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Dealing with the tenants from hell

They seemed like such nice people when they looked at the apartment unit. Their rental history checked out, their credit was good and they had more than enough income to pay the rent. Then the pod people came, beamed them up to the mother ship and replaced them with these foul-mouthed cretins who are vibrating the walls with gangsta rap every night.

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Or, as is often the case for real estate investors: They came with the deal.

"You'll see investors inherit a bad tenant," says Melissa Prandi, a property manager for more than two decades and author of "The Unofficial Guide to Managing Rental Property." "You have our condolences."

Most tenants are good people who pay their rent and cause no trouble. But eventually, every landlord encounters the other kind. What's a landlord to do with the tenant from hell? The answer will vary by state and even municipality, but in general, the overriding advice from the pros is "Proceed with caution."

Tenants have rights
Tenants have myriad legal rights, and a tenant who knows he's getting bounced and won't be getting back his security deposit might vent his frustration on the unit.

The most common tenant problems are late rent and bad checks, followed by additional residents, pets, noise and unsupervised minors, Prandi says. While investor-owners often hope that things will get better on their own without having to get involved, that's a big mistake.

Regardless of the specifics of the problem, the starting point for dealing with bad tenants is to know the lease and the law. Leases should specify how and when rent is to be paid, payment of late fees, and any activities that are prohibited. There also should be a catch-all "peace, quiet and enjoyment" phrase that covers anything that bugs other tenants or neighbors enough to complain about it.

No 'self-help' evictions
The law will tell you what you can and can't do in your state to get rid of them. Just about every state prohibits what's known as a "self-help eviction," says Boston-based attorney Peter Brooks, who specializes in landlord-tenant law.

"You can't go throw them out, lock them out or threaten them out," he says. "You can't evict them if they've exercised any of their tenants' rights. You can't evict a tenant who has filed a complaint against you, because it's considered retaliatory."

Plus, as a basic need, housing is safeguarded by the Fair Housing Act. (You might be exempt if you rent a single-family house without the use of a broker or you own a building with no more than four units and live in one of them.) The quickest way to get into trouble with the feds is to single someone out and treat them differently, says James Landon, a Tucson, Ariz.-based landlord-tenant attorney and author of "The Weekend Landlord."

"Send nonpayment notices to everyone at the same time; send out the same notices to everyone," he says. "It doesn't matter if they're a horrendous tenant. (If you treat them differently,) you'll be in big trouble."

-- Posted: July 21, 2005




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