I’m still in the process of trying to get my fourplex cleared out so I can start necessary renovations. One tenant finally moved out last Friday, two weeks after I started an eviction to get her out. I have two tenants left. One is a really hardworking guy, and the nicest tenant of the bunch. For the first month where I was collecting the rent at the building, he was the one and only tenant who called me on the first to try to coordinate the payment of his rent (he pays all cash), while the others just lay low to see if I would contact them. My other remaining tenant is my worst tenant. They’re the ones who had living room furniture on their uncovered patio (they have since dumped a couch in the planter area near the front of the building), and who have ten chickens in their garage, and probably 8 people living in their house. There’s a couple living there, along with several children and a couple others, and to make matters worse, the male adult tenant is a bully.
Not My First Rodeo
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I have been bullied before. As a female attorney, I have come across my fair share of opponents who felt that because of my age (relatively young compared to them), or my gender, they would just try to steamroll me to try to get what they wanted. I’m not talking about someone who is confident in their position and who presents a strong case. Those are the good ones. I’m talking about someone who treats men in a professional manner and then turns to me and makes demeaning comments and adopts a derogatory tone. I’ve been told before that I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ve been yelled at for not immediately conceding to my opponent’s position, and I’ve even been told by one attorney that because of my attitude, he was going to have to go home and beat his wife (he really said that). In one instance, my opposing counsel called me out of a deposition to talk outside, stood me outside the window in full view of my clients, and got in my face and raised his voice, saying that if I had the experience that he had in the courtroom, I would know that I don’t have a case.
Yeah. I waxed the floor with that guy (in the courtroom, not on the sidewalk). And it felt great!
In any event, I know a bully when I see one, and I’ve had enough practice dealing with them that I feel pretty confident in how to handle the situation. So when I showed up to collect the rent from my problem tenants this past month, and the male tenant decided he was going to throw his weight around, I wasn’t backing down.
What to Do if Your Tenant is a Bully
On the 4th of the month, I stopped by the tenant’s place to try to collect rent. I brought an extra copy of the rent increase notice I had served the prior month, as a reminder of the amount they needed to pay. I was told by the prior landlord that this tenant always paid in cash on the fourth, so that’s the schedule I was following. This month, when I arrived on the fourth, there was no rent money, and there were no adults who were willing to talk to me or pay it. The tenant sent her son to the door to talk to me, where he sheepishly explained that his mom (“Andrea”) wasn’t home to pay the rent. I asked him to call her, and he tried, but Andrea kept sending the calls to voicemail.
I was really frustrated with Andrea already. I had been by her house half a dozen times trying to speak to her. When I first bought the place, I gave her a letter with my contact information, and a couple of notices. One was a 60-day notice to quit the premises. Another was a 30-day notice of a rent increase. The cover letter explained that I need the building to be vacant so I can do necessary repairs, and I even offered to pay her $400 if she would move out by the end of the month, as opposed to the end of the following month. I was trying to create financial incentives for her to move sooner, because every day that I have some of the units vacant and waiting to start work, I’m losing money. I asked her to call me to discuss it, because I wanted to make sure she understood it. She never called. Every time I went by their house, I had to talk to her son, and he always said that he was going to ask her to call me, but she refused to do it.
Last Month’s Rent Collection
Last month, when I arrived on the fourth to collect the rent from this tenant, Andrea wasn’t home. I spoke to her son and her husband (“Aaron”), and they said she had the rent money, but she was at work. I said I would go pick it up from her at work. Finally, Aaron said he would go get it from her and come back. Andrea only worked about 5 minutes away, and she already had the cash ready. I thought it was interesting that if she had the cash, she apparently didn’t trust her husband enough to leave the money with him in the morning so he could pay rent if I came by. I also noticed that in the many times I had been by the house, at varying times of the day, the husband was always home, and he always looked like he hadn’t showered or done anything that day. I suspect he doesn’t have a job, and/or that he uses drugs. Either way, the decision-maker in the relationship was clearly her, and not him.
