Amateur Landlord: Dealing With Bad Tenants

by Bryce Baschuk

UrbanTurf has received a few questions recently about how to deal with tenants gone bad, so we decided to re-publish an article from our Amateur Landlord series that will hopefully provide a solution or two on how to handle unruly renter situations.

(This article was originally published in November 2010.)

Landlords who want to see something truly frightening should search for “bad tenants” on YouTube. The following video shows every landlord’s worst nightmare — the damage that tenants can inflict on a rental property.

In past articles, UrbanTurf has reported on how proper tenant screening is usually the best way to prevent delinquency and lease violations. But what do you do when, despite your best efforts, you end up with a tenant that causes problems?

“The first thing landlords should do is put the tenant on notice that they are breaking the rules and give them an opportunity to cure,” Mark Griffin of Griffin & Murphy, a DC law firm specializing in real estate litigation, told UrbanTurf. “99 percent of tenants are law abiding, decent human beings. You can go a whole lifetime as a landlord and have no problems or you can have a difficult tenant right off the bat.”

When a tenant is breaking a rule in the lease that is unrelated to rent payment (loud noise, unapproved pets, subtenants, etc.) the landlord should speak with the tenant about the issue face to face or over the phone. Following that conversation, a letter should be sent to the tenant that details the back and forth and includes a copy of the lease, which provides a time period for the tenant to cure the violation. After the allotted time period, the landlord should contact the tenant to make sure that the lease violation(s) has been remedied.

“If you have a bad relationship with a tenant but they are paying their rent, it can be difficult to evict them in DC,” Griffin said. “The District has one of the strictest sets of laws having to do with tenant/landlord relationships and it happens to give tenants a strong set of rights.”

Rick Gersten of Urban Igloo echoed these thoughts.

“No one wants to talk about it because they don’t appreciate how many steps must be taken to get rid of a bad tenant,” Gersten told UrbanTurf. “It’s an incredibly tenant-friendly town to say the least and it can take six months to a year to throw a tenant out.”

In instances of delinquent rent payments, landlords should retain the service of an attorney and furnish the tenant with a writ of restitution (eviction notice). In DC, a written eviction notice, also known as a Notice to Correct and/or Vacate must meet the following requirements and be served in person:

  • Written in both English and Spanish.
  • Include the tenant’s name, address and apartment number.
  • Provide the basis for eviction.
  • Provide an opportunity to cure the problem.
  • Allow the tenant from 30 to 180 days to move.
  • State the tenant’s rights for relocation help.
  • Provide proof that the housing accommodation is registered with the city.
  • Include a statement that the copy of the notice is being sent to the Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) in DC, along with the address and phone number for RAD.

If the tenant still refuses to pay rent after these steps are taken, attorneys recommend that landlords file a suit with the Landlord and Tenant Court as quickly as possible. This process is initiated by submitting a complaint for possession with the DC Landlord and Tenant Clerk’s Office.

Once a lawsuit is filed, tenants pay rent going forward into Registry of Court, a court-monitored bank account set aside for rental payments (called protective order payments). It is then up to the judge to decide what portion of the money will go to the landlord and what portion will be returned to the tenant. If there is back rent claimed, the requirement for the payment of that money is not determined until the lawsuit is over. “That’s why it’s not a good idea to wait to file with the courts in DC,” said Griffin.

If the landlord wins the lawsuit, he/she will get a judgment for back rent. If the tenant is employed or has assets, the landlord can attach assets and/or garnish wages until the judgment is paid. The landlord will also likely be awarded attorney’s fees if the lease provides for this, as well as post judgment interest. These expenses will also be made a part of the judgment.

Do you have a story of a nightmare tenant and how the situation was resolved? Let us know in the comments section.

Related Posts:

See other articles related to: urban igloo, bad tenants, amateur landlord

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/amateur_landlord_dealing_with_bad_tenants/2641


  1. LoganLandlord said at 12:28 pm on Thursday November 4, 2010:

    I have been a landlord for about ten years and have been extremely fortunate to have only had one tenant that caused me problems. He had not paid rent for four months and I took him to court over it. In the end, I received the back rent and a portion of my legal fees were paid for. Not ideal, but I think that if I hadn’t taken him to court, he may still be living rent free today.

  1. Meredith said at 12:43 pm on Thursday November 4, 2010:

    I strongly recommend doing your best to resolve the situation out of court. Legal fees on top of the the possibility that you will recoup less than what you are owed makes court an unattractive option.

  1. kob said at 8:14 pm on Monday April 23, 2012:

    I never want to be a landlord again. Tenants kept falling behind on rent, and finally stopped paying. I hired a lawyer to evict. They produced some of the back rent. I went to the tenants and said “if you move out this weekend (it was midweek) I’ll give you your money back.” They moved. I was so relieved. The stress was the worse part. I kept the unit empty until I sold it. Never again.

  1. ner said at 4:03 pm on Tuesday April 24, 2012:

    Doesn’t retaining a management company help a landlord mitigate these risks? Sure it costs something, so you have to figure that in when you go into a renting venture. Then you get the income and when you sell it you get the equity you’ve earned in the property.

  1. Ladson Webb said at 4:20 pm on Thursday April 26, 2012:

    Tenant rent default is the #1 concern for most landlords because, historically, landlords have been without an effective tool for mitigating this risk aside from security deposits and thorough tenant screenings up front. Evictions cost money, and when rent stops coming in, a landlord must now come up with $500-1k for legal fees to process an eviction. Where does that money come from? Most landlords are not able to weather multiple months without rent collected let alone while, at the same time, paying for legal fees to evict the tenant.  Not to mention, most landlords have a hard time “actually” kicking someone out on street, especially if the tenant has been likable, but simply can no longer afford to pay rent due to a lost job, divorce, etc.

    More often than not, landlords will spend months trying to resolve a rent default issue themselves, which does work in some instances, but the overwhelming majority of landlords never recover the full amount of lost rent when a tenant defaults. 

    Hiring a Mgmt Co to handle the tenant selection process, monthly rent collection and general property mgmt helps to insulate a landlord from much of the day-to-day responsibilities, but it is not protection against rent default or bad tenants. And it does come at a cost. Most PMs charge an annual mgmt fee equal to 1-month’s rent and then a recurring mgmt fee around 8-10% of the collected monthly rent. Keep in mind that a PM is never going to reimburse or guarantee rent to an owner if a tenant stops paying, so it is still up to the owner/landlord to figure out how best to protect his/her rental income.

    My company, Aon, has recently developed an insurance product for landlords/property owners in DC that will cover up to 6-months in lost rent AND up to $1,000 in legal fees in a rent default scenario. Search for Aon Rent Protect to learn more.

    DC has some of the most tenant-friendly laws in the country, and evictions can take upwards of 12 months to process. At DC rental prices, that is an significant amount of income to do without during the legal process, regardless of whether or not they get the full amount back as part of a favorable judgment. Remember, a landlord relies on rental income to stay financially secure, and rent default can lead to a landlord losing the investment property, or worst yet, their own home amidst a drawn out eviction.

  1. SCB said at 9:38 am on Sunday March 17, 2013:

    Most tenants are nice and respectful. However, especially in the luxury segment they get resentful that they can’t own the same place they are renting. We have that situation. Entitlement attitude at its worst. The security deposit issue is one to be careful with and what I suggest is that the day after a tenant is late give them official notice to cure (look up what your state’s law is. For example, in Arizona there is the 5 day notice for non-rent payment and if they do not cure one can file in court to evict. Good luck!

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