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  • Writer's pictureJustin Turner

How to Deal with a Problem Tenant

Source: Sarah Catherine Fordham from

As a landlord, you’ve done everything possible to select a promising tenant for your rental. Unfortunately, even the most intensive screening processes can't predict changes in a renter’s behavior. When a tenant becomes hostile, uncooperative, or neglectful of their responsibilities, there are tactful ways to resolve the issue ASAP.

Here are seven practices to remember when dealing with a problem tenant:

  1. Recognize Bad Tenants Early

  2. Stay Professional

  3. Treat Tenants How You Want to Be Treated

  4. Keep Written Records and Documentation

  5. Refer to the Lease

  6. Ask Tenants to Leave

  7. Safety First

Recognize Bad Tenants Early

A rare noise complaint, minor wear and tear, or one late rent payment are unavoidable when renting to a tenant. However, when these negative behaviors become deliberate or consistent, it is critical to take notice and intervene. Keeping an eye out for warning signs will help you address issues early and respond promptly. Look out for tenants who:

  • Pay rent late, or not at all

  • Receive consistent noise complaints

  • Destroy property outside of normal wear and tear

  • Host uninvited guests

  • Regularly violate their leasing agreement

Stay Professional

It can be challenging to remain objective when responding to a difficult tenant, especially regarding misconduct or damage to your property. However, maintaining a calm and professional demeanor can help mitigate issues before they progress.

While it’s normal to feel frustrated with careless or disruptive conduct, getting angry could escalate the situation from a minor dispute to a more significant, even legal, issue. Staying professional not only diffuses the situation but also protects your reputation as a landlord and prevents you from making emotional decisions that could harm you in the long run.

Treat Tenants How You Want to be Treated

Consider this the golden rule of renting: your behavior as a landlord sets the tone of your landlord-tenant relationship. Although lease infringements or late payments can be sensitive discussions, let your tenant know you respect their privacy and prioritize confidentiality. Show up on time for appointments, communicate clearly and frequently, and listen effectively. Your attitude could drastically impact how tenants respond to you during conflict and future interactions.

Keep Written Records and Documentation

Documenting all interactions with your renter, good or bad, is one of the most valuable steps you can take to protect yourself as a landlord. When a tenant is charged with a lease violation, they may become defensive and try to dispute your claims. To ensure accurate, objective reports of events, document interactions such as:

  • Phone calls

  • Emails and texts

  • Late payments

  • Issued warnings

  • Maintenance requests

Make sure to document your actions as well; if you receive a tenant complaint, note the nature of the complaint, the form of communication, your response time, any notices issued, and the following results. Doing so verifies your attempts to contact your tenant and resolve any issues, including their response or inaction.

Refer to the Lease

When tenants sign a lease, they must follow the rules, procedures, and regulations outlined in the document. These procedures should include what is expected of the tenant regarding their rights and responsibilities, such as rent payment and property maintenance.

Always provide your tenant with a copy of the lease for their reference. Many of the most common conflicts between landlords and tenants, such as unpermitted guests or unexpected rental fees, can be avoided when both parties have a clear understanding of the leasing agreement. Should problems arise regarding an infraction, you as a landlord are within your rights to remind your tenant of the policies to which they agreed.

Ask Tenants to Leave

If your tenant refuses to respond after repeated warnings or fails to uphold their end of the leasing agreement, do not hesitate to take action and ask them to vacate your property. You must follow up with formal termination notices or even begin the eviction process. There are three common termination notices to consider serving:

Nonpayment of rent notice: A nonpayment of rent notice indicates if a tenant fails to pay rent, they must complete the payment within a specific time frame or vacate the property.

Cure or Quit Notice: A cure or quit notice responds to the continued violation of a tenant’s leasing agreement. The tenant must correct the behavior or vacate the property within a specific time frame.

Unconditional Quit or Vacate Notice: An unconditional quit or vacate notice responds to severe, dangerous, or illegal infractions. The tenant has no chance to correct the issue and must vacate the property.

For the notice to be valid, make sure to include the tenant’s name and address, violation details, the number of days the tenant must comply, signature and date, and proof of delivery.

Safety First

Your responsibilities as a landlord should never come before your safety. If you feel like a tenant poses a significant danger to you or others in the vicinity, if you notice explicit illegal activity, or if anything feels blatantly unsafe, call the police. Once they have handled the situation, you can proceed with termination or eviction notices as you see fit.

Know the Law

Whether you are a private landlord or part of a team, understand that your legal duties differ by state. Private landlords should investigate their region’s landlord-tenant laws to find updated roles and responsibilities. If you have chosen to hire a property management company, it is important to familiarize yourself with local laws to understand their duties regarding tenant safety, property inspection, and necessary lawsuits.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you calm down an angry tenant?

A: Effective communication is the first step to a peaceful resolution when a tenant becomes frustrated or angry. Listen, understand, and affirm that you take their concern seriously. If the frustration is directed toward a policy, offer solutions but calmly remind your tenant that procedures within the lease are nonnegotiable.

Q: What if my tenant stops responding to messages?

A: If your tenant has been unresponsive to texts, calls, or even in-person visits, send a letter. Clearly indicate the issue and the steps you will follow if you do not get a response. Always research your state laws regarding entry without permission and eviction to decide how to proceed. If you are truly concerned about the well-being of your tenant, contact authorities to perform a wellness check.

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