Abusive Tenants

When renting out a property what rental lease language can you use to deal with the possibility of an abusive tenants?

Read transcript here:

Today’s question comes from Lakeisha Brown.

“Mr. White, what is your lease verbiage for tenants being abusive towards you and your staff?”

Well, we actually don’t have any verbiage in our lease related to tenants being abusive toward us. Now I’m not an attorney, so I’m not licensed or equipped to give legal advice, but with that said, my impression is that if something is in your lease agreement, it really needs to be enforceable. If something isn’t enforceable, that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t still put it into your lease, which is a contract, if it has the potential to deter behavior. If you think it might help curb a specific behavior-in this case, a tenant behaving aggressively-go ahead and put it in there, but whether it’s going to stand up in court is another story.

The reason why we don’t have verbiage related to this issue is that we really don’t have these problems with tenants. We’re a property management company, and we are always striving to operate intellectually, not emotionally. So, if a tenant-and we certainly do have unhappy tenants at times-asks us for something that we cannot give them, we do have to turn them down. In this case, it’s not uncommon for a tenant to continue contacting us repeatedly until they get the answer they want-which, of course, never comes, because we can’t give them what they’re asking for.

However, we try to not let this sort of scenario affect us emotionally. We’ve kind of distanced ourselves from these situations, and I think that’s the value of using a property management company. We’re not emotionally involved in the properties. In fact, the rental properties my wife and I own are managed by my property management company, and this allows us to step out of the equation so we actually don’t have to make emotional decisions involving our rental properties. Instead, every decision is made intellectually by Grow Property Management. The contractors that service these properties have no idea which properties are ours and which ones are just part of our large portfolio of properties, so again, this helps us to take a step back so we’re not as emotionally involved.

We’re not building friendships here. If a tenant gets snippy with us, we just answer their question matter-of-factly, saying, “No, I’m sorry, this is not something we can provide you.” We give them a reason why, and they’ll often respond still lobbying to get whatever it is they want. So, we repeat our response and hold our ground, but again it’s kind of dispassionate on our side. We don’t start getting emotionally upset, and if they are snippy or downright rude toward us, I think we would just start reducing our interactions with them.

The only place we have verbiage related to tenants not being abusive toward our staff is in our application policies. In our experience, this has to be very clearly defined because we have to treat every tenant identically in every perspective. If we’re going to turn someone down, the reason we turn them down has to be applied universally. We can’t just turn someone away because they’re rubbing us the wrong way and accept someone else that says or does similar things. That’s not the way it works, and that’s not in line with fair housing laws, so we actually do have very defined criteria in that regard.

In our application policies, we outline that tenants are not allowed to swear at our staff or use profanity. These are in our company policies as well. We have them posted so that the state could come in, look at these policies, and see that we are uniform in what we expect from our staff and tenants. Since these rules are outlined clearly, if someone violates them, we’re going to turn them down as a potential tenant. As far as dealing with current tenants, however, we don’t have any verbiage in our lease agreement about this. I can definitely see the value of including it; it’s just not something that I think my company needs.

In your situation, I recommend you try to become a little bit more distanced from your properties. If you get into a contentious situation with a tenant, just try to view it from an intellectual perspective rather than an emotional one.


Joe White

Joe White is a Philadelphia Property Manager and Real Estate Broker. He is the owner of Grow Property Management and has been involved in the management, sales and purchases of Philadelphia area rental investment properties since 2008. He is an author and works as a real estate investment consultant and construction manager.

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