Dealing With Difficult Tenants: Step-By-Step Guide

Unfortunately, no matter how well you screen your tenants before approving them, there's always the risk of landing difficult tenants who don't pay rent, break the rules, and cause damage to your properties.

Dealing With Bad Tenants 1

Whether you’re renting out your first investment property or your tenth, tenant screening is one of the most important duties you’ll have as a landlord. Unfortunately, no matter how well you screen your tenants before approving them, there’s always the risk of landing difficult tenants who don’t pay rent, break the rules, and cause damage to your properties.

Problem tenants may be a headache for any landlord, but by following a few simple guidelines, you can make it a lot easier for yourself. So, allow me to share with you some tips that I have learned through my experience as a landlord and an investor that will help you learn how to handle difficult tenants.

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When do Tenants Become a Hassle?

People are flawed, and everyone makes mistakes now and then. Your tenants may damage a window by mistake or miss a rent deadline by a day, but that doesn’t indicate they’re deadbeats.

So, whenever there is a problem, the first thing that I will do is reach out to the tenant and ask them to explain what happened. Typically, I find there is no reason to escalate things to eviction or filing a report the the Landlord Tenant Board (LTB) if there is simply an honest accident. However, what is important is to keep an eye out for a pattern of behavior from these tenants.

True difficult tenants cause landlords problems by failing to pay rent, causing property damage, or breaking property restrictions regularly. These renters waste a lot of time, money, and effort for landlords, which can be difficult to get rid of. Keeping in mind, here are some pointers I use for dealing with tenants while remaining compliant with all applicable laws and regulations.

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Dealing With Difficult Tenants.

I understand that while issuing an eviction notice to a non-paying tenant may appear to be the simplest option, it is not necessarily the best option when you are looking at how to deal with difficult tenants. If a renter is grating on your nerves, use these steps to deal with them professionally, honestly, and responsibly:

Maintain your objectivity

You may find it difficult to remain objective when a tenant stops paying rent or starts causing difficulties, depending on how long they’ve been in your apartment and your relationship with them. You may choose to give your tenant a one-time pass if they pay rent late one month and explain what prevented them from paying on time. Unfortunately, some tenants will take advantage of your generosity by paying you late (or not at all!) on a regular basis. You must distance yourself emotionally from the situation and think rationally about the best course of action, regardless of how much you like your tenant personally.

The way I like to look at it is like this. A good tenant going through a rough time will be able to explain the situation clearly and demonstrate why they deserve your generosity. Difficult tenants will make excuses and refuse to claim accountability. Therefore you should not need to worry about jeopardizing your relationship with a good tenant because you should only need to truly punish a difficult one.

Keep a detailed record of everything

As an investor I keep records of absolutely everything. Complaints, emergencies, missed payments, communications – you name it, I keep a record of it. That way I can protect both myself and my tenants in the event that anything ever goes wrong.

So, you should write everything down and keep detailed records of the situation from the moment you first have problems with a difficult tenant to the final eviction. Keep copies of all written correspondence, record all phone calls, keep track of text messages, and take notes on all vocal interactions. You’ll be able to back up anything you say with records if your case ever comes before a board or legal body. It’s best if you have as much information as possible. Even if you don’t intend to use many of these records, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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Be proactive in your approach

Allowing late rent payments to go unnoticed for a few months sends the message to your tenant that you’re a slacker landlord who will let them get away with it in the future. If you have a problem with a renter, even if it’s a little one, contact them right away and let them know what you’re going to do about it. Giving your tenant a written warning communicates that you’re serious and ready to take action if necessary.

I find that being proactive also allows you to show compassion to your tenants as well. If a tenant misses their rent payments because of a personal emergency and they plan to pay as soon as possible, reaching out as soon as you realize that the rent was missed gives you to opportunity to help a tenant that may be dealing with a difficult situation work out a solution.

Consider hiring a professional manager

You must be realistic about your strengths and capabilities as a property investor. If you’re having difficulties dealing with difficult renters, it might be worth investing in a professional property management agency, so you don’t have to. While this service is not free, many property owners find that the benefits far surpass the cost. One of the key benefits is the ability to let the property manager deal with the difficult tenants for you, so you can focus on the bigger picture.

From my experience, using a property manager is almost always worth it once you begin to scale your portfolio or if you plan to continue working after starting your investments. Being a landlord and managing your investments is a full-time job and there is no shame in finding someone to take on that role.

