Managing Difficult Tenants

Dealing with difficult tenants is costly for a landlord; draining landlord energy and diverting business resources of time and money away from general property operations. However, a landlord cannot afford to dismiss or ignore demands from a difficult tenant. Experienced landlords recognize that property management is also tenant management.

A difficult tenant creates stress on the landlord’s business which can potentially create liabilities for the business if issues are not addressed in a timely manner. Difficult tenants can be disruptive to other tenants, potentially interfering with other tenants’ rights of quiet enjoyment of the premises, privacy, security, and safety. This can result in absence of renewals by other tenants or other tenants also becoming difficult.

The challenge in managing difficult tenants is to be prepared with a plan of action that details what steps should be taken to acknowledge and address tenant concerns and take appropriate action for resolution while protecting the business from potential harm.

Each landlord could define a difficult tenant in a different way from his fellow landlords. As a generalization, a difficult tenant is a demanding tenant, usually with repeated requests for services and comments, concerns, and complaints voiced frequently to the landlord and his staff. Issues could be major or minor ones yet treated equally in importance by the tenant.

Difficult situations could also produce a difficult tenant. A landlord would do well to first listen to tenant concerns and comments before deciding his tenant is a difficult tenant. A landlord should always remember that a difficult tenant is first of all a tenant entitled to fair and equitable housing, rental services and amenities and tenant rights and protections by law. In exchange, the tenant has responsibilities and obligations by statutory requirements and his lease agreement. Demanding or not, pleasant, or unpleasant, the tenant must be treated in a professional manner, as respectful and courteous as all other tenants are treated.

There are legitimate business reasons that a tenant could become a difficult, demanding tenant, such as a landlord‘s failure to maintain habitability or a landlord’s practice of deferring maintenance and repairs. If a tenant has repeatedly expressed concern or requested services for repairs and maintenance but his communications have been ignored or dismissed, there may be legitimate reason for the tenant to be more demanding for a response and resolution. Landlord failure to maintain the rental premise to good condition is a statutory contract default on the landlord’s obligation to provide habitable housing. Deferred repairs and maintenance which negatively impact tenant health and safety are recognized by courts as legitimate reasons for tenants to withhold rent. If the tenant proves that he has received different treatment than other tenants, he has claim for discrimination and unfair practices. A difficult tenant can quickly become an angry tenant who could potentially pose a threat to others by his disruptive behavior or can result in a complaint to government housing authorities or filing of lawsuit.

Tenant screenings can help identify red flag issues during the application process that could indicate potential problems during tenancy. A landlord can address red flag issues with additional screenings and evaluate the applicant’s qualifications according. While most applicants are on their best behavior during the interview and property showing, it is not unusual for a landlord to discover that the selected tenant becomes a difficult tenant once in residence.

The lease signing and tenant orientation meeting is a good opportunity for the landlord to hold an open discussion with the incoming tenant regarding tenant responsibilities and setting landlord expectations of appropriate tenant behavior.

A landlord’s lease agreement is a powerful property management tool. The lease agreement is the legal contract between landlord and tenant with specific duties, obligations, terms, and conditions of tenancy. The lease agreement is the governing document to enforce rules for tenant behaviors and remedies for tenant breach of contract. Therefore, the lease agreement must be strong enough in language and terms and conditions to protect tenants’ rights but, when necessary, to evict a tenant who commits repeated violations of the lease or a material condition of the lease.

During tenant move-in orientation, the landlord should review all material lease clauses with the new tenant, emphasizing the rental rules and regulations including rents, deposits, occupancy and use of premises, guest policies, noise restrictions, quiet hours, and the consequences of violation of the rules. The landlord should emphasize to the tenant that by the tenant’s signature on the lease the tenant acknowledges his understanding and consent to terms and conditions. A tenant should also understand that he is responsible for his guests’ conduct and adherence to rules and regulations while the guests are on the rental property.

The rules for community living must be clear to serve as a guide for resident behaviors and to act as a deterrent for unacceptable behaviors. Landlords should incorporate as much detail in their lease agreements as needed to protect the property and the residents. Caution is advised that arbitrary or excessive rules and regulations can serve as a deterrent for business. Tenants do not want to be regulated or restricted unnecessarily, unfairly, or illegally. Lease clauses must comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws for fair housing, consumer protections, and landlord-tenant statutes. Any policy, procedure, practice, rule, or regulation cannot discriminate against a protected class or characteristic nor deny rights afforded by law.

