How to Talk to Your Problem Tenant

by Chris on November 28, 2011

Q: I am renting a 3-bedroom home in which the tenant recently lost his off-site garage rental lease (different owner) last month. Not being able to find another garage to rent, he decided to place the garage contents in his front yard (my rental property).

His rental agreement says, “Resident shall not violate any Governmental law in the use of the premises, commit waste or nuisance, annoy, molest or interfere with any other Resident or neighbor.”  I personally consider this an “annoyance” and waste has been created. Even though I did not specifically indicate on the rental agreement “no storage in front yard” can I give the tenant a “Notice to Perform Conditions and/or Covenants or Quit”?

Bottom line, I want his stuff off my rental property’s front yard but do not want to have to evict him. I believe he’s in breach of his agreement but I wanted to get your opinion. Do you have any suggestions?-TVS Landlord

There is no way to predict everything a problem tenant might do, no matter how hard a landlord may try.

You are right to turn to the language of your lease to see if you are protected in this situation. Your lease covers both illegality–the violation of the city’s building codes, and nuisance or annoyance. There is little doubt that storing belongings in the front yard would be covered by one or both of those prohibitions. What’s more, your city building codes likely dictate that a tenant can’t use the front yard for storage, even if your lease didn’t cover it.

If you chose to, it is likely you could evict him. In your situation, however, you don’t want to evict the tenant, but rather have him fall into line.

The notice you refer to sounds like something specific to your lease or you may be referring to a formal eviction notice. While the notice is certainly an effective way to get the point across, any landlord with a problem tenant must decide how much force to exert in the situation. 

Sometimes, a bad situation can be resolved more easily with a conversation.

Landlords often avoid talking to a problem tenant face-to-face, and for good reason. Discussing the problem with the tenant can be stressful, especially if the tenant is uncooperative.  Emotions run high.  It is after all your property and your income that are at stake. For the tenant, your property is his home, and his instinct is to protect it.  It is also more difficult to document the interaction in the event the case ends with an eviction.

But there is a lot to be gained by having a personal conversation with the tenant, namely salvaging the relationship for the duration of the lease.

If you approach the discussion with a problem tenant like a business negotiation–using some classic negotiation techniques, you may score both his cooperation and his respect, without any out-of-pocket expenses.

Here’s the general idea:

Before speaking to the tenant, know your rights as a landlord. In this case, you likely have the right to file an eviction. You also have the right to give a bad reference to the next landlord. These are your “assets” so to speak. Weigh your assets against the liabilities. If you hurt his feelings or intimidate him, he may want to move out, and he sounds like an otherwise good tenant.  Consider how long it will take you to go through the eviction, possibly remove his stuff yourself, find another tenant,  and so on.

Visualize your best case scenario. Here, you want him to move his belongings immediately, and never do this again. Realistically, he will need some time to move the items. Decide how far you are willing to bend before you approach him.

Leave your emotions out of the conversation. For you, this is business only. For him, it’s a little more personal because it’s his stuff. Avoid a harsh tone, and you can keep the conversation productive and non-confrontational.

Immediately look for areas of agreement. A good negotiator will accomplish this by breaking the dispute down into smaller, easy-to-swallow bites.  For instance, you can both agree that the tenant didn’t expect to have the items in your rental property.  He probably doesn’t want to give them up.  They can’t remain in the yard.  If he accepts all of that, he must agree that he has to move the items. Once he does, you can spend the remainder of the “negotiation” setting a deadline for when the items must be moved.

And don’t forget the all-important last step — reward the tenant if he cooperates with your demands by reassuring him that you value him as a tenant. 

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).

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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.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tom Kuiken November 29, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for sharing this good idea. I fully agree that this is an excellent suggestion that usually works if the tenant has an otherwise respectful attitude. Tenants frequently forget or never understood all the rules in the lease.

People generally resent any type of warning even when they know they violated the guidelines or rules. A simple friendly business conversation that presents the facts (but not emotions) will provide insight for both parties to understand the current needs and expectations of the other. This new personal information can be used to create an agreement that is good for both sides. Written warnings can easily intimidate people who otherwise have good intentions. Warnings usually cause resentment and written ones should be reserved to document a situation only after a second or third verbal request is not productive.

When a tenant is in a difficult situation, it’s important for a landlord to remain firm about the rules but flexible and reasonable about the timing or urgency (to resolve the issue). This will build respect for a better tenant/landlord business relationship.

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