This Month’s Rent Collection: the Confrontation
So this month, when I arrived on the fourth and Andrea refused to pick up her son’s phone calls, and when Aaron refused to go get the rent from her, I told her son that she needed to call me by the next day, or I was going to have to start the eviction process. That night, at around 11:30 pm, I got a voicemail and a text from Andrea, telling me that if I came by tomorrow (the 5th), she would have the money.
I arrived on the fifth, and for the first time ever, I got to speak to Andrea. She came to the door, and Aaron stood behind her with his arms folded across his chest. Andrea attempted to pay me the old rent amount. I said no, and reminded her of the new rent amount. She played dumb, saying she didn’t know about the rent increase. I told her that I had left her a copy of the rent increase notice before the first of last month, and I mailed a second copy to her home address. I even dropped off another copy of the notice the day before, so she knew what the amount was. She said all she had was the old rent amount. This is when Aaron chimed in. He loudly said “$1,300, and that’s it.” This is the guy who, the month before, pretended not to know enough English to understand me when I told him that he needed to have his wife call me.
I said no, $1,300 wasn’t it, the new rent amount was $1,430. He was angry, and said that was all they were going to pay. I calmly said “that’s not how this works. You don’t just decide what the rent is. I gave you a notice with the new rent amount, and that’s the amount you need to pay.” He said they were only going to pay $1,300, period. I said that if that was all they were going to pay, I was going to have to proceed with the eviction. He said he would call his attorney, and they would delay the eviction and make it take 3 to 6 months before they would leave. The whole time he was hopping around in the background, almost like a boxer in a ring.
My response was calm and assertive. I told him that I was an attorney, and I wasn’t afraid. I did everything according to the law, and if I needed to evict them, then I would. I then turned my attention to Andrea, since she was the decision-maker anyway. She said “OK, then, how about $1,400.” She claimed that they wouldn’t be able to afford to move out at the end of the month if they paid the full $1,430. I said that I wasn’t inclined to give them a discount on the front end when her husband was just threatening to stay past the end of the month and make my life hell during the eviction process. Aaron took this as his cue to jump in again (almost literally, what with all the hopping around he was doing). He shouted: “Tenants have rights!” I said I knew that they had rights, and I had fully complied with the law in giving them the proper notices.
I turned back to Andrea. She wondered why I was forcing them to leave. I told her that, as I said in the letter, I needed everyone to move out so I could do all the repairs I need to do, including window replacement, paint inside and out, replacing the garage doors, tenting for termites, etc. She asked if I was making the other tenants move, too, and I said yes. I also told her that I was even forced to evict the tenants in Apartment D because they refused to move after their notice period was up (they had a shorter period, because they had lived there for less than a year).
Aaron was still hopping around in the background, interjecting “Tenants have rights! We have rights!” I ignored him and focused on Andrea. Again, she said “$1,400.” I told her again that, based on what her husband was saying about giving me trouble later, I wasn’t going to give her a discount now. I told her that if she was out by the end of the month, I would give her the extra $30 back then. I told her that if she moved earlier, I would even give her a little more money to help make it easier for her to move. She perked up a little at that.
Finally, she handed me an envelope with $1,300 in it, and pulled the extra $130 out of her back pocket. Aaron was upset and he stalked off into the apartment. I told her to call me or text me and keep me in the loop about their move-out date. She said that she would.
All in all, I think the discussion went fairly well. Because Andrea was being the calm one, and especially because she was the decision-maker, I remained focused on her as much as possible. I only looked at Aaron on the few occasions when I was responding to his statements, but when he was hopping around and repeating himself, I ignored him. By focusing on Andrea, I was sending a message to Aaron that he had no power here. That probably made him madder, but he knew that I wasn’t going to be intimidated by his tactics.
If you’re nervous about confronting a tenant (or anyone else) and you feel like they’re trying to intimidate or bully you, try to remain calm and in control. If you’re feeling less confident than that on the inside, that’s fine, but fake it on the outside. If you rise to meet a bully’s level of anger, it usually just stokes the fire and makes things worse. By refusing to be intimidated, and acting as though you’re in calm control of the situation, the bully will get the message that their tactics aren’t working, and it will usually shake their confidence, too.
Have you ever had to deal with a bully, and how did you handle it?