3 Dangers of Unscreened Tenants

Even if you screen every tenant that you accept into your rental property, there are other ways that unscreened tenants may end up living there. Your tenant might let a down-on-their-luck friend couch-surf while they get back on their feet. They may be caught up in a whirlwind romance that has their significant other staying at the property more often than not. Whatever the situation is, it can complicate things.

A guest staying beyond the reasonable time span you define in the lease agreement is essentially an unscreened tenant on your property.

You might not think it’s the biggest deal in the world, but there are some very real dangers unscreened tenants bring to your property.

1. Unknown background

You don’t know anything about the person who is living in your property.

When you bring a tenant onto the lease agreement, you probably check their credit and criminal background to ensure they can afford the property and they won’t use it for illegal activities. You don’t have that reassurance with a friend or family member that the tenant brings into your property. The tenant may assume that their friend or family member is trustworthy, but some people are very good at hiding bad behavior to get what they want.

You don’t want to kick out a good tenant because they won’t get rid of an unscreened visitor who stays past the lease agreement terms. You also don’t want to risk your property becoming involved in illegal activity. If the original tenant is interested in the guest staying on a long term basis, talk to them about screening the new addition to the apartment. They need to go through the same screening process the original tenant does to ensure everything is on the up and up. You don’t necessarily need to add them to the lease, depending on the situation, but you do want to do your due diligence to protect your property.

2. No security investment in the property

The unscreened tenant doesn’t have anything tying them to the property except the tenant that is on the lease. They don’t have a monetary investment, so they don’t have a direct incentive to keep up on maintenance and cleanliness. If they are staying for a significant amount of time, they add to the wear and tear of the property. They also run the risk of damaging the property, whether through negligence or malice.

3. No consequence for disruptive behavior

Your unscreened tenant also doesn’t deal with any consequences for acting disruptively. They aren’t the ones who stand to lose their apartment when they get into arguments on the front porch, hold loud parties, or ignore noise complaints coming from the next door neighbors. That’s all on the on lease tenant, who may not realize just how badly the unscreened tenant is behaving.

Avoiding Unscreened Tenants

You have no way to stop unscreened tenants from getting onto your property. After all, you can’t prevent your tenant from having guests.

What you can do, however, is restrict exactly how long the tenant’s guests can stay before they need to leave the property.

If you aren’t often at the apartment, you won’t necessarily know there’s an unscreened tenant on the property unless neighbors complain. However, it’s important to get this policy in writing so that you can enforce it. If the original tenant refuses to adhere to the lease terms, you have grounds to remove them from your property before a serious situation occurs.

How to Legally Tackle Skipping Tenants

Dealing with tenants who skip out on their lease can be a very frustrating endeavor; however, there are some steps that a landlord can take to recover the money that is owed to them. As a landlord, you have a right to collect money that is owed to you when a tenant leaves the rented property prematurely. A lease agreement with fixed terms protects you from tenants who skip out on their remaining rent. They owe you the rent on that lease for the duration of the lease period or until you are able to rent out the property–whichever comes first. It does not matter whether the tenant gave you notice or they vacated the property in secret; the process of collection is the same.

Create a Documentation File

It is paramount that you keep written documentation of communication between you and the tenant. If the tenant provided you with written notice that they were breaking their lease agreement, include that letter in their file. If the tenant did not provide notice but left in secret, simply type up a short note that explains when you discovered that the property had been vacated.
To achieve the best results, stay organized and detailed in the records that you keep throughout the process. Be sure to record dates, times, and phone numbers associated with any conversations that you have with the tenants. You will need all of this information when you attend the court hearing.

Send a Written Notice to the Skipping Tenant

Send a written notice to the tenant to remind them that they are responsible for paying the rent until the end of the lease or until you find another tenant. Be sure that the notice you send clarifies that they must pay the rent on time in accordance with the lease agreement. The notice should also include clarification that you will pursue legal action if the rent is not paid as required under the lease.

Inspect the Property

When a tenant provides notice that they are leaving before the end of the lease, inspect the condition of the property as soon as possible. Complete an inspection checklist and note any damage that has been caused by the tenant. You will also need to take pictures of damaged items, but normal wear and tear should be excluded from your list.

Prepare the Property

Make the necessary preparations to lease the property again. Once it’s ready for rental, begin advertising and interviewing potential tenants. You will also need to keep copies of any ads you post and the receipts and costs associated with those ads. You should place this information in the file with your other documentation.

Notify the Original Tenant of the Total Amount Owed

Once you have rented the place or the lease has expired, you will need to send the tenant a notice of the total amount owed. Make sure that you have identified a deadline by which the money must be paid. Let them know if the money is not paid by that time, you will be forced to file a civil suit for the purpose of collecting the money that is owed to you.

If you don’t receive the money by the deadline, you will need to visit the county clerk’s office to file the suit and have a hearing date set. On the date of the hearing, take all of your documentation with you. Once you present it to a judge or justice of the peace, it should be a quick judgment. Not only will you recoup the money for the lost rent, but the judge will most likely make the tenant cover your court costs as well.

Minimizing the Damage Done to Your Property

Normal wear and tear on a unit is… well, normal.

Depending on how long the tenant lives within your house or apartment unit, you’ll see wear on carpets, on walls, and on appliances.

This is all just a part of life in a person’s home, but there are certain things you can do to minimize the damage even before you choose your tenant.

This will help when it’s time to turn the property over.

The shorter the turn around period, the better your income.

There are many ways to protect your property, but protecting for beyond-normal wear and tear (even if it’s not done maliciously) begins during the advertising/screening process.

