How To Talk To A Difficult Tenant: 5 Important Things

Problem Guests.  Uncleanliness inside their apartment and out.  Repeated noise violations. Parking issues. Tenants can give owners and managers a plethora of problems regardless of how clear the rules are laid out in the lease agreement. 

And when it comes to having a direct conversation with your tenants, it can be one of the most uncomfortable situations you will have to deal with as a landlord.  

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When to have a conversation with a Problem Tenant

First off, it is crucial that you address the situation as soon as possible.  The longer you let it go, the worse it is going to get.  The problem is going to build and escalate to where it gets out of control. 

The absolute best course of action to take in addressing the problem immediately, up-front, so there is no room for misunderstanding. 

The tenant will know that you are aware of the situation and not think that they can get away with whatever they are doing and that you are not going to let it slide. 

By addressing the issue as soon as possible, you are also retaining and keeping happy the rest of your tenants.  Chances are, problems are going to come with other tenants complaining about someone doing something.  Not always, but this is often times the case.

If their gripe is legitimate and they aren’t just going around stirring up drama for someone they don’t care for, then addressing the problem quickly is not only good for your apartment complex, it crucial in retaining your other tenants as well.  

It also shows the other tenants in the complex that you are capable and willing to address a problem quickly and effectively.  This sends them a message that the manager is competent and able to have those tough situations.

They are going to think twice before violating the rules knowing that you may be knocking on their door.  

There are times and situations where sending a letter or notice to a tenant about an issue just isn’t working, and you would really prefer to avoid having to go through an eviction process over something that can be avoided.  

We are going to go through 5 Important Things you as a landlord should know about when having that difficult conversation with your problem tenant. 

Know Your Rights and Document, Document, Document

The vast majority of problems have their solutions written right in the lease agreement.   Being too loud at 2:00 AM? You get a written violation and it goes from there. Parking where you’re not supposed to be parking?  A kind letter informing the tenant of appropriate parking areas is the first major step.  

Now, when things escalate beyond just being able to send a notice, or the actions of another tenant are negatively impacting other tenants, then you are going to have to have those direct conversations.   However, one of the most important steps in doing this is Documentation. 

Documentation literally can be the difference not only between a positive or negative outcome but the difference in whether or not legal action has to be taken if it comes down to it. 

Every phone call and message regarding the problem topic, every conversation you have, and every notice you send needs to be documented and put in their file.  If you have this track history, then you have a record of what they have done, and what you have done to try and rectify the problem.

Not having this documentation can backfire on you both indirectly dealing with the tenant, or if you, unfortunately, have to go to court. 

A Customer Relationship Management system can help you document and store all of these communications and notifications you need to have.  

Spreadsheets, Word Documents, and simple written notes can absolutely serve the same purposes as this customer relationship software, the important thing is just that you have it documented somewhere.  

If it finally comes to the point where you need to evict a tenant, then you have the documentation to back you up.   You are able to reference the notices or communication you gave them regarding the issue, what the lease and apartment policy is about this subject, and then take the action you need to take to protect the property and the sanctity of the other tenants. 

In the end though, no matter what the resolution ends up being… DOCUMENT!

Consider the Upside and the Downside

There are going to be potential positives and potential negatives if you decide that you need to confront a tenant directly about an unsatisfactory situation.   The conversation could make things better, but it also could make it worse.

Can the problem potentially be solved with a simple notice slipped under the door that asks them to park someplace else?  Or is the problem serious enough that you need to have a face-to-face with them so they know the seriousness of the situation? 

Much of how these situations are handled comes down to the individual personality of the manager.  If he is confrontation adverse, then he will probably not be waiting for tenants to pull in and tracking them across the yard to have the conversation. 

On the other hand, if the manager has no problem with confrontation, then he will more than likely confront the tenants too much, in which case they can feel like he or she is being a bit too draconian with them. 

There are upsides and downsides to confronting a tenant.  You need to make sure that the situation warrants it. If it doesn’t warrant it, maybe a phone call or text or written notice will suffice.   This all comes down to a personal judgment call on what merits a confrontation and what doesn’t.

While as manager or landlord, you want to protect your property and the happiness of your tenants and want all problems to go away quickly, not create more problems or derision.   

Knowing when to have a direct confrontation and when not to is critical to maintaining a good balance as manager. 

