Landlord May Be Stuck With Problem Tenant

by Chris on January 8, 2011

Q: What can a landlord do to evict a tenant with an additional occupant not on the lease agreement? 

This tenant has removed lights from the garage that give security lighting to the upstairs tenant. He paid late (15 days) every month for a year!  And that’s not to mention he had the gas and electric shut off within months of each other.

Now, he calls me wanting to add this person to his lease, when he told me a few months back she was the cleaning lady…and has her own key! She is not employed, and she’s using this address for her mail. Is this not illegal? – TVS Landlord

Surprisingly, tenancy laws often allow a tenant to invite in one adult ‘roommate’ without risk of eviction. 

If your property is subject to such a law, the best way to protect yourself is a provision in the lease that requires the tenant to seek your approval of the individual roommate.

Demand a tenant background check on the occupant to assure that this person is not a danger to other tenants or to your property.  The new occupant should meet any reasonable standards that you’ve set for tenant screening, and they must be willing to comply with your house rules under the tenant’s lease.  For instance, only nonsmokers can move into a nonsmoking building. 

Many landlords demand that the proposed occupant fill out a rental application so the landlord has the same pertinent information on an occupant that they would have on a tenant.

Unless you negotiate to add the new occupant to the lease agreement, the original lease remains unchanged, and the existing tenant is still responsible for payment of the rent, and for any damage that the new occupant causes.  The tenant can also be evicted, along with the occupant, if the occupant becomes a nuisance to other tenants, damages the property, or if the tenant stops paying the rent.

In some cases, the landlord may be allowed to increase the rent due to the additional occupant.

You could agree to add the occupant to the lease. This would make her equally responsible for the rent in the event your existing tenant stops paying or moves out. Don’t presume that because she doesn’t work she can’t pay the rent — she may have other assets.  Do not add her to the lease without a fully completed rental application and a thorough tenant background check.

If you rent in an area that does not protect tenants from eviction for inviting in a roommate, your lease agreement may prohibit unauthorized occupants, and you can evict the tenant along with the occupant  for the violation of the lease agreement.  In that case, the lease will likely provide a time frame in which “guests” become “occupants” –typically 14 days. 

Be careful, though, in placing all of your confidence in this lease provision. From time to time, landlords run into a judge who refuses to enforce it or order an eviction due to the strict language of the lease alone, if there is no harm in the occupant living with the tenant.  You have a better case where the occupant is taking up tenant parking, disturbing  neighbors, damaging the property, refusing to follow house rules or costing the landlord extra money.

Occupancy limits can come into play when dealing with roommates; however it is extremely rare to find an occupancy standard that prohibits sharing a bedroom with the existing tenant.  In fact, most standards presume two persons for each bedroom.

As for the other actions, like removing the lights from the garage, the tenant cannot jeopardize the safety of the upstairs neighbor.  If that tenant were  injured due to lack of lighting, you could be liable, and increased liability could be grounds to evict. 

But eviction is never easy, and it is usually in the landlord’s best interest to resolve the dispute instead.  Find out why he is removing the lights.  Maybe they are shining into his bedroom while he tries to sleep.  In that case, provide a better window shade.  But in any event, make it clear he has to stop taking them down.

Likewise, find out why he is communicating with the utility companies, and whether he is compromising the service to your property.  Are both of these utilities in his name?  The lease should state who is responsible for utility payments.  It’s worth a call to the utility companies to find out if the tenant has asked to make changes to your service, or to ask to receive notice if that happens again.

As for the late payments, those rules also vary depending on where you live, but chronic late payments is widely considered grounds for an eviction.  There’s a better way to encourage on-time payments.  Landlords can sign up with Tenant Verification Service, a credit reporting agency, to Report Tenant Pay Habits.  That way, if a tenant behaves, they will be able to hand the next landlord a Certificate of Satisfactory Tenancy proving that they paid on time.  And if they don’t, they suffer the consequences of a poor rental history.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

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