Ending a tenancy

Dealing with a problem tenant

When it comes to getting the best tenants, it pays to properly vet your potential tenants and head off potential problems at the pass.But if you’re reading this, there’s a chance you already find yourself in an unfortunate position and are wondering how to deal with problem tenants. So we’ve put together this quick guide to help you manage the situation.

Remain professional

Regardless of how belligerent or rude your tenant becomes, keep your cool. Remember this is your business, and you should treat it accordingly. A reputation for becoming aggressive or obstinate (even when you think the tenant deserves it) can have long-term repercussions on your ability to rent property.

Engage with the neighbours

You may receive complaints from a neighbour about (for instance) your tenant having regular loud night parties or causing a nuisance (say, by failing to dispose of rubbish responsibly). Be proactive and find out if the problem is recurring – have the police ever had to get involved?

It can be tempting to automatically side with the complainant, but having a relationship with several neighbours can help corroborate the problem. Written statements can be very helpful.

You may discover that the neighbour in question has a reputation for complaining about minor issues. And by ignoring their complaint, you may protect what may otherwise be a good relationship with a reliable tenant.

Have a heart

Be human. We all have a party every now and again, and many of us have cashflow problems from time to time.

If you come down on your tenant like a tonne of bricks because they’ve had a late night, or are a few days late with their rent once in a blue moon, you could scare them into jumping ship – and there’s no guarantee their replacement would be any better.

Keep accurate records

Record the time, date and content of any conversions or correspondence you have with your tenant, whether formal or informal. Keep electronic and printed copies of any letters, emails and contracts – a file per tenant (or per property) may be a good way of managing this.

You may want to conduct all correspondence by email, as this will create an electronic record of what’s been said. Creating this kind of paper trail can be helpful if and when a dispute arises around maintenance or other tenant requests.

Alternatively, you can deal with it face-to-face, although this may introduce delays as you shouldn’t turn up at the property unannounced. Remember, if you speak by phone or in person, you’ll have no record of the conversation if you end up in a dispute – don’t be tempted to secretly record it on your phone. This is actually illegal.

We’d advise against getting a third party involved to deal with a late-paying or otherwise troublesome tenant – if you’re getting nowhere yourself, it’s time to pursue the legal avenues open to you.

Chase late rent promptly

We recommend you contact your tenant after three days to remind them that the rent is due.

They may have simply forgotten, changed their bank details, or have a short-term cashflow issue. A polite reminder can grease the wheels and may prompt them to explain the delay.

Beginning eviction proceedings

If the relationship sours significantly, you can begin eviction proceedings. There are two types of eviction notice; if you’re evicting a problem tenant, you’re most likely to be issuing a 'Section 8 Notice'.

In England and Wales, some of the legally-recognised grounds for eviction relate to troublesome tenants. You can give your tenant a notice of eviction if any of the following apply:

  • They’re consistently late with their rent.
  • They’re two months (or eight weeks) or more behind on their rent.
  • They’ve sold items you supplied with the property, like the sofas and white goods.
  • They’re causing a nuisance to neighbours.
  • They’re been convicted of using the house for illegal purposes (e.g. selling drugs).
  • They’ve allowed the property to deteriorate to a dangerous state of uncleanliness.
  • They’ve made false declarations when applying for the tenancy (e.g. using a stolen identity).

If the tenant refuses to leave, a court can issue a possession order; they’ll always grant this in some cases (such as rent arrears), or it may be discretionary in others.

If your application for a possession order is successful but your tenant refuses to leave after the notice period set by the court, you can employ County Court Bailiffs to enforce the notice and take possession of the property. There’s an additional cost associated with this, and it may take a number of weeks for them to set an eviction date.

You can speed up an eviction by force by applying to have the claim transferred to the High Court, although this is only granted at the discretion of the judge, and High Court Enforcement Officers also carry a far higher cost.

Inform your mortgage provider

It’s important to maintain repayments on your buy-to-let mortgage when a tenant falls behind on rent, or while going through eviction proceedings. If you’re anticipating problems with meeting your repayments, it’s best to speak to your mortgage provider as soon as possible.

Tip: Some landlord insurance policies include a rent guarantee that kicks in if your tenant cannot pay or refuses to pay their rent, so look for this when arranging cover.
Get the police onside

If a tenant is becoming aggressive or threatening, or you suspect they’re using the property for illegal purposes, call 101. You’ll be connected to your local police force, who will take a report of any crime or threat of a crime.

That said, the police can only help with criminal matters, such as threats, violence, or drug dealing. But they cannot evict a tenant: this is a civil matter, and should be handled by the courts.

Be aware: Some police officers aren’t completely familiar with contract law, and have unwittingly helped landlords commit illegal evictions in the past. This exposes you (and them) to prosecution and a claim for damages – illegal evictions are a criminal (not civil) offence, and savvy tenants know this.

Therefore, police should only ever attend evictions alongside bailiffs to:

  • Prevent a breach of the peace.
  • Deal with a violent or abusive tenant
Further support

If you need legal advice and support, contact your landlord insurance provider – you may well have legal assistance included as part of your policy.

Alternatively, there are several resources available online, including Landlord Law.