What to do about problem tenants?

The most popular question my clients ask me is: “What can I do if I have problems with my tenants?”

This issue is so pressing in the minds of would-be investors that it’s the fear that prevents them from taking the plunge into the world of property investing. As a property manager and investment real estate broker, I’ve seen my share of problem-tenants! I have lots specific case-by-case advice for specific situations.

But… and it’s a big but… I’m going to answer this question without answering it!

Let me clarify with an analogy. If you own a nightclub, and you want to know: “What should I do if a fight breaks out?”

My answer would be: “Maybe you should hire a good bouncer so that problem-people don’t get in and start fights in the first place.”

My answer about problem tenants is the same. Instead of giving strategies to solve the million-and-one issues problem-tenants will create for you, limiting their access to your property. Manage problems by having rental practices that screen out the problem-tenants before they get a chance to cause problems!

This is the best advice I can give new investors, or investors hoping to build their portfolio.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for winning tenant screening:

Do : 

  • Always always always do a credit check. This is the single most important piece of info you will get! If I had to, I would base my decisions solely on credit reports. People with bad credit don’t always end up not paying. With experience, I’ve learned, however, that they tend to be the authors of most tenancy-problems.
  • Always call the previous owner. Don’t just ask if the candidates paid on time. Ask about cleanliness, maintenance requests, politeness and any other issues.
  • Always call their employer. Find the phone number of HR online.
  • Always do a criminal background check and a check with your local rental board. Most rental boards have a platform on which you can consult decisions rendered under their jurisdiction. You’d be surprised :/ !!

Don’t :

  • Be fooled by a good first impression. Always, always do your due diligence when renting to people. Seeming nice for 15 minutes is easy. Living life responsibly, less so. You’ll be entering a long-term relationship with your future tenants. Don’t base your decision on a good first date!
  • Call the numbers given to you by the candidate on their application form. Look up employers online. Check that the name of the person the candidate gave as a present landlord matches the city information as to who owns the property. (This information is available online).
  • Be sweet-talked into accepting big deposits or additional months of rent to make up for bad credit. It might look seductive, but once that money is gone, you’ll still have questionable people in your unit.

When in doubt, consider hiring a realtor or a property manager to rent vacant units. They’re professionals at this and can save you a lot of headaches. My agency will even coach new owners through a first rental if they ask us.

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