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Three Ways to Deal with Difficult Residents

by Amanda Cupp on August 4th, 2015

Every property manager has faced them at one point or another: terrible residents. Whether they blare loud music, are constantly late with the rent, or cause property damage, there are endless ways for residents to make your life — and the lives of their neighbors — more difficult. While you can’t always change the way residents behave, you can change how you deal with the situation. Let’s take a closer look at three smart ways to deal with less-than-desirable residents.

  1. The Role of Rules

The first question to ask yourself is whether residents are being deliberately difficult, or if they’re not familiar with the rules. In some cases bad behavior is simply a lack of understanding. This is one reason why it’s essential to have a written policy including all of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of your community.

From the day the rent is due to the cut-off time for loud music and parties, each rule should be detailed, documented and delivered to every resident in one comprehensive document on move-in day.

Additionally, include all important details — such as when the rent is due — on the lease to be signed by the resident. This helps you establish a professional relationship while providing a paper trail if things take a turn for the worse.

  1. Stick to the Rules

Once you’ve made rules, it’s essential to stick with them. After all, residents only get away with what property managers allow them to get away with. By ignoring a situation or letting unacceptable behavior slide, you’re essentially granting them permission to continue. For example, if a resident pays you late and you don’t charge the standard late fee, what incentive does he have to pay promptly in the future?

Financial penalties are particularly effective when it comes to getting the message to residents that late payments aren’t tolerated. A grace period is likely to be appreciated by residents, but if a check arrives even one day outside that window, immediately follow up with a late fee, a notice to “pay or vacate,” within a certain time frame, and a “notice serving fee.”  These fees add up, ensuring that residents will think twice before paying late in the future.

Staying strict from the onset not only increases the odds that rules will be followed, but also helps maintain open lines of communication. After all, if a resident has agreed to a set of rules and enforcing them is part of your job description, he doesn’t have grounds to be upset. If a resident does get angry, don’t take it personally: remind yourself that this is a business, not a personal relationship.

  1. Take Legal Action

If you’ve set rules, confirmed that your residents understand them, and are still struggling to keep them in line, it may be time to consider legal action. As a property manager, you’re responsible for safeguarding the condition of the community and the safety and happiness of its residents. In extreme cases, eviction may be the best way to protect both.

Be sure to talk to a qualified lawyer to determine the best way to evict a resident. Different states have different laws, and failure to follow the proper protocol can end up costing you.

If you’d prefer to avoid eviction, an approach called “cash for keys” lets you offer financial incentives aimed at encouraging residents to move on. While the last thing you may feel like doing is paying terrible residents money, think of it as an investment in your residents, as well as in your personal job satisfaction.

One last takeaway? The easiest way to avoid bad residents is to not admit them in the first place. A proper screening, including background, credit, and reference checks, as well as income verification, can help you determine whether a potential resident qualifies as a keeper. If his/her verified income isn’t at least three times the rent — a standard rule of thumb in real estate — consider waiting until a better resident comes along.

The expression goes that there are only two certainties in life — death and taxes. However, property managers know there is a third: bad residents. These three tips can help you navigate this common property management challenge toward resolution.