I often say that my experience as a mom has helped me in my career as a property manager.  I sometimes feel as though I am responsible for parenting more than 800 unruly teenagers and in my experience, educating residents about being good tenants and neighbors regularly becomes part of my job as a landlord and likely, yours as well.

Many of the calls I receive have to do with tenants violating the terms of their rental agreement.  Offenses range from loud parties, to unpaid rent or late fees, to hoarding, unauthorized animals or occupants or lack of care of the property in some fashion. 

Unfortunately, some rental owners turn a blind eye to their tenants’ behavior in order to avoid confrontation or over concerns related to an unplanned vacancy.  If you cannot deal calmly, directly and firmly with your tenants and set clear boundaries for unaccepted behavior, they will often run roughshod over you and your rental unit.  Not only will your property suffer, but so will your self-esteem as you realize they have the upper hand and you are too soft-hearted to deal with the problem.

When we discover a tenant non-compliance issue, we have a four-step process for bringing our errant tenants back into compliance or getting them to move on. 

Step One – The Phone Call 

First, is the friendly phone call, “Hi, this is _______.  I’m calling to let you know that I received a complaint regarding a loud, obnoxious party at your residence last night.  I would like to remind you that while you are entitled to have friends over and celebrate, you are not allowed to disturb the peaceful enjoyment of your neighbors.  Should this behavior continue, I will take progressive action up to and including termination of your tenancy.  I’m hoping that won’t be necessary, but I want you to know the risks involved should you choose to continue this behavior.” 

In most cases, and with reasonable, considerate tenants, that is the only action I will ever have to take.  I do make a note in the tenant’s file that I made the call. 

Step Two – Warning Notice

Upon a second confirmed incident that is the same or substantially the same, my next step is to send an official Warning Notice.  [Use AOA’s Warning Notice – form #136 ]. This becomes part of the tenant’s rental record.  This notice can be used for certain lease violations including failure to clean up pet waste or trash; parking violations, improper use of a vehicle; late payments of utility bills or other service charges; smoking in a non-smoking area and bringing in unauthorized pets. 

Step Three – Serve Cure Violation or Move-Out Notice

If there is a third similar violation, I send a [Three-Day Notice to Cure the Violation or Move-Out. [Use AOA’s form #104.] This is still a curable notice, but if not cured, will result in termination of the tenancy.  If cured within the [three days] or the notice expires with no further violations of that same nature, then the notice hangs out in limbo.  If the tenants repeat the same or substantially the same behavior again, I can then [begin an eviction process or follow up with a Notice to Terminate Tenancy, if not under rent control and on a month-to-month tenancy.]

When I send the Cure Violation notice, I include a letter that informs the tenants of the permanent consequences of a repeat performance and include the following statement – “It is my sincere hope that you will not make me take this final step resulting in termination of your tenancy”.  It is a reminder that this situation is completely within THEIR control, not mine and also clearly communicates that this is truly their final chance to stop.

When I have a tenant on a fixed term lease, I also remind them that termination under this notice does not relieve them (or their co-signers) from liability for either a lease-break fee or actual damages under the terms of their lease.  With college students in particular, this really seems to get their attention as they suddenly realize that they could be without housing AND still have their parents be on the hook for their current lease. 

Step Four – Eviction

One other thing to remember when evicting problem residents is that we all live in the United States of America. When you are taking legal action against another party, (and notices are legal documents that could eventually be presented as evidence in a court proceeding), you had better have evidence of your claim in case you end up in a courtroom with a tenant who is denying the violation.  So, where’s your proof?

I have had issues with some people on campus who like to complain about any noise at all and seem to have a vendetta against college students.  Just because the police are called does not mean there was a violation.  If in doubt, call the police and ask for the details or a copy of the police report.  Many times, police arrive to respond to a complaint and find no violation. 

I had a hostile neighbor once come storming across the street when I was inspecting a campus-area home that we were listing.  She loudly told me that she didn’t want any college students living in her neighborhood and that she would be watching.  I thanked her and told her that we were are Fair Housing company and could not legally discriminate against college students, but that we took our responsibility seriously to ensure that whoever rented the home would be good neighbors.  W did rent to a very nice group of track team members who were then relentlessly harassed by this woman who filed numerous unsubstantiated noise complaints to the point where even the police got tired of hearing from her.

In all of her more than 12 reports, there was only one substantiated incident.  So, keep in mind the source of the complaint and remember that unsubstantiated claims are not evidence of a violation.

Compilation of evidence can include police reports, citations or arrests, witness testimony or photographs.  If you have a neighbor who has been complaining about truly problematic behaviors, ask them to document their concerns and ask if they are willing to testify to what they saw in court.  If the answer is no, then you have a problem of evidence.  In my experience, many folks like to complain but don’t want to get personally involved.

While you can’t always fix what’s wrong with your tenants, most of the time you can have the desired impact.  You get to see the tone of the relationship, so maintain a friendly yet business-like demeanor and keep the ball in their court.  And remember, once you start down the slippery slope of non-compliance, it’s almost impossible to get back up that hill, so don’t let it happen.  You don’t have to be nasty or rude, but don’t allow even minor violations to slide.

This article offers general suggestions only and is no substitute for professional legal assistance.  Please consult with an attorney for advice related to your specific situations.

Reprinted with permission of the Rental Housing Journal, Metro.