A Four-Step Guide To Managing Difficult Tenants.Stop And Count To 10
Consult People You Trust
Confront The Tenant
Take A Break
A Four-Step Guide To Managing Difficult Tenants.

You may have to ask difficult tenants to leave after you’ve tried all other alternatives and techniques. Consult an attorney to ensure that you’re adhering to all legal requirements and procedures while evicting your tenants. If the difficult tenants refuse to leave, you must normally issue them formal notice of eviction, file a case with the appropriate local board or governing agency, and attend a hearing to acquire a judgement on your case.

If you really want to be proactive, I suggest getting a lawyer before a problem ever arises. That way you can stay ahead of the curve and stay protected from difficult tenants.

Don’t let the slackers triumph!

I understand, nobody wants to deal with a difficult tenant, but things don’t have to be hopeless. You can lessen the challenges presented by deadbeat tenants by being strategic with them and complying with the law. Keeping the situation from developing further by being upfront, professional, and thorough in your approach will put you in a position to act appropriately if and when the time comes to evict.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can I Do If My Tenants Are Not Paying Rent?

If your tenant is late paying rent of is withholding rent the first thing you need to do is find out why.
Then, once you know their reason you can choose to either come to an agreement for how they will make up the missed rent, or escalate the situation and file for an eviction towards that tenant.
If the tenant has a history of not paying their rent and causing problems when you try to get them to pay, you may wish to escalate directly to eviction.
However, if the tenant is withholding rent due to problems with the property, you may need to address and resolve those issues before you will get your missing rent.

Can I Collect Unpaid Rent After My Tenant Moves Out?

After a tenant moves out, you can file an application with the Landlord Tenant Board to collect any outstanding rent or maintenance costs that the tenant was responsible for.
For more information about this process, I recommend you read this document from Tribunals Ontario and the LTB.

My Tenant Abandoned the Unit Without Notice – What Should I Do?

The first thing that I suggest that you do if you suspect a difficult tenant has abandoned their unit without giving you notice is to reach out to them and confirm that they have left.
If they have abandoned the unit, you should file an application with the LTB to formally terminate the tenancy so that the difficult tenant cannot come after you once you find a new tenant.
As well, if there are any outstanding rents, you may wish to apply to collect the rent from the difficult tenants once they are gone as explained above.

What Can I Do If a Tenant Is Damaging The Unit?

If your tenant is causing damage to your property, I suggest first asking them what exactly happened.
Was their an accident and as a result the tenant knocked a hole into the wall? Or was the tenant simply negligent and destructive with your property?
Then, I always take their story with a grain of salt. Often, manipulative tenants and irresponsible renters will claim something was an accident to avoid taking accountability.
If it is an honest mistake, you can discuss maintenance costs in order to repair the damages. If not, you may wish to file to evict the tenant and pursue legal action to hold them accountable for the damages.

What Should I Do If The Tenant Changes the Locks?

Sometimes, for one reason or another tenants may decide to change the locks on your property.
This can be for a variety of reasons, but if they choose to do so, they must provide a copy of the new key to you so that you can maintain access to the unit.
If a difficult tenant changes the locks with the intent to keep you out of the property, I suggest filing a report with the Landlord Tenant Board and calling in a locksmith to change the locks again to restore your access to the property.

Can a Tenant Be Evicted For Something Their Guest/Roommate Does?

Sometimes, tenants bring guests or roommates onto the property that cause noise complaints and damages to your property.
Fortunately for you, the tenant on the lease is still responsible for the actions of their roommates and guests on the property meaning that even if you cannot go after the third party for their actions, you can still demand the tenant resolve the issue.

How Do You Respond to a Tenant Complaint?

Whenever I receive a complaint from one of my tenants I start by determining what type of complaint it is – a valid complaint, or a frivolous one.
If your tenant is complaining that the heating and cooling systems are broken, the sink leaks, or there is a hole in the stairs, they are not a difficult tenant or a problem, they are a responsible proactive renter.
However, if the tenant is complaining that they do not like the shade of paint chosen for the walls, you can usually brush those complaints aside unless you truly want to repaint the unit.
Just remember, you need to be careful when addressing tenant complaints because difficult tenants will often use non-urgent complaints to consistently demand you spend extra time and money on meaningless tasks that serve no benefit to you.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing with Difficult Tenants, With Scott Dillingham