Getting Rid of a Bad Tenant

Graphiti-PDThis post is compliments of Amy aka “Yetisaurus”.

If you have thought about being a landlord, you have thought about the possibility of getting rid of a bad tenant.  The first two rules of being a landlord are (1) collect all of your rents, ON TIME, and (2) keep your rentals full.  But that’s not the end of the story: it is equally important to get (and keep) good tenants in your rentals.  If you have multiple rental units near each other, such as a duplex, fourplex, or even an apartment building, a bad tenant can spoil the whole bunch.

Tenant screening is critical.  It’s important to run income and credit checks on your prospective tenants, and to meet all of the people who will be living in your rental, and maybe even their pets (photos can be deceiving in terms of size and personality).  But what if someone makes it through your screening process, and turns out to be a bad apple anyway?

What Makes a Tenant a Bad Tenant?

Sometimes, it’s not totally obvious that you have a bad tenant.  Sometimes, there are a few vague indicators that, standing alone, don’t seem like a problem.  The key is adding them all together.

For example, there was one light fixture in one area of our apartment building that always seemed to have a burned-out bulb.  A few times, it turned out that the bulb was partially unscrewed, so it just didn’t turn on, and a few other times, the bulb actually went missing.

The tenant whose apartment was right next to that bulb happened to have a lot of friends who would come over.  They would stay for anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.  Tenants are allowed to have friends over, of course, and they weren’t especially loud when I was there.  But they would hang out outside the apartment, usually sitting or standing on the stairs that went up to the second story.  It was annoying to walk around them every time, and it felt a bit intimidating, but it wasn’t enough to concretely identify that person as a bad tenant.

At around this same time, we started having an accumulation of beer bottles and cigarette butts in the main courtyard area.  It wasn’t clear which tenant this was coming from, and it could have been a little bit from a few different tenants.  It was annoying, and the manager was constantly having to pick up those items.

Putting the Pieces Together

The moment of truth came when one of our good, long-term tenants abruptly gave notice that she was moving out.  This was the sort of tenant you don’t want to lose.  She always paid rent on time.  She was quiet and respectful of others.  And she was often seen outside of her apartment sweeping the sidewalk and removing cigarette butts from the common area.

We asked why she was moving, and she told us that she thought the tenant who lived by the burned-out lightbulb was dealing drugs.  She said he and his friends would always hang out outside, late at night, drinking and smoking and throwing their beer bottles and cigarette butts on the ground.  She said she was afraid to walk around at night, for fear of being harassed by those guys.

It was too late to get our good tenant to stay, but one of the first things we did was serve the bad tenant with a notice to quit.  About a month or two later, the bad tenant was gone, and three different good tenants approached us and thanked us for getting rid of him.  None of these people complained about him before we served the notice, but after the fact, they all had negative things to say and a couple of them said that they had been looking to move to a new apartment because of him.  Yikes!  That could have been four vacancies just because of this one tenant!

If You See Something, Ask Questions

After this experience, I keep an eye out for minor things that could indicate a bigger problem.  If something seems a little strange, I start talking to the other tenants to see if anything is up.  Fortunately, we were able to catch this problem fairly quickly, although it cost us a good tenant to find out who the bad guy was.  If we hadn’t asked the good tenant why she was moving, or if she had lied to us about the reason for her moving, we could have lost a lot of good tenants as a result of this one bad apple.  And every time a good tenant moves out, you run the risk of having another bad tenant come in.

If you’re a landlord, have you ever had a problem where a bad tenant affected tenants in other apartments?  If you’re a tenant, have you ever lived next to a bad neighbor who made you want to move?  If so, did you tell management, and did they do anything about it?

13 Replies to “Getting Rid of a Bad Tenant”

  1. Good points. Mine was too much noise and parking. Even after multiple notices, I finally didn’t renew their lease and told them to move out when lease ended.

    1. Thanks for reading, Austin! Sounds like things were probably a lot more peaceful after getting rid of those tenants.

  2. Eric/Amy/Yeti

    What (other) sorts of signs would you take as an indication of a troubled tenant? How serious would a nuisance have to be before you took the step to refuse to renew a lease?

    Perhaps other landlord/readers of this blog could also weigh in.


