Why Some Tenants Become Difficult (and How to Manage Problems)

    Difficult tenants are every landlord’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, they’re nearly impossible to avoid. If you own rental property, the best you can do is prepare yourself with strategies to manage a variety of potentially difficult situations.

    Even though it’s frustrating and can be an inconvenience, there’s usually a reason for tenant behavior. Understanding why some tenants become difficult can sometimes help you manage different situations as they arise.

    The top four reasons tenants are difficult

    1. They’ve had bad landlords in the past

    Some tenants are traumatized from dealing with previous landlords and fully expect you to be the same. It doesn’t matter how great you are with them – trauma tends to strongly override current circumstances.

    Some common situations tenants are subjected to with bad landlords includes:

    • Uninhabitable units. It’s unfortunate, but there are a lot of slumlords renting properties to people where the living conditions don’t even pass as livable.
    • Poor insulation. Some landlords rent out their units without proper insulation. This is common with outside buildings, like sheds and garages, that get converted to miniature apartments.
    • Landlords who are unresponsive to repairs. Not all emergency calls from tenants are actual emergencies, but many tenants are used to being completely ignored whether they’re reporting a busted window screen or a flooded bathroom.
    • Landlords who illegally withhold their security deposit. There are strict rules regarding security deposits, but some landlords don’t care and refuse to return a tenant’s deposit, which makes it harder for the tenant to save enough money to move.

    These are just some of the issues tenants have with bad landlords. If you’ve got a difficult tenant, they might be on the offense based on previously bad experiences. If you can’t make them see that you’re not out to get them, give them some space and try not to be combative or argumentative over things that don’t matter. You’ll need to earn their trust before they’ll stop feeling threatened.

    2. They’re struggling financially

    When a tenant is struggling financially, they’re more likely to feel on edge where money matters are concerned. This can lead to arguments over late rent and broken promises regarding when payments will be brought current.

    You can only do so much to ensure you rent your property to financially stable tenants. Some people hide their struggles well, especially when their troubles are just beginning. These issues won’t always be visible on a credit report. Also, a stable tenant can start to have financial difficulties during their tenancy.

    If rent is frequently late or unpaid, and you think a tenant is having a difficult time financially and isn’t just playing games with you, talk to them about the situation openly. First, ask them if they would like to change the date their rent is due. For many, this will bring their bills in line with their paychecks. However, it may not be enough for others who are truly struggling. In that case, you may need to move forward with an eviction.

    3. They’ve just gone through something big

    Sometimes tenants give landlords a hard time when they’ve just gone through an emotionally difficult experience, like losing a friend, family, member, or pet. Usually this is temporary and they’ll be more reasonable as they heal. However, everyone is different and some people hang onto emotional trauma for a long time.

    It’s not your job to provide emotional support to your tenants, but if a good tenant suddenly becomes unreasonable and you know they’ve just gone through a difficult experience, being a little extra kind can go a long way to smooth out your interactions. Of course, if they’re violating the lease agreement you don’t have to give them any slack. Going through a rough time is no excuse for breaking the rules.

    4. You’ve violated their rights

    It’s a hard thing to consider, but if you’re being met with arguments or hostility, it’s possible you’ve violated a tenant’s rights. Unless you’re working with a landlord-tenant law attorney, you might not realize how easy it is to violate a tenant’s rights. Always consult with a lawyer before taking action against a tenant to make sure you’re in the right.

    Managing difficult tenants is an art

    It takes skill and finesse to manage people who always seem to be combative and ready to argue or are unaccountable to their agreements. This is just part of being a landlord.

    You won’t find perfect tenants all the time, so be prepared to deal with things like late/unpaid rent, tenants who want to argue, and lease violations. The best way to mitigate the damage is to know it’s never personal, and be willing to evict a tenant who refuses to cooperate.