You could say that there are three types of tenants. The first type is “good” tenants — they enjoy their apartments or homes quietly, don’t disturb their neighbors and pay their rent on time. The second type is “problem” tenants — they have a history of being loud and even destructive. They might pay rent late or miss payments entirely. Usually, effective screening measures before you offer a person a lease can help you avoid renting your property to a problem tenant.

But, there is a third type of tenant to worry about — the “secret” problem tenant or the tenant who only becomes difficult after you rent an apartment to them.

There are multiple reasons why a tenant who looks good and reliable on paper turns out to be challenging in real life. A tenant who previously was gainfully employed might lose their job after moving in, making it difficult or impossible for them to pay rent. In some cases, tenants might have roommates or visitors who make a lot of noise or otherwise cause trouble in the building. It can also be the case that issues in a tenant’s past, such as destructive or dangerous behavior, have gone unreported, making it difficult for a landlord to learn about those issues until it is too late.

Although you’d like to avoid problem tenants entirely, it’s likely that you’ll have to deal with one or two at some point in your career as a landlord. Here’s how to handle difficult tenants and what you can do to protect yourself, your other tenants and your property.

Know the Law in Pennsylvania

When it comes to screening tenants and managing tenants after they have moved into your property, there are two laws you need to know. The first is the Fair Housing Act, a federal law that prevents landlords of most rental properties from discriminating against tenants in specific protected classes. Those classes are:

  • Color
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent a property to someone based on the above criteria. It also makes it illegal for a landlord to offer different conditions to tenants based on their sex, race, family type or any of the other protected classes than they would to a person who did not fall under a particular category. For example, a landlord can’t charge males a higher rent than females or say that parents with young children need to pay a higher security deposit.

Along with the Fair Housing Act, it’s essential that landlords in Pennsylvania have an awareness of the state’s rules concerning landlord/tenant rights. Pennsylvania housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on their age, ancestry and pregnancy, as well as based on the classes protected by federal law. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 lays out the rules for giving notice to tenants, collecting security deposits and evicting tenants from the property.

Federal and state laws aren’t only designed to help protect tenants. They can also protect landlords. The rules outline precisely what you can and can’t do when faced with problem tenants and what exactly makes for a “problem tenant.”

Common Tenant Complaints and Problems

Difficult or problem tenants can take many forms. Some types of “bad” tenant can directly affect your bottom line and cash flow. Others can complicate matters for you by making other tenants unhappy or by doing things that can require the attention of law enforcement. Here are a few of the most common tenant issues and some tips on how to handle them.

1. Tenants Who Pay Late

The landlord-tenant relationship hinges on one major agreement — having the tenant pay their rent each month, by the due date. When tenants don’t pay their rent on time — or don’t pay at all — your income and cash flow are directly affected. Non-paying tenants can make it difficult or impossible for you to pay the mortgage on the property or keep up with your other bills. In some cases, tenants might pay their rent eventually but might pay late on a regular basis.

If a tenant does start to pay late or misses a payment, it’s in your best interest to take action quickly. Ignoring the late or missed payments won’t make a tenant pay up. The opposite is likely to happen — if you don’t say anything when a tenant is late on a payment or fails to pay rent entirely one month, the tenant might consider your silence to be acceptance of the problem.

One way to minimize late or missed payments is to be clear about the consequences of them from the beginning. Before a tenant signs the lease, review the document with them. Point out what the expectations are for paying rent, what the due date is each month and whether there’s a grace period or not.

It’s a good idea to charge a late fee for rent payments made after the due date or beyond the grace period. Pennsylvania doesn’t have any specific rules regarding late fees for rent, but you should include a clause in the lease explaining when a late fee will apply and how much it will be.

One way to minimize late or missed payments is to be clear about the consequences of them from the beginning. Before a tenant signs the lease, review the document with them. Point out what the expectations are for paying rent, what the due date is each month and whether there’s a grace period or not.

It’s a good idea to charge a late fee for rent payments made after the due date or beyond the grace period. Pennsylvania doesn’t have any specific rules regarding late fees for rent, but you should include a clause in the lease explaining when a late fee will apply and how much it will be. When reviewing the lease with your tenant, be sure to point out the late fee clause.

Once a tenant is renting the property and misses a payment or seems to be late on a payment, you’ll want to move quickly and open the lines of communication to find out what is going on and get the tenant to pay. Don’t wait to say something until the month is nearly over. If you offer a grace period and the tenant hasn’t paid by the end of it, get in touch with them immediately.

It could be that the tenant has the rent check in an envelope, ready to mail, but forgot to drop it in a mailbox, or that they forgot to schedule the e-payment for the month and will do so right after a gentle reminder.

Eviction is one way to deal with a tenant who consistently misses rent payments. In Pennsylvania, the eviction process is more complicated than changing the locks on an apartment while a tenant is out. To start the eviction process, you need to give a tenant a “Notice to Quit.” The notice to quit must be hand-delivered to a tenant or posted at the property. It can’t be mailed.