Leave Your Emotions out of the Conversation

Keeping professional can be the toughest part of the conversation.   Obviously, at this point, you are not happy in any way, shape, or form with the actions of the tenant, and you probably also have liability to your own property to consider and other upset tenants that are on you to rectify the issue.  

All of these things are going to create pressure and stress you just don’t need. Just simply having an issue to deal with you think is unnecessary is going to elicit an emotional response inside of you.  

Keeping those emotions in check during the confrontation can mean the difference of the outcome being simple and easy, or having it be a contentious fight.   

A good way to keep it from escalating is to reiterate to your tenant that the issue that you are discussing from them “Isn’t Personal.”  You aren’t coming over to talk to them because you dislike them, or hate them, or anything to that extent.  

You are simply addressing an ongoing concern that you have, letting them know of the problem or transgression, that this situation is against the rules of the lease and is affecting other tenants in the complex.   

Talking to your tenant the way you would want to be talked to will also go a long way in helping resolve the situation.  Just a little bit of human courtesy will go along way in showing that you as the manager recognize them as a fellow human and not just a renter.  

Just a little bit of empathy and listening, even if you eventually have to speak up against their sentiment will show them that even though you disagree in a professional manner, you still listened to their gripe. 

What can you both agree upon?

During any conversation you have in person with the tenant, you need to be looking for things, even small things, that you and the tenant can agree on.   This can be in the form of a statement like, “I know you were just having some friends over, but if you were trying to sleep at 2:00 AM and had to work the next morning, would you be upset?”

If you can work the conversation in a way that the tenant can relate the situation back to themselves and understand what the grievance or violation actually is, they are much more likely to acquiesce to your request to change the behavior.  

Additionally, the tenant may say things like, “Well, so and so does this too!” In an attempt to try and show that they are only doing the equivalent of what someone else is doing.   The important thing here is to not get into an argument that involves the actions or potential actions of another tenant that isn’t directly related to the issue at hand.

Address the situation with them, tell them that you will look into the grievance they have regarding the other tenant’s behavior, demonstrate to them that you hear them, but stay focused on your topic.   

Whether it is you or the tenant making points, find small things that you can agree on.  This shows that you have an understanding on some level with them even if you disagree with them on the crucial point. 

This technique gives you a much greater chance at a successful resolution as opposed to going over, chastising them, putting them instantly on the defense, and trying to cram something down their throat.   

Be professional.  Listen. And find some common ground, albeit small, that you can build a base of conversation and understanding on. 

Layout Future Expectations

Picture yourself leaving the apartment of the tenant you have to talk to.   What is your desired resolution? What are you expecting them to do and when?  What does that look like to you? 

Simply confronting a tenant about a grievance isn’t enough.  You need to outline for them why you are here talking to them, what the problem is, and what you expect to see in the future.  

Showing them what you expect from here on out both lets them know that you are completely aware of the situation and that you will be monitoring it, and it also gives them direction on what sort of behavior or actions you are expecting from them in the future.  

Telling them that they need to be quiet after 10:00 on weekdays can mean different things to different people.  If they aren’t the type of people who are conscientious about their fellow tenants, then they may push that boundary of “quiet” to its outer limits.  

Therefore, you need to explicitly tell them what you expect of them during these hours… No loud music, no rowdy guests, no making commotion, no having loud unnecessary conversation in the hallways and common areas, etc.   In this manner, they know what you expect and can mold their behavior on these specific expectations.  

Additionally, if the complaint has other tenants as a component, you will be able to tell them the exact specifics you told them.  That way, they have the security in knowing you addressed the problem, and that they know exactly what to look for in future instances.   

How Can I Get Better At Having Difficult Conversations?

As with anything, the best way to learn is to learn from the best.  If you are the type of manager that is uncomfortable having those difficult conversations, or you have no problem having a confrontation, but it never turns out the way you want, there are things to help. 

An amazing resource that you can take advantage of is: How To Have That Difficult Conversation by Dr. Henry Cloud.

Dr. Cloud takes you through the entire process and psychology about those difficult situations you have to have in your life, why we need to have them, and how to go about having them.  

The book will not only help you with confrontation but also help you in other areas of your life to improve your relationship and intimacy with other people.   

Take advantage of this incredible resource and improve your communication during those times you need to have those difficult conversations with tenants. 

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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