    1. Boy, that’s a great question. It’s hard to say. I’d love to hear what others think about this, too.

      Here are some answers from my experience:

      I got rid of the tenant who had an overwhelming pet smell emanating through the windows that I noticed when walking by her apartment. It turned out she had about 10 people and two large dogs living in a 3-bedroom apartment. ALL the flooring was trashed.

      I got rid of the tenant who had eleven children (the lease only listed three or four). Her grandmother would watch some of the kids off-site sometimes, so it was hard to pin down how many kids there were, until someone from the IRS came by and asked if it was possible she had eleven children, since they were auditing her tax return. One of her kids almost burned the place down by knocking a lampshade onto the bulb, and the smoke detector didn’t go off because she took out the batteries (probably because she was smoking pot inside her apartment on a regular basis). She was dating a local gang member (another tenant- different apartment), who ripped out a small palm tree from the front of the building and threw it in the street after we evicted him from his unit. The last straw was when her brother came to live with her, and a full SWAT team arrived at the premises to arrest him for his latest criminal endeavor.

      I got rid of the woman who thought it was perfectly reasonable to keep a motorcycle in her living room. She argued with me about it, saying there was nothing in the house rules that said you couldn’t keep a motorcycle indoors. Honestly. She also thought the whole world was out to get her, and made a number of demonstrably false accusations against our resident manager. She was convinced that everyone wanted to have sex with her, including our manager, the UPS guy, and my then-husband. (Uh, nooooo.) She even video-recorded her final walkthrough, because she was convinced that my then-husband was going to sexually attack her during it.

      I didn’t get rid of the woman who was in her mid-60s and had a bad drinking problem, even after the one time when she got really drunk and decided to go swimming partly nude, and the sheriff literally had to come fish her out of the pool and make her go inside. She wasn’t a mean drunk, and wasn’t super loud or obnoxious, apart from the one incident, and she always paid rent on time and seldom bothered anyone else.

      I didn’t get rid of the lady who had about ten cages of bunnies inside her apartment, because she was very nice and always paid rent on time, and we were able to talk to her about it and she cooperated and got the bunnies re-homed with other families.

      Basically, it comes down to whether the bad tenant’s problems are things you can live with and that generally don’t affect the lives of the other tenants, or whether the bad tenant is actively damaging your property and/or making your other tenants miserable.

      Where do you draw the line?

      1. Thanks Yeti. Did all of those tenants pass your screening?

        In regards to the motorcycle, I guess landlords/landladies need to revise their leases to specifically state no motorcycles/motorbikes/ATVs or any motorized vehicle are to be placed inside the unit at any time.

        1. The pet smell lady passed our screening. It wasn’t until over a year later that the pets and additional people moved in. She must have had financial difficulty and snuck in more people to share the rent.

          The tenant with eleven children passed our screening because she only listed three or four kids (it was a 3 bedroom apt – maximum 7 people), and she seemed like a reasonable person when she applied.

          The motorcycle lady passed our screening, unfortunately. I didn’t interview her myself, so I can’t say for sure whether I would have noticed how crazy she was at the first meeting. On paper, she was good.

          The drunk swimmer was someone we inherited when we bought the building. I don’t know if she would have passed, because we never ran her financials ourselves. She did pay rent on time every month, until she passed away of a heart attack. Her 90-something-year-old mother had to move in with another family member after that, because she couldn’t afford the place on her own.

          The bunny lady we also inherited with the building. She has been a good tenant overall, though, and twelve years later, she’s still with us.

          I think you were making a joke, but no, I didn’t bother amending the house rules to say no motorbikes inside. 🙂 To me, that was so far afield from what is reasonable that I’m not worried about having to enforce that in court. You can’t anticipate every sort of unreasonable thing that people will do, because (1) bad tenants are the most creative people you’ve ever met, and (2) your lease would be so long that it would cost $100 to print it.

  3. I used to have a unit that likes to host party. They were obnoxious enough to get everyone in the building to go along with them to not report to me. They would knocked on their doors ahead of time, telling them they’ll be a “a little” loud. After awhile, they get knock out of their own apartment by their own roommates.

  4. The tenant who pays rent late,
    argues with everything you say,
    damages the property,
    lets their children turn your walls into a work of modern art,
    and lies like they get paid to do so. Landlords should really
    get rid of this kind of tenants. Every landlord should read this.
    Interesting post 🙂

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