Q: I’d appreciate suggestions on how to constructively and inoffensively give feedback to the tenants on items that require attention after a periodic mid-term inspection.
I have rented my property to some early 20′s gentlemen who are notably inexperienced maintaining a property. I performed their 6-month walk-through and found evidence of a pet (that is not allowed as per the lease), additional occupants (again, not permitted without application of the individual), and aroma of smoked substances that they tried to disguise by opening all the windows.
As a female landlord, I’m not comfortable with confronting the tenants, but would like to have some format to provide them feedback that won’t encourage them to depart as tenants, but to be respectful of the agreement we signed. – TVS Landlord
You are right that keeping tenants in line requires periodic inspections. That’s a good item to have in your lease because it serves to warn the tenants they will get caught if they act inappropriately.
While it is good that you perform these inspections, six months may be too late into the tenancy to avoid problems. By then, your tenants will become entrenched into their habits, and this makes your work much harder. Problem tenants tend to bend one rule, then wait to see if the landlord reacts. When the landlord doesn’t catch the rule-breaking, this emboldens the tenant to try it again. It doesn’t take long for them to get the impression that they will get away with anything.
Being female will have no bearing on your relationship with your tenants. What does impact your authority is your level of involvement. You must always keep in mind that you’re the boss when it comes to your rental property. Take steps to remind the tenants that you are in charge. Build a policy of interacting with the tenants on a more regular basis. For instance, you could perform inspections every two months.
Because you value these tenants and want to salvage the relationship, sit down with them and have a conversation. Landlords often avoid talking to problem tenants face-to-face because it can be stressful. Emotions run high. After all, it is your property and your income that are at stake. For the tenants, your property is their home, and they want to feel comfortable there.
When confronting tenants who have been bad, use these negotiation strategies to resolve the problem quickly and minimize your income loss:
Know what your rights and liabilities are. Do you have the right to evict? To give a bad reference to the next landlord? These are your “assets”, so to speak. You may have liabilities, too. In this case, your liability is that you waited too long to confront the tenants about rule-breaking.
Weigh your assets against the liabilities. Consider how long it will take you to go through an eviction, restore the unit, and find another tenant, versus what damage or losses you may incur with the present tenants.
Visualize your best case scenario. What do you want them to do? For instance, do you want the occupant to move, or to sign the lease?
There are some things you can’t back down on. If the tenants are doing something illegal in the rental property, that puts you at risk. Landlords themselves can get into trouble for overlooking a tenant’s crimes, and crime increases the chances of property damage.
Set time lines for changes. For instance, the new occupant must complete a rental application and undergo a tenant background check in the next ten days, or vacate. Be realistic, but force the issue if the deadline passes.
Leave your emotions out of the conversation. For you, this is business only. For them, it’s a little more personal. 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 all agree that the lease prohibits the new occupant. All occupants must undergo tenant screening and sign the lease. If they accept the facts, then they must agree to the outcome. You can spend the remainder of the “negotiation” setting the deadlines.
When looking for a resolution, please keep in mind that decisions you make can impact your ability to enforce those provisions in the lease at a later date. For instance, if you overlook the pet issue, or make concessions to allow the pet to stay, you may have trouble evicting the tenant later on for having the pet. Talk to a legal expert if necessary to avoid inadvertently modifying the lease.
If these tenants do fall into line, then be sure to continue to follow up with them. Convey your expectations and check back in with them regularly to ensure they are complying. Believe it or not, they will actually appreciate your setting boundaries and it will earn you the respect you deserve.
As they continue to improve, don’t forget to praise them for their efforts. Your willingness to work out problems will be a sign that you value them as tenants — and that will go a long way towards improving the conversation.
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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.