There are a lot of things that make for a good landlord. Doing the right thing is usually the ethical and legal thing to do. It’s easy to get angry at a tenant who is not following the rules. There are obvious things you shouldn’t do, like break the law. These are a few other things you shouldn’t do, but these are just a tip of the iceberg:
- Lose your temper. A tenant who is behaving poorly might lead to an eviction. It’s easy to think of the cost of this or the damage the tenant is doing and to lash out at them with poor language or threats, whether in person, by phone, text, or email. This produces a record of your negative behavior and is great fodder for lawyers to tell the judge about how bad a person you are. Keep it professional.
- Lose the lease. This happens more than you might realize. You do have them sign a lease, don’t you? Once that paper is signed and the deposit is in hand it’s easy to throw it down on the counter when you get home and suddenly it’s lost. You will completely forget about it right up until the time that something goes wrong and you need proof of your agreement. Without the paper, you will be left to rely on the tenant’s copy (which is even less likely to be readily-available), or worse, your memory. This will make you look a terrible landlord and set you up for failure when you don’t even know when the lease expires. Keep a file and better yet, have them sign an electronic document.
- Ask for proof of disability when it’s obvious. This is a tough one. If the claimed disability is not readily-apparent, then in some cases, you can ask for proof. The example here would be a blind person with a seeing-eye dog. That’s apparent and you can’t ask for proof. Of course, this can be a set up for people lying about a disability, but messing up here can be very costly for the landlord.
- Calling something a nuisance problem. Nuisance problems are things that come up that seem low-cost, but just getting a handyman out there is going to be $100. Get enough of these, and they can wipe out the rent. We all know tenants who complain about every little thing. Chances are, these are the tenants who will let you know when a problem is actually there, too. The unusually quiet tenant is the one that moves out and the place is a disaster with water leaks and broken fixtures. Any problem is something to investigate. Repair even the small ones before they add up to a big bill.
- Accept partial rent payments. Most jurisdictions will reset the clock on notices to vacate whenever you accept a payment of any amount. Taking partial payment without written agreement about what it means will signal the court that you have a new verbal agreement, which can be interpreted in many ways. In the worst case scenario this will invalidate the penalties you have for late rent. All because you wanted to get at least part of the rent paid. It doesn’t seem right, but that week’s worth of rent money is just not worth it. Your policy needs to be all or nothing.
- Bonus: Failing to start eviction right away. If the tenant has broken the rules, give them notice immediately. It might seem harsh, but remember that you can stop the eviction process at any time if you want to. Show the tenant that there are consequences for breaking the lease. If you want to be lenient, build that in to the lease, for instance, a grace period on receiving the rent. That lease will be your best lifeline when things get difficult.
And things will get difficult if you do this enough. Set yourself up for success by following these guidelines.