Whether you’re a rookie or an experienced landlord, you’ve probably lost sleep over deciding whether to get rid of a bad tenant.  The first two rules of being a landlord are (1) collect all of your rents, ON TIME, and (2) keep your rentals full.  But that’s not the end of the story: it is equally important to get (and keep) good tenants in your rentals.  If you have multiple rental units near each other, such as a duplex, fourplex, or even an apartment building, a bad tenant can spoil the whole bunch.

Tenant screening is critical.  It’s important to run income and credit checks on your prospective tenants, and to meet all of the people who will be living in your rental, and maybe even their pets (photos can be deceiving in terms of size and personality).  But what if someone makes it through your screening process, and turns out to be a bad apple anyway? 

What Makes a Tenant a Bad Tenant?

Sometimes, it’s not totally obvious that you have a bad tenant.  Sometimes, there are a few vague indicators that, standing alone, don’t seem like a problem.  The key is adding them all together.

For example, there was one light fixture in one area of our apartment building that always seemed to have a burned-out bulb.  A few times, it turned out that the bulb was partially unscrewed, so it just didn’t turn on, and a few other times, the bulb actually went missing.

The tenant whose apartment was right next to that bulb happened to have a lot of friends who would come over.  They would stay for anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.  Tenants are allowed to have friends over, of course, and they weren’t especially loud when I was there.  But they would hang out outside the apartment, usually sitting or standing on the stairs that went up to the second story.  It was annoying to walk around them every time, and it felt a bit intimidating, but it wasn’t enough to concretely identify that person as a bad tenant.

At around this same time, we started having an accumulation of beer bottles and cigarette butts in the main courtyard area.  It wasn’t clear which tenant this was coming from, and it could have been a little bit from a few different tenants.  It was annoying, and the manager was constantly having to pick up those items. 

Putting the Pieces Together

The moment of truth came when one of our good, long-term tenants abruptly gave notice that she was moving out.  This was the sort of tenant you don’t want to lose.  She always paid rent on time.  She was quiet and respectful of others.  And she was often seen outside of her apartment sweeping the sidewalk and removing cigarette butts from the common area.

We asked why she was moving, and she told us that she thought the tenant who lived by the burned-out lightbulb was dealing drugs.  She said he and his friends would always hang out outside, late at night, drinking and smoking and throwing their beer bottles and cigarette butts on the ground.  She said she was afraid to walk around at night, for fear of being harassed by those guys.

It was too late to get our good tenant to stay, but one of the first things we did was serve the bad tenant with a notice to quit.  About a month or two later, the bad tenant was gone, and three different good tenants approached us and thanked us for getting rid of him.  None of these people complained about him before we served the notice, but after the fact, they all had negative things to say and a couple of them said that they had been looking to move to a new apartment because of him.  Yikes!  That could have been four vacancies just because of this one tenant! 

If You See Something, Ask Questions

After this experience, I keep an eye out for minor things that could indicate a bigger problem.  If something seems a little strange, I start talking to the other tenants to see if anything is up.  Fortunately, we were able to catch this problem fairly quickly, although it cost us a good tenant to find out who the bad guy was.  If we hadn’t asked the good tenant why she was moving, or if she had lied to us about the reason for her moving, we could have lost a lot of good tenants as a result of this one bad apple.  And every time a good tenant moves out, you run the risk of having another bad tenant come in.

If you’re a landlord, have you ever had a problem where a bad tenant affected tenants in other apartments?  If you’re a tenant, have you ever lived next to a bad neighbor who made you want to move?  If so, did you tell management, and did they do anything about it?

This post was originally written by me for the No Nonsense Landlord’s blog.