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How to tackle tricky tenants: know your rights

Dealing promptly and effectively with difficult tenants before problems worsen is an important part of ensuring you get the return on investment you need on your rental property. 

Happily, most renters are decent, trustworthy and unlikely to cause your major headaches. 

But when things do go wrong, bad tenants can be a nightmare that, at worse, decimate a landlord’s investment. As well as acting quickly, you need to decide whether the issue is a one-off, a problem that can be easily remedied, or something more serious.

According to anecdotal evidence from landlords, there can be problems in as many as one-fifth of all tenancies. 

Over time, you may encounter a range of issues, from the comparatively minor, such as a stained carpet, to criminal activity such as running a cannabis farm from the premises.

However, unpaid rent is the most common issue you’re likely to encounter as a landlord. And property services provider LSL says some 67,000 tenants are more than two months behind with their rent. 

Clearly, prompt action is needed. While you can’t threaten, you’re entitled to phone the tenant if rent hasn’t been paid by the day of the month that it’s due, as established in your contract. If there’s no response, email, then write to say you’ll visit the property in person. Bear in mind there may be a valid reason for non-payment, from bereavement to bank hitches – or the tenant may not have received their salary. 

Unfortunately, unpaid rent isn’t the only potential problem. Noise nuisance is another, as is anti-social behaviour. Where problems affect neighbours, you are legally obliged to take measures and lawfully evict the tenant if necessary. 

This can be done with a Section 8 or Section 21 notice. The former is generally used for rent arrears, especially for newer tenants. A Section 21 is typically deployed to get a property back without having to give a reason, under an assured shorthold tenancy.

Bear in mind that if you haven’t registered the deposit via the Tenancy Deposit Scheme to protect it, and given tenants the right information about this when the tenancy was renewed or started, a judge can refuse an eviction notice.

Equally, you may not have legal authority for eviction if a property hasn’t been maintained to the right legal standard, and tenants may even have withheld rent for this. Deal with reasonable requests for repairs quickly and fairly.

As ever prevention beats cure. Regular property inspections, matching the rent due date with your tenant’s pay day, insisting on standing order payments of rent, a thorough inventory on move-in day and doing proper tenant vetting in the first place, will all help minimise problems and reduce the risk of tenant disputes.