While certain groups are protected by law that does not mean that you cannot be picky over your next renters.

You can’t market your rental to ‘singles’ or ‘families without children’, of course, but you can make other choices that will help keep your property in better shape.


Smokers are not currently a protected class. Indoor smoking can cause damage the the paint on the walls and to the carpets and make it difficult to eradicate the smell even after the tenant has moved out.

You may be required to paint over nicotine stained walls and do a deeper clean on the unit than you would have with a non smoker.

Many landlords are marketing their properties as ‘smoke free’ now.

Smoking will be prohibited inside these units, and you may choose to only accept applicants who do not smoke at all.

This will also help with renting the property again when it becomes time, as the new applicants see that your property is smoke free and they don’t have to worry about lingering smells.


Unless the applicant is requesting to keep a service animal, a pet is not a protected class.

You’ll want to put some thought into how you want to approach pets, though, because while they’re not protected many renters do own them and you may risk cutting off a significant number of potentially excellent applicants from your pool to choose from.

Though some landlords prefer to keep pets out of their property entirely, some choose instead to limit the breed, size, and number of the pets they allow in.

Meeting the pet is also an option you may choose to entertain as well. You can tell a great deal about the animal from the meeting, such as how well they behave and listen to the owner. You may also choose to charge a pet deposit and/or pet rent to cover any potential costs associated to the clean up.

Irresponsible Tenants

This one is going to be a bit harder to detect, and you won’t always be able to pinpoint it.

There’s a difference in people who live with a bit of disorganization and those that simply do not take care of the property.

When a tenant signs a lease with you they are agreeing to take care of the property as their own.

They are meant to keep it clean and maintained.

There are a couple things you can do to try to catch tenants that might cause real damage to the property before you ever sign the lease with them.

The first is to meet them in person.

Sit down with them, talk, and discuss what they’re looking for.

This won’t always give you a clear view of their habits, but it might.

You may also wish to follow up with their prior landlords.

Check and see how they left the last two or three properties that they lived at.

Were they left in the same condition as received, save the wear and tear? If so, then there’s a better chance they’ll take care of your property as well.

Regular Property Inspections

Granted, this won’t help you catch the problem before you sign the lease, but may help save you money before a small problem grows into a big one.

Make sure to abide by your local laws and give your tenant the appropriate amount of warning before dropping by so that you don’t encroach on their personal space.

You should be able to see any signs if they’re not living up to their end of the lease or if there’s a small maintenance issue that could do real damage if left unattended.

In the end these inspections help both you and your tenant so that the home is safe and secure.

How To Get Rid of Squatters

Your tenant has abandoned the rental property and you haven’t realized this as the property owner.

You’ve been sending out the notices to pay or quit because you haven’t been getting the rent, but the tenant has literally moved out and left the property vacant.

During your inspection of the property to see what is going on, you notice that there are people living in the home that shouldn’t be there.

Those folks are squatters.

Squatting is a fairly common practice. If they haven’t established a tenancy, then knowing how to get rid of squatters is as simple as calling local law enforcement officials to take care of the situation.

If the squatters have established tenancy, however, then you’ll need to officially evict them from your property.

What Happens If a Previous Tenant Left the Power On?

A home is considered to be occupied if it is supplied with power and water.

Squatters don’t have to be actively paying the utility bills of a rental home in order for them to be legally defined as a tenant.

As long as there is no hiding the fact that they are living in the home and the utilities are available to be consumed, most law enforcement officials will look at you if you’ve called them and apologize because they can’t do anything about it.

This means your first step with squatters who are considered tenants is to evict them.

You’ll need to follow the same process that you would with any other tenant, but with one exception: instead of sending a notice to pay or quit, you can send them a notice to terminate tenancy instead.

Landlord/tenant law will dictate how much time you must give the squatters to leave.

Some jurisdictions allow as little as 72 hours. A few go up to 60 days.

If you cut off the utilities to the home of a squatter who has established tenancy, you could be fined, the squatters could sue you, and you might wind up starting the eviction process all over.

Just legally evict them, even if the utilities are in your name, because it’s the cheapest overall cost you’ll face.

Most Squatters Aren’t Going to Go to Court

As long as you have followed the proper procedures according to your landlord/tenant law for eviction, you’ll be able to file for a court motion to proceed with the eviction if the squatters don’t leave the property.

Many will just move out when they receive the first notice, but a few will stick around to be legally evicted.

Once your notice to terminate the tenancy has expired, file a court motion and receive a court order for the eviction.

The squatter will have a chance to respond or defend themselves, but most don’t appear in court and you’ll receive a default judgment.

This judgment will allow the local sheriff’s office to conduct the eviction.

They will remove the people from the premises with a 72 hour notice.

You will then be able to take physical possession of the rental property once again and begin to make repairs as necessary.

You must act immediately whenever squatters are discovered because many jurisdictions will view a 30 day delay as acceptance of the living arrangements.

This would qualify the squatters to be on a month-to-month lease instead, which makes the eviction process even more difficult.

Follow these tips and your local landlord/tenant laws and you know how to get rid of squatters.

How to Set a Late Fee for Rent

If you’ve just picked up a rental property and are creating a lease, then after you decide how much rent you want to charge, you’ll want to decide on late fees. Some landlords don’t charge a late fee for their rent. Others have a flat charge that is assessed if a rental payment is overdue. Sometimes a percentage of the rent is charged as an additional fee. Which is right for you? Many of these choices are already set for you. Landlord/Tenant laