Why You Must Address Bad Renter Behavior Now.
This is a problem that festers in too many rental properties. Every time the phone rings the landlord is afraid it’s another complaint from a tenant about “that one.” It festers because landlords don’t deal with tenant situations as they arise, but let them fester until they are intolerable or the landlord has simply has a bad day and says, “Enough!” The result will often result in the landlord gnashing teeth and vowing vengeance, but will make the recalcitrant tenant gleeful.
Here’s what happens. It’s gone on for some time now. All of it. All the irritations and the ignoring of the lease agreement. Other tenants complain. The rent shows up late but just two weeks late, but who’s counting? What to do?
The problem arises not just with the tenant who can’t manage to be a decent neighbor or pay the rent regularly, but from the fact that the landlord has not seen fit to do anything about it. That’s what we’ll look at here.
The next month the rent doesn’t arrive by the fifth, so the landlord sends a three‑day notice to pay up or get out. The rent doesn’t arrive by the eighth of the month and the landlord files the eviction. Court dates take a while to come around, so about the 15th of the month the tenant brings the rent over and the landlord turns it down. “Too late,” he says, “you’re out of here.” The judge doesn’t agree.
The tenant claims when everyone gets to court that he thought it was all right to pay the rent late, since the landlord has always accepted it late before. What’s the big deal this time? The judge rules that the landlord had “lulled” the tenant into thinking it was okay to pay late. The landlord has to accept the rent this time.
“But the lease says. . .” objects the landlord. The lease doesn’t matter because the actions of the landlord have superseded the terms of the lease. We can’t simply pick and choose what terms we will enforce and when. Instead, if we expect consistency we ourselves must be consistent in our insistence on adhering to the terms of a lease. But, then, who reads the lease, anyway?
The one consolation is that from now on the rent had better be on time, because next time the court will not accept “lulling” as a defense for late rent, as the judge carefully explains to the tenant. Of course, that doesn’t apply to all the other irritating things the tenant does.
This tenant has still been lulled into believing being a bad neighbor and all-around jerk is most likely okay with his landlord. The landlord hadn’t complained about that behavior.
The solution is simple but not easy. It requires work and effort. As landlords, if we expect to have our evictions, for example, hold up in court, we must respond to each and every issue we have with tenants, documenting what we did and when including phone calls and personal visits, keeping copies of all correspondence and notices with notes about the tenant’s responses and our actions. Be thorough. Make more than simple jottings such as “Talked to tenant.” Explain exactly what you talked to the tenant about and what the tenant said he would do or quit doing. Make sure there’s a date and time listed.
Why don’t landlords jump right on behavior that can negatively affect their properties? For one thing, it’s a lot of trouble. They have to write a letter and mail it or post it on the door of the rental unit. For another, it’s not a pleasant thing to do. It involves confrontation and possible argument. We all hope deep down in our psyches that problems will just go away. Usually tenant problems don’t and our failure to deal with them simply create bigger problems, such as an inability to evict.
The third reason is that somewhere, sometime, some rental owners got the notion that owning rental property was “passive income.” If you think that, disabuse yourself of the notion immediately. Rental property is a hands-on investment. It requires constant attention to all its facets, not just tenant relations. If you want passive income, buy mutual funds. (But then, good luck.)
Ignoring rental problems is not all right either for landlords or tenants. The problems fester and can turn into gangrenous sores.