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How to successfully deal with nightmare tenants

bad tenants
by Jeff Rohde, posted in Investment Strategy

In the perfect world, a tenant always pays the rent on time, takes great care of the property, and can’t wait to renew the lease. Sometimes, however, a landlord can end up with a nightmare tenant.

Here are 10  problems with tenants to look out for, along with tips to help reduce the risk of renting to a problem tenant.

Key takeaways

  • Problematic tenants include those who forget to pay the rent, never report maintenance issues, or secretly sublet to an undisclosed roommate.
  • Most tenant issues can be dealt with before and during the time a tenant is renting the property.
  • Focusing on tenant retention and thoroughly screening prospective tenants are ways to minimize the risk of renting to a problematic  tenant.


10 problems that tenants can create for landlords (and how to deal with them)

Despite best efforts, every now and then a landlord can end up with a difficult tenant. Here are 10 types of tenants that can cause problems and tips for dealing with them:

1. Constantly forgets to pay the rent

Almost everyone forgets to pay a bill every now and then. However, a tenant who rarely pays the rent on time  can wreak havoc on a property’s cash flow. 

Instead of chasing down a tenant every month for the rent, a landlord can set up a free online payment system for the tenant to pay the rent. Some rent payment systems offer the option for automatically debiting a tenant’s bank account, and will send out email reminders to let a tenant know the rent is coming due. Strictly enforcing late fees on untimely rent payments can also encourage the chronically-delinquent tenant to pay by the due date.

2. Damages or destroys the property

Normal wear and tear in a rental property is an expected occurrence and something that a landlord can budget for. On the other hand, an irresponsible tenant treats property poorly and causes excessive damage, such as breaking appliances, allowing black mold in the bathroom to thrive, or catching the stove on fire because of a grease build-up.

To help set the right expectations with a tenant, a landlord may conduct periodic inspections of the interior and exterior of the home. Most states require a 24-48 hour notice before entering the property for non-emergency reasons, and a landlord may ask a tenant to be present to walk through the home together and take notes.

3. Never reports maintenance issues

Some tenants unintentionally turn into a headache because they don’t want to bother the landlord with small maintenance issues. Unfortunately, minor repairs that are left unattended can quickly become big and expensive. 

A landlord can make it easy for a tenant to report maintenance issues by providing multiple communication channels, such as email, cell phone, and text message, and by allowing a tenant to submit maintenance requests online through property management software or the property manager’s tenant portal.

4. Makes excessive repair requests

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some tenants make repair requests for every little thing. High maintenance tenants may try to make sure they are getting the most for their rental dollar, while inexperienced tenants may simply not understand what they are responsible for. 

One way to help reduce the number of unreasonable maintenance requests is to walk through the property when a tenant moves in and complete a move in checklist together. 

Filling out a checklist when a tenant moves in can be a good opportunity to set the right expectations with a new tenant. It also gives a landlord the chance to answer any questions a tenant might have about how to maintain certain items, such as replacing the air conditioning filters or properly operating the garage door.

5. Moves from one property to the next

A tenant who jumps around from one home to the next is likely to be problematic, especially if the tenant has a history of moving before the end of their lease. That’s because a landlord generally tries to retain a good tenant, so a tenant who frequently changes addresses could be a sign that a landlord is glad to see a tenant go. 

Personally speaking with a prospective tenant’s current and previous landlords as part of the tenant screening process can be a good way to learn more about the tenant and their behavior.

6. Has an unauthorized roommate or pet

Bad tenants often don’t hesitate to sublet a spare bedroom or host a furry friend if they feel like it, regardless of any lease restrictions. 

Some tenants feel that as long as they are paying the rent, they can do whatever they please. Plus, the tenant may know that it can be difficult for a landlord to discover an unauthorized roommate or pet. 

Periodically inspecting the inside of the property and driving by at different times of the day – including weekends and evenings – can be a good way to learn if a tenant is breaking the lease by having a roommate or pet. For example, a car constantly parked in the driveway that wasn’t reported on the original rental application may be an indication the tenant has a secret roommate.

