Don’t fall for these tenant traps
December 1, 2010
One of the most common complaints landlords have about tenants (after failure to pay rent on time or at all) is what they do after they move in. Some of these are things you can’t quite catch them at.
I am going to put the broken record back on the turntable now (you remember those, don’t you, they were big and black and rotated at 33 1/3 rpm). Most of these problems never become problems if you properly screen tenants in the first place. Bad tenants leave stinky trails back through previous places they have lived, so smelly even a landlord with a bad cold can sniff them out. If all landlords were to check references thoroughly and with a cynical eye as to finding out whom they are talking to, i.e., friend pretending to be landlord, brother-in-law pretending to be employer, they would discover the true story of the applicant who is trying to get to live in their property for free and do mass destruction.
The other part of the song on the broken record is where I talk about the two times a landlord gets into trouble: when he or she feels sorry for somebody and when he or she is in a hurry. If you will think back to the tenant troubles you have had (assuming you’ve had any at all), I’ll bet you will discover that the tenant troubles were the result of one of those two situations. I know it fits with whatever tenant problems I have had.
That said, here are some things tenants do and how to catch them at it.
Extra or different people in the property
Professional bad tenants are good at this one. It goes along with you never seeing the person you rented to again. Usually bad tenants accomplish this feat by using the nice, polite young woman with the baby in her arms. The story often goes something like this, “I just had to move out of the place I was in because. . .
A. “I had a big fight with my boyfriend and he threw me out.”
B. “I had a fight with my roommate and had to leave.”
C. “I lost my job and got kicked out of my apartment because I couldn’t pay the rent, but now I have another job [or have got welfare started] and can pay it now.”
D. “I couldn’t pay the rent because of the doctor bills for my baby and the mean old landlord kicked my out. You’re not like that are you?”
E. Any combination of the above.
F. “I just got into town.”
So you feel sorry for her and let her move in right away—Saturday—thinking that you’ll check the references Monday. You don’t get around to it because, after all, you have the rent money in hand and this month’s mortgage payment made.
Next time you go to the unit and knock on the door, you see someone you have never seen before. When you ask who he is, you are greeted with the same question. There could be several other young men hanging out there. They didn’t try to rent from you because they knew full well they couldn’t pull off the “poor me” scam.
All is not lost. If you have a proper rental agreement with the young woman to whom you first rented, you can get them out. If you don’t have such an agreement, it is a more lengthy process.
On the rental agreement there is a clause specifying the number of people who may inhabit the property. While you may not discriminate on the basis of number of children and adults, you certainly can, with certain guidelines, specify the total number of people who may inhabit a property. If your state has adopted occupancy guidelines in its landlord tenant law, you are in luck—follow them. If you have no such codified guidelines, using a “two person per bedroom” rule, and applying it equally to all applicants is fairly safe. After the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was excoriated by the 9th US Circuit Court a number of years ago for failing to establish objective occupancy standards, they have been far less draconian in their enforcement of that portion of the Fair Housing Law.
The other part of the rental agreement to look hard at is the name of the person who rented from you. There should be a clause that forbids any other tenant from moving in without a written and approved application.
If you don’t have a rental agreement, you have to use the more lengthy process. The more lengthy process involves creating a rental agreement. You don’t necessarily have to create the entire thing, but only the portion that applies to what they are doing. That will take 30 days in most states, because that is how long you need to change the terms of tenancy.
That done, then you use a “with-cause” process.
Disturbing the peace
The neighbors around your rental property are your friends. If they are other tenants, so much the better, they already have your phone number. The trick is to give your phone number to the neighbors of your rental property who are not your tenants. There are two ways to pull this off.
First is to call them. If they are in the phone book that is easy. Usually they will be happy to talk to you. After all, it’s their neighborhood you are wanting to maintain and improve.
Second is to knock on their door. They will also probably be happy to talk with you there.
Either way, get their phone numbers as well. If you suspect that your tenants are not behaving the way you would prefer and is appropriate, call the neighbors to get their impressions. One of three things will happen. One, they won’t have noticed anything and will tell you so; two, they will have noticed something and tell you about it; or three, they will have noticed something, won’t tell you about it, but, since they are friends of the offending tenant, will tell him or her. Them telling the tenant you were asking about him or her may be all that is needed to clean up their act—or not.
If the neighbors are having problems with the tenants, here is what to do.
1. Tell them you want to correct the problem, but need their help to stop the behavior and/or get the tenant out.
2. Ask them to document the instances noting time and date. Assure them that you will not tell the tenant where the information came from. Chances are you will get similar information from several neighbors, anyway.
3. Call them back or stop by their home in a week to collect the information.
At that point you serve notice on the property that the tenant has two weeks to correct the violation of the rental agreement or move out in 30 days, or whatever time frames are law in your state. This option is available in most states. It is important that you itemize exactly how and when the tenant has violated the rental agreement. The more specific you are, the better the effect on the tenant. If you have a problem drafting the letter properly, call your attorney or use a form you get from your local apartment association. But get the evidence first.
If they do not correct the problem and do not move, you begin eviction proceedings.
You other option is just to terminate the tenancy with a 30-day no-cause notice, also available in most states.
The irritating things are not just irritating to us as landlords, but also to the neighbors and your other tenants. Tenants not paying the rent are not just irritating to us as landlords, but means that the tenants are stealing the property. Not getting regular rent payments also means landlords can’t keep their properties up the way they would like to and will thus attract the kinds of tenants who will be just as damaging to profits.