Carolyn is a retired property manager and former business owner.
Talk to Your Tenant to Avoid a Problem
This is an exerpt from the author's book, "Secrets to a Successful Eviction".
When you are interviewing candidates for your apartment, the first thing you should communicate are your expectations from your tenant. At that time, you should make it clear to each and every apartment applicant that you expect the rent to be paid on time. You expect a phone call if it will be late. You want your tenant to have a healthy respect for the apartment and others in the building, and strict adherence to the lease. In addition, go over your written building policies with the tenant.
The tenant does not have to accept your rules and regulations. If there will be a conflict, now is the time for the two of you to find it out. Take the time to explain how you want the building and the apartment to be treated. This should be done as part of your interviews with rental applicants. It is one way to ensure that your applicant is clear about their responsibilities should he be selected for your apartment.
If none of this happened before you moved in your tenant, then you did not have good communication between the two of you from the start. There must be a ‘meeting of the minds’. Unless you took the time to read the lease to the tenant, and go over each section, do not expect the tenant to do so. At the beginning of a tenancy, the only thing a tenant is thinking about is getting the keys, and moving into your apartment. Almost nothing else matters but getting settled in.
When your tenant does not respect your expectations, communication again should be attempted. No one in good conscience should start an eviction without at least talking with the tenant about it first. The first action is to have a face-to-face discussion. Tell the tenant which part of the lease is in violation. Talk about how disappointed you are about the situation. Remind your tenant of your initial interview meetings, and your expectations about the rent and behavior before you turned over the keys. Then inform the tenant of the consequences if the situation does not change for the better. Remember to record the date you had that conversation.
The second action should be in writing. Remind him of the conversation you had in person. Inform the tenant that he is in violation of the lease or your policies. Let your tenant know which section of the lease is being broken, or which policy is not respected. The letter or notice should tell the tenant what next steps you will take if the negative behavior does not stop.
An eviction should not come as a surprise to your tenant. The most angry and vicious eviction cases I have observed in court have been the ones where the tenant felt he or she was blindsided by the homeowner. In other words, the tenant thought there was a mutual agreement with the landlord; only to be served with a notice of termination soon after the agreement was made.
Your communication with your tenant should be clear. Do not be afraid to send your tenant a letter telling him what is wrong. If you have talked to the tenant at least twice about the same problem, a letter is in order. For example, if you have a procedure you use for lease violations, let the tenant know about it. Let the person know that your policy is two verbal warnings, then a letter, then a warning letter, and then the eviction notice. Then stand firm on it. Do not take a neutral position about your plans if the situation does not change for the better.
Even if you have a computer, always keep a hard copy of the original letter in the tenant’s file folder. Your computer could crash, or you could lose the disk. If you have to go for eviction, you will need to present a copy of your correspondence to the court.
Maintain good communication with your tenant, and it could help keep problems from developing before legal action must be taken. When you get into court, it should be clear to the judge that you took the time to work with the tenant before you filed your eviction documents. Good documentation of your actions with and to the tenant will go a long way toward helping your case.
Can the Problem Be Worked Out?
You should not wait until you are in a financial crisis situation to address your tenant non-payment or late payment of rent issue. There’s nothing wrong in making an inquiry into why you are not getting your rent on time. When you see your tenant, or when he comes by to pay the rent, have a brief conversation with him. Realize that the tenant may be experiencing some feelings of panic at not being able to pay the rent. How you approach your tenant, and how he or she responds, could make the difference between the beginning of a royal battle, or the beginning of agreement on a plan of action.
There is a difference between a deadbeat tenant, and one having a temporary financial problem. Not that your eviction policies and procedures should change. Still, you may be more willing to make a rent payment plan with the good tenant having a temporary hardship, and the deadbeat tenant who has always been late with the rent.
At the same time, don’t be gullible when the tenant gives you reasons why the rent is not paid or will be late. You will hear many good reasons for their rent problem. You will also hear some lies that should not persuade you to change your rent payment policy. Some reasons or excuses may be:
· My student loan didn’t come through
· I had to take my daughter to the emergency hospital this month
· I didn’t get as much of an income tax refund as I expected
· I had to go to a funeral in another state
· My wife (husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.) left me last week
· My paycheck got stolen
· My roommate unexpectedly moved out
· I had to make car repairs, which took most of my income
· I spent too much for Christmas
· We didn’t know my wife was going to have twins
Don’t wait for the tenant’s ship to come in. These excuses don’t work with the bank or your mortgage company. I am sure they do not give these reasons to their car loan company. They should not work with you. You can’t give these reasons why your mortgage payment isn’t paid. You can’t say, “My tenant is going through some hard times, so I can’t pay the mortgage this month.”
Rules to Follow
There are standard procedures that veteran property managers follow when communicating with a tenant about negative behavior or non-payment of rent. Knowing when and how to communicate could determine how bad or good the eviction will proceed over the course of time. Remember, you own the property. You should present your case to the tenant in a professional manner. Changing or forgetting that you control how your case will be presented will make a rocky eviction.
It isn’t a good thing to show up at your tenant’s apartment unannounced. You wouldn’t like it if your tenant showed up at your home to give you a repair complaint. You would rather have that request made over the telephone. Give the tenant the same respect. Call and ask for a convenient time to meet within the next 24 to 48 hours. Tell the tenant what you plan to discuss in non-specific terms. Say you need to talk about the rent, or wish to discuss some issues about the building. If you start to talk about the problem over the telephone, there is no reason to meet. That will be the tenant’s goal.
Agree on the time and date. Call the tenant before you head out the door. You want to make sure he or she isn’t going to duck you by not answering the door. If caller ID warns the tenant you are on your way, you’d rather know they are ‘not home’ yet before you leave the house.
Sometimes, the communication problem comes from a landlord who has been much too friendly with the tenant. Perhaps they are related, or became fast friends when they discovered they had similar interests. If the time arises when it looks as if an eviction is coming, expect the tenant to be very angry, and feel betrayed. The tenant may feel misled by your behavior, and feel that you have changed the nature of the relationship. You may feel betrayed by someone you trusted.
This is a hazard of renting to friends and/or relatives. The closer you are to one another, the more bitter the eviction will follow. Expectations are high at the beginning that the tenancy will be a success. Still, things happen, and when you find you must take legal action, expect communication to fall to a new low between the two of you.
Entire families have been known to choose sides when an eviction happens between friends and relatives. Here is when and where good communications must be often, clear, preferably in writing, and limited to the discussion and issue under consideration.
Pick your time to communicate with your tenant. If you meet with the tenant, and feel that he or she is under the influence, make an appointment to speak with the tenant on another day. How do you know your tenant is under the influence? Their personality will be different. Their tone of voice and facial expressions will be different. The tenant could become argumentative, verbally abusive, or try to enter your personal space.
There is no hurry to talk to an inebriated or high tenant. If you do, you could find yourself in an unproductive shouting match, or a physical confrontation. Rather than to press your points or match words, back off. Say that you may have arrived at a bad time, and ask if you can schedule a meeting to talk on another date.
Make sure the tenant understands what you are trying to say. Don’t let an issue escalate into a war because one person didn’t quite understand what the other person was trying to communicate. If the tenant’s first language is not English, ask the person who helped the tenant fill out the rental application to attend the meeting.
Check your negative attitude at the door. How one talks to another is important. It should be one of respect. I have seen some real verbal brawls happen over the use of a tenant or manager’s tone of voice. You should always be professional, even if the tenant isn’t, starts to swear, and tries to enter your personal space. Again, that is the time to back off, and tell the tenant you will discuss the matter later.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Carolyn Gibson