7. Expects a landlord to pay for theft or damage

Sometimes a tenant may be under the mistaken impression that a landlord’s insurance policy will provide coverage if a tenant’s personal belongings are stolen or damaged. While accidents can happen, it’s up to a tenant to obtain renters insurance to protect their own belongings and valuables. 

Depending on the local and state landlord-tenant laws, a landlord may be able to require a tenant to obtain an inexpensive renters insurance policy prior to moving into the property.

8. Tenant who abandons the property

Also known as ghosting or doing the midnight run, a tenant who abandons a property can be a landlord’s worst nightmare for a few different reasons. If a tenant without notice, there may be no way to contact them, the rent doesn’t get paid, and they may have left personal items in the home. 

When a tenant abandons a property, a landlord may need to go through a formal eviction process to help ensure the tenant doesn’t unexpectedly reappear at a later date and claim that their rights were violated. 

To help prevent renting to a tenant who ghosts, a landlord may consider contacting the tenant’s references as part of the initial screening process to see if the tenant’s employment is stable and the references are real.

9. Refuses to move out or renew the lease

Another difficult tenant is the one that refuses to leave when the existing lease comes to an end. They refuse to sign a new lease, and insist on occupying the home without a written lease agreement. A tenant who does this may also be known as a squatter, and in most states will need to be evicted from the property. 

To avoid ending up with a tenant who won’t renew the lease, a landlord may want to contact a tenant 90 days ahead of time to discuss signing a new lease. If a tenant refuses, a landlord may send the tenant a lease termination notice that describes the move out date, the condition the property is expected to be in, and what the tenant must do to have their security deposit returned.

10. Lawsuit-happy tenant

A landlord may avoid the costs and difficulties of being taken to court by a tenant by following local and state landlord-tenant rules and Fair Housing laws. By being professional and business-like, and making sure the home is kept in good condition, a landlord may better avoid giving a tenant a reason to sue.


landlord giving keys to good tenants

How to avoid problematic tenants

Although avoiding tenants who are a hassle might seem impossible, there are things a landlord can do to help reduce the risk of renting to the wrong tenant:

1. Remember that good tenants are like gold

There’s a saying in real estate that “good tenants are like gold.” In other words, keeping an existing tenant – even if they do have a few flaws – may be more profitable than running the risk of renting to a nightmare tenant.

Sometimes a landlord can become so focused on squeezing every last dollar out of a rental property that they forget about how important tenant retention is. 

To be fair, an investor naturally wants to maximize the return on investment by having a competitive market rent when lease renewal time rolls around. But offering an incentive such as free carpet cleaning or a monthly car wash coupon can help to soften the blow of raising the rent to help avoid losing a good tenant.

2. Beware of the professional tenant

A professional tenant is someone who understands the technicalities and legal loopholes of local and state landlord-tenant laws and works the system to their advantage. They typically pay only part of the rent, move from one rental to the next, and are experts at becoming victims to avoid being sued for an eviction.

Professional tenants often target small landlords and inexperienced property managers who are desperate to fill a vacant property to avoid having negative cash flow. To avoid being screened and having references checked, a professional tenant may promise to pay cash or offer to move in fast. Unfortunately, once a professional tenant is in a home they can be extremely difficult to remove.

3. Take the time to thoroughly screen

As tempting as it might be to cut corners, successful landlords and experienced property managers always take the time to thoroughly screen a prospective tenant. 

A typical tenant screening process includes completing a rental application, allowing a landlord to run a credit report and tenant background check, and giving permission to contact current and former employers and landlords. 

Some owners and managers perform their own tenant screening, while others use online screening services such as RentPrep and MySmartMove to begin the screening process in a matter of minutes.


Closing thoughts

One of the best ways to avoid a difficult tenant is by using a thorough screening process to speak to an applicant’s employer and current landlord. If a rental property is already occupied by a problematic tenant, following the tips in this article may help a landlord to keep tenant issues under control.


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