Tenant Manipulation--What Landlords Need to Know

Customer complaints against contractors and landlords are legion, but what about those who are impossible to please or those who would lie, cheat, or steal to get even the slightest additional concession.  There's no "Yelp!" to warn about these people and many are adroit at hiding any issues of slow or no payment using aliases, frequently moving, and other tactics ad-infinitum.  Although not by any means all-inclusive, here are a few personalities that we've dealt with and continue to run across in our daily business operations...

I work hard for my money, and you don't... This individual is ticked off at the world because they have to get off the couch and go to work.  Typically the result of misplaced entitlement, this tenant believes that every rent check to their "fat cat" landlord should also come with a list of demands for new/upgraded appliances, alleged--frequently imaginary--required repairs, and the like.  It also frequently manifests itself in the form of late rent payments.  Left unaddressed, this behavior becomes so routine/ingrained that the property owner dreads the end of every month (and the inevitable drama associated with collecting their rent).  The best defense is a good offense--don't forget to check on their landlord or property management references BEFORE agreeing to the lease.  If it's too late for that, we've found that precise, through documentation is the only suitable strategy.  Never, ever waive the rent or the late fee if applicable--except in all but the most exigent, verified circumstances.  Once the lease expires or comes up for renewal, exercise your right as property owner to provide the statuatory notice and have them move out.  A word of caution, be aware that these individuals will fight tooth and nail for their security deposit--no matter how much damage they have done.  Arm yourself with a post tenancy inspection report from a qualified, licensed home inspector/general contractor.

I'll sue you for everything you have...  This is the more aggressive form of the behavior we just discussed.  Here, the individual is attempting to use FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) tactics to manipulate the landlord into meeting their demands.  By far the tactic we've seen most frequently involve alleged health effects caused by mold.  Frequently, the tenant will complain about mold (even creating conditions to cause it themselves) for the purpose of creating leverage against the property owner.  These complaints inevitably turn into threats and, in some cases, litigation or termination of rent payments.  Once again, the landlord's best defense is to hire a IAC2 (Indoor Air Quality Consultant) certified mold evaluator to conduct an appropriate test.  This action demonstrates that the alleged warranty of habilitability concerns are being taken seriously and that actions are being taken to address any problems.  Remember, mold inspections can be done legally by any licensed home improvement contractor--be sure to evaluate the bonafides of any firm you select to conduct these tests and/or remediation.  If it goes to litigation, you'll be glad you selected a professional firm with good credentials (vs. "Chuck in a truck").  The second trend in allegations are the usage of paints/chemicals containing VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).  This is especially prevalent in cases involving repair work done within an occupied unit.  Our advice is to discuss any required repairs with the tenant beforehand, and, if there's even the slightest concern related to VOCs, insist all repair work use low or zero-VOC materials.  These typically cost more, but the headaches (literally and figuratively) can cost much, much more.  Be sure the contractor/handyman you select is aware of and can demonstrate evidence (pictures and/or receipts) of using low or zero VOC materials during the repair work.

So what if you're the property owner.  The only thing that matters is what I want... Although this behavior is oft-times more subtle, it is by far the most prevalent that we encounter.  Typically using some pretext or excuse, such as "I couldn't reach you," these individuals will call out service providers, such as heating and air conditioning repairmen, and expect the landlord to pick up the tab w/o question or complaint.  Some are just irresponsible--bringing in pets without permission or subletting a bedroom to one of their friends "just until they get on their feet." We've even seen appliances and property damaged simply because the tenant wanted a newer one or one of a different design or color.  Above ground swimming pools, collections of derilict vehicles, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, dog kennels, the list is endless.  Moreover, the post-tenancy clean up or remediation of these tenant alterations can be extremely costly.  The best defense is to visit your property frequently and be on the look out for symptoms of unusual or suspect activities.  Be sensitive to the complaints of neighbors as well.  Frequently, they will be eager to alert the property owner of "things going on."

I'm entitled to live here for free if I feel I need to... Unlawfully detained property is emotionally gut wrenching and a property owner would do well to waive off on any applicant that has a history of rental judgments.  There is no excuse or story good enough to warrant a second/third/fourth, etc. chance--letting these individuals take possession of your property is fraught with peril.  So the best defense is good, effective tenant screening.  Sometimes, one will slip through or the individual will suddenly change due to one or more life circumstances.  In these extreme cases, we highly recommend extensive, rigorous documentation and/or consultation with counsel experienced in these matters.  Not just any attorney will do, we encourage you to select one that has experience in tenancy and eviction issues.  Once the inevitable eviction action begins, the problem tenant will frequently "self evict" before going through the entire process.  It is important to continue with the litigation however because it hinders their ability to pull off another "free stay" at the cost of yet another property owner.  A final word of caution.  Never, never, never include utilities in your rental lease agreement.  Problem tenants know all about the "constructive termination" rules and will gleefully run up the utilities knowing full well that the landlord will be the one paying them whilst being powerless to have them disconnected.


Image result for public domain images problem tenants

  Oh, but they were such nice people when they moved in!


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