking advantage of you. In reality cash for keys works, which is why it’s used (too often in my opinion) but just because it works doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Asbestos and lead paint work too, but the greater good is not served by using them. Just my two cents.

    • GRAHAM: we like the way you’re thinking! When we offer “cash for keys” it’s only after we’ve taken a nonpaying tenant to court and gotten a possession judgment. Most tenants leave within a few days of us getting the judgment. If they refuse to leave and our next step is to hire court officers & bailiffs to remove them, that’s when we may make a “cash for keys” offer to save money & expedite the process.

      Getting the possession judgment means it shows on their credit report and in public records. So, we are alerting future landlords to proceed with caution if the tenant applies with them.

      We haven’t yet run into a situation where we had to offer “cash for keys” in lieu of a possession judgment and hope we never do!

      If all landlords followed a practice similar to what we’ve outlined here and they all referenced credit reports and public records as part of their tenant screening process, the number of repeat offending “cash for keys” tenants would be minimal.

  3. Yes, I can relate completely. Just got to deadbeats out after almost five months of them not paying. Court is a joke. Even if you win it takes forever to get the marshall out to physically kick them out. So section 8 is just as bad? I thought you were guaranteed rent just had to fix things up when they leave. I do not ever want to go throughthis again and cannot wait to unload the property. Not worth the stress and aggrivation.

    • TCR: sorry to hear about your bad experience! We recently had an issue with the Michigan 17th Judicial Court regarding an eviction. The assigned court officer ended up in the hospital right when we contacted him to proceed with a bailiff eviction. After repeated requests to reassign the case went nowhere, he finally contacted us to do it after THREE WEEKS. It is now done, but it is very suspicious that the case was never reassigned.

      That’s probably the worst court experience we’ve ever had, so don’t throw in the towel! It does get easier with experience:)

  4. Drew,

    This was an interesting article, even if the story was fictitious. You are right about screening tenants first and foremost. Getting into one of my units is a gauntlet and that’s the way I like it.

    I screen with a fine tooth comb which includes an (at least) 30 minute interview. I don’t care if a potential tenant is a professional liar…I will catch them in a lie! Landlords often overlook what I think is the most important skill above business acumen. That is PEOPLE SKILLS, i.e. the ability to engage people! Most of the landlords that I know have ZERO people skills. It is all about the money for them, which is why they often find themselves in court. Their greed and lack of people skills backfires on them. Professional tenants know how to spot these kinds of landlords. These landlords are lazy and like shortcuts. Dangle some cash in front of them and they are handing you the keys to their property.

    Not since 2007 have I had to ask a tenant to leave (she lost her job and didn’t pay her rent for one month). I acted quickly and talked to her about the CONSEQUENCES of being evicted and appearing on the circuit court website. Often, people don’t realize what a big deal it is to have this on their record. They think, big deal, evict me, but when it is explained to them what that means and how you will work with them to prevent it from happening by getting them out of your place and somewhere else, they understand how big the issue is. If they don’t then you as a landlord have completely failed screening them in the first place and you need to prepare yourself to reap what you have sown, i.e. stress, stress and more stress going through the court system to get a deadbeat gone.

    Again, I rent to people with something to lose. They are thoroughly screened upfront, but things happen and people lose jobs, etc.

    Not doing the work upfront screening, screening, screening potential tenants puts landlords at risk. Laziness and greed are usually the culprits.

    I believe that:
    Evictions = landlord incompetence

    • JAMES: wonderful input, thanks! We’ve had great tenants suddenly lose a job, get hospitalized, have had one of several occupants die, etc – all things beyond a landlord’s control. 80% of the time they will leave and avoid court, but 20% of the time – desperate people, do desperate things! How would you classify those evictions as landlord incompetence?

      • Drew, I guess that your definition of a good tenant is different than mine.

        A good tenant to me is someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep from being evicted by the courts.

        I don’t consider asking a tenant to move who has lost her job and stopped paying rent, an eviction, because I did not have to pursue legal means to get her gone. I explained to this tenant, the consequences of eviction and we talked about her options. Ultimately, she agreed that moving back with her parents was the only solution. In return, I told her that she would get a satisfactory reference from me. She agreed to the negotiation, cleaned the apartment and forfeited her security deposit for the outstanding month’s rent and drove off into the sunset. I celebrated because I believe it could have gone a very ugly way, but I prevented that from happening. With all of my tenants, I have regular communication, so I am not an ‘out of sight, out of mind landlord’. Tenants feel like they can talk to me and do.

        Of course, I think that there are some exceptions and some people ultimately will have to be evicted. In 15+ years and multiple units, I have not had to evict anyone. I have asked people to leave and the last time was in 2007, but I have never been in court to remove someone from one of my properties. I think this is where screening tenants and have adequate people skills come into play. Landlords without these skills, I believe are incompetent and end up frequently in court evicting people. Just my opinion of course.

  5. A few other things that might help that are part of my process.

    First, I’m a Realtor with access to MLS so if the application lists a home, townhouse or condo I look up the property records to verify that the person the applicant lists as the landlord is really the owner of the property.

    Next, I use Linked In or a corporate website to verify that the boss/manager that they listed for their employment check is really an employee there and working in the job title they list. I use their company website to verify the address and phone numbers to make sure they are legit as well.

    Finally, I’ve started using a Crime Free Housing Addendum with my lease which some HOA’s in MN are now requiring. Haven’t had to do any evictions as of yet but in your scenario that included drug production it allows for a much faster eviction process for anyone charged with a crime in your units.

    • BILL: Great input as we also highly recommend checking on who the owner is! Just caught an applicant faking a rent verification last week. We also use the MLS. For those that don’t have access to it, most counties now offer some type of online access – which can be used to accomplish the same goal. It may cost a bit, but it’s often worth it.

      Like the LinkedIn idea too!

      Not familiar with the Crime Free addendum you’re referring to, but we do have a clause in our lease which probably covers that…

  6. CIC (Contemporary Information Corporation) houses the largest eviction database in the Nation.

    CIC has been doing full background checks for the past 25 years. They handle Tenant, Employment, and Business Credit services and have one of the fastest online systems available in the market to run credit, eviction, criminal, and drivers license verifications. They also provide verbal verifications as well as county level criminal searches if you are looking for more in-depth information. Contact Ryan Green at 888.316.4242 for further information.

    And remember: Screen, screen, screen your prospective tenants!!

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