** This article should not be considered legal advice, and we recommend that you consult with an attorney regarding specific legal questions and situations. **
Bad tenants can be a huge source of stress for property owners, especially if you’re struggling to find a resolution and fear retaliation from the tenant. Additionally, California's tenancy laws tend to favor tenants' rights and are some of the strictest in the country. If you’re in a tough spot and wondering what to do, here are a few options.
What is a bad tenant?
The criteria for what makes a “bad” tenant can be quite different based on the landlord, but the most common issues people experience with tenants are:
- Late or missed payments
- Maintenance issues leading to long-term issues with the home (mold and pests)
- Property damage beyond normal wear and tear
- Poor communication
- Housing more people than the lease allows/ subletting to another party
- Neighborhood complaints, usually about noise and behavior
- Unauthorized pets
- Illegal activity
Set Clear Boundaries
Setting clear boundaries with troubled tenants can save you a lot of headaches down the road. Communicating issues early allows them to be addressed right away instead of ballooning into long-term issues or patterns of behavior.
A well-written lease is essential for being able to hold tenants responsible for defined expectations such as payment timelines and maintenance expectations.
Conduct Regular Inspections
Regular biannual or annual inspections can also aid in the discovery of maintenance issues, property damage and lease violations. This also keeps you aware of the state of your property. Note that you will need to provide notice to the tenant before conducting the inspection. In California, Section 1950.5 (f) requires a minimum of 48 hours notice prior to inspecting the unit.
Additionally, keeping maintenance records for the property can help prevent the tenant from claiming that the unit is inhospitable as a legitimate reason for withholding rent payments.
Keep written records of all your communications - emails, phone calls, written notices, inspection photos etc. This will help reduce miscommunication between you and your tenant, as well as give you a clear paper trail should you need to evict or start legal proceedings.
Hire a Property Management Company
Hiring an experienced property manager can help ensure that you get a good tenant. A good property manager should have the experience to help you create a favorable lease agreement and vet potential tenants. They can also take care of inspections and enforcement.
You’ll want to find a management company that has experience in managing properties similar to yours, in the same legal jurisdiction and can provide references from past property owners.
Penalties & Eviction
Having a thorough and well-written lease agreement at the beginning of a rental period is critical. Most lease terms will account for late fees if the monthly rent payment is not received by a specific day of the month. It is important that the tenant understands that late fees will be enforced and collected, so they don’t develop bad habits of consistently paying late. Many landlords have mortgages on their properties and the lenders will charge late fees as well.
California law does not specify the maximum fees that you are allowed to levy, but stipulates that the fee should be “reasonable”. Often California landlords will charge around 5% of the rent cost as a late penalty.
Additionally, landlords are able to charge $25 for the first bounced check, and then $35 for each bounced check after that.
Security deposits are a necessary part of any lease agreement, but can frequently lead to disputes. Countless lawsuits have been filed against landlords for improper return of security deposits. Disagreements about when the damage occurred, what is legitimate wear and tear and landlord response to reported issues are frequent causes. For both landlord and tenant, it is crucial to document the condition of the property prior to moving in with written and picture evidence. As a landlord, it is important to keep receipts and video evidence of any repairs made to the property during the rental period.
In California, the maximum a landlord may collect as a security deposit is two months’ rent for an unfurnished residential property, and three months’ rent for a furnished residential property. However, you will also want to check with your municipality as some have started to limit the amount of security deposits that can be collected by landlords as part of a trend to protect renters and affordability.
Giving Notice of Eviction
Evicting a tenant can be a long and arduous process, and requires detailed adherence to the law in case the tenant disputes the eviction.
Each state has different eviction notice requirements. In California, a landlord is required to give a 3-day, 30-day, 60-day or 90-day notice based a number of factors and whether the eviction is an At-Fault Eviction or a No-Fault Eviction.
At-Fault Evictions include:
- Non-payment of rent
- A material breach of the lease
- Nuisance, waste, or unlawful use of the property
- Criminal activity
No-Fault Evictions include:
- When the landlord wants to move back into the property
- When a landlord wants to move a family member into the property
- Substantial renovations or demolition
- They have continued to stay after a lease has expired
For non-payment of rent, a 3-day notice is used. Longer notices are required for no-fault evictions, like when the lease has expired, but the tenant has made their rent payments on time.
In all cases, locking a tenant out of the property is illegal regardless of eviction status. You will need to file a lawsuit in order to address tenants who refuse to vacate the property.
File Eviction Case in Court
An eviction notice is an instruction for the tenant to take action. With a 3-day notice, they are instructed to make the rent payment in full or move out. Other notices just require that the tenant move out. The eviction notice is the first step in the legal eviction process. If the tenant does not comply with the requirements of the notice, after the time specified has expired, the landlord may initiate a legal eviction case.
Once filed, the tenant will be given notice that an eviction lawsuit has been filed. They will be given the opportunity to respond if there is something about the eviction that is disputed. If the tenant does not respond, a default judgment may be granted. If they do respond, but the response does not make a sound legal argument, they may be subject to a summary judgment. Otherwise, a trial may be set where all parties appear to plead their case. If the landlord receives an eviction judgment and the tenant still does not leave on their own accord, the eviction may be enforced by the sheriff’s department.
Part Ways with the Property
If the prospect of having to continue to deal with your bad tenant is daunting, or if you have a limited timeline in which to address the situation, then selling the property might be the easiest solution for you. While it might seem extreme to sell the property, it is a fast and convenient way to get out of a difficult tenant situation.
Haven Homebuyers will purchase your property for cash, and close on the deal in as little as five days, even in occupied homes. We will make an honest offer on your property and purchase your rental property as-is. You get the peace of mind of being able to deal with the situation quickly, without looking at a potentially long and expensive process. We will buy your property in it’s current condition, which means you don’t need to worry about property damage or cleaning.