In the notice, you’ll want to include the amount of rent a tenant owes and the actions they can take. They can either pay the entire amount due by a certain date — at least 10 days from the date of the notice — or they can move out by that date.

Ideally, the tenant will either pay up or move out by the deadline. If they don’t, you can file a complaint with the court and request a hearing, during which a judge will hear both sides and will make a decision. The judge might grant you possession of the property, in which case, the tenant will need to move out by a specified date.

2. Tenants Who Constantly Complain

Some tenants always pay their rent on time but can still give you a headache. The saying “you can’t please everyone” often applies to the type of tenant who seems to have a complaint or issue with everything.

Tenant complaints can often be justified. For example, if it’s the middle of winter and the heat in an apartment barely climbs above 60 degrees, your tenants are within their rights to object.

But tenants who protest about everything, from the paint color you’ve chosen for the common areas of the building to the fact that they can hear their neighbors talking in the hallways, are a different story. While your first instinct might be to start screening their calls or ignoring their messages, remember that they are your customers.

It’s in your best interests to deal with demanding tenants directly. Document their problems and either outline a plan to fix them or provide detailed reasons as to why you won’t.

If your tenant becomes unreasonable, you might consider having a meeting with them. Review the terms of the lease, explain what specific things mean — for example, quiet enjoyment doesn’t mean that other tenants must be silent at all hours of the day and night — and work out a plan to tackle any major concerns and to handle any problems that might arise in the future.

3. Tenants Who Disturb Other Tenants

If you own a multi-family building, it’s likely that your tenants will come into contact with one another as they go about their days and enjoy life in their apartments. For the most part, tenants who share a building play nice and get along.

But some tenants either fail to understand that they aren’t living in an isolated home in the middle of nowhere or don’t care about the fact that they have neighbors next door, above or below. These tenants might decide that two in the morning is the perfect time to hold band practice, or they might leave bags of garbage in the hallway for days at a time.

Handling disruptive tenants often takes a bit of finesse, as you’re most likely working with at least two parties. You don’t want the tenant with a legitimate complaint to feel unheard or neglected, as that can make them consider moving out when their lease is up. You also don’t want to upset the tenant who is being disruptive, as that could make their behavior worse.

When one tenant complains about another, take the time to speak to both parties. Record what the complaining tenant’s concerns are and provide as detailed an account of the issue as possible. Next, talk to the tenant who is being disruptive. Let them know what the problem is. If there are specific clauses in the lease that prevent the actions they’ve taken, such as a clause outlining quiet hours or explaining when garbage should be put out, point those clauses out to the tenant.

If the tenant continues to break the rules outlined explicitly in the lease, you might consider starting the eviction process to help maintain the peace at your property.

4. Tenants Who Break Their Lease

Bothering the neighbors isn’t the only way that a tenant can break or violate the terms of their lease. Depending on your preferences, you might have clauses in the lease that prohibit certain actions or activities. Those clauses might include:

  • A no pets rule (Note that you can’t forbid service animals.)
  • A no sublets rule
  • A no defacing or damaging property rule

As with other tenant problems, communicating with the tenant is a good first step if you notice that they have violated their lease. In the case of pets, it could be that the tenant is cat- or dog-sitting for a friend or relative and didn’t realize that having an animal in the apartment for a limited time violated their lease. In the case of damaged property, it could be that the problem was an accident and the tenant is willing to work with you to correct it.

If a tenant refuses to work with you on an issue, you can give them notice of the problem and offer them a timeframe in which to correct it. If the tenant doesn’t fix the issue in that amount of time, you can start the eviction process.

5. Tenants Who Break the Law

One of the last things you want as a landlord is for a tenant to move into your property and use it as the home base for illegal activities. If a tenant is producing or selling drugs from your rental property, you could be legally and financially liable for their actions.

Including a clause in the lease forbidding illegal activities is one way to reduce the chance that a tenant will move in and break the law from inside your apartment. A “no illegal activities” clause can also offer you some protection and options if a tenant does start selling or producing drugs from your property or breaks the law in another way.

If one tenant does start using the apartment for illegal activities, it’s likely that other tenants will complain to you. Take their complaints seriously and look into the matter. It’s also essential that you let the police know if you think something unlawful is going on. It’s also a good idea to pay attention to police reports and to keep an eye out for your property’s address in any reports.

In Pennsylvania, the Expedited Eviction of Drug Traffickers Act speeds up the eviction process for people who are convicted of or suspected of selling drugs from a rental property.

American Heritage Property Management Can Help You Handle Difficult Tenants

You might have started investing in real estate or become a landlord because you expected it to a be a part-time job or a way to earn passive income. But problem tenants can make being a landlord a full-time job.

One way to cope with the stresses and challenges of being a landlord is to hire a property management company. American Heritage Property Management has been working with landlords in Central Pennsylvania since 1981. We offer services including comprehensive tenant screening, lease preparation and, when needed, managing the eviction process.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you handle and avoid difficult tenants.

Posted by: heather on January 15, 2019
Posted in: Uncategorized