Certain landlord-tenant interactions make it more challenging for a landlord to work with a difficult tenant to achieve resolution of issues.


The most common situation for difficulty in landlord-tenant interactions is tenant failure to pay rent. The applicant may have qualified during screening as being financially able to meet rents but circumstances frequently change after a tenant has been installed and the tenant is unable or unwilling to make timely payment of the full rent owed.

In a situation where the tenant has defaulted on his rent obligations, such as late payments, missed payments, partial payments, or skipping out on the rent, a landlord must remain calm and professional in his dealing with the tenant. The tenant may be emotional, embarrassed, belligerent, or unable to deal with the situation as a result of cash flow problems, or unemployment. Communication is important in this situation to understand the true nature of the problem and how to resolve it.

It is a best practice to have good lease clauses that include all policies and practices related to rents – how much the rent is, when it is due, the grace period as applicable by statute or lease and application of late fees. The lease should address the issues of rent defaults and the remedies that may be taken to resolve the issue, including legal eviction.

Frequent Tenant Demands

A landlord may have to deal with a difficult tenant who constantly makes demands on landlord time and services or complains about the property, the neighbors, the policies, and the rules for the community. It takes effort to remain calm with tenants who are angry, rude, or irritating but a landlord must listen first before responding professionally to the tenant. Tenant safety, security, and health issues must be prioritized when issues arise to protect the tenant and the landlord.

A best practice to help with demanding tenants is to ensure that (1) there is a strong lease agreement, (2) the lease is enforced consistently, (3) the lease is enforced uniformly with all residents, and (4) new tenant orientation is conducted to provide education and training regarding rental rules, lease terms and conditions.

Disruptive Behaviors/Nuisance Complaints

A tenant’s noisy behaviors can be disruptive to his neighboring tenants which in turn can cause problems for the landlord. Noise complaints from tenants should not be ignored by landlords. Any complaint should be taken seriously and investigated accordingly.

A best practice is to have a strong lease agreement. A lease should always include a clause that prohibits tenants and their guests from creating a nuisance by disturbing or interfering with the quiet enjoyment and peace and quiet of the rental property by other tenants or nearby residents. If the tenant violates the lease by creating a nuisance with loud or excessive noise, the landlord’s actions should be in accordance with the remedies set out in the lease or by law.

Property Damage

Property damage caused by a tenant can be an expensive problem for a landlord. Accordingly, a landlord collects a security deposit to protect his property against damage caused by a tenant. In general, tenants are held responsible for property damages as a result of tenant negligence, carelessness, or intentional destruction. Tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear during their tenancy.

A best practice is once again a strong lease agreement that details tenant responsibilities for maintenance and housekeeping to maintain the unit in good condition as received at move-in. Landlords should conduct regular routine property inspections for damage and maintenance concerns and take corrective actions as required.

Property Damage Caused by Pets

Property damage can be caused by a tenant’s pet’s destructive behavior or by pets being left unattended by their owner/tenant. The landlord ‘s pet policy should detail pet owner responsibilities for control of their pet and responsibility for damages to the property caused by their pet The owner/tenant acknowledges his acceptance of the pet policy at lease signing. Some landlords require pet deposits at lease signing to help prevent loss from pet damages.

Occupancy, Guests, Subletting

Difficult tenants may ignore a landlord’s policies for occupancy standards, guests, or subletting. A landlord may discover during a property inspection that others are living in the rental unit that are unknown to him. Those additional occupants have not been tenant screened and have not signed to the lease. This can result in creating potential liabilities for the business.

The landlord should have definitive lease clauses regarding occupancy, guests, and prohibitions against subletting the rental property. Remedies for tenant default should be clearly detailed in the lease and strictly enforced during the tenancy.

Illegal Activities

A landlord cannot ignore tenants conducting or being involved in criminal activities on the rental premises. A landlord should monitor tenant activity on the premises and report criminal activities to law enforcement agencies. Tenants engaging in criminal acts have materially violated the lease agreement and legal action should be pursued for lease termination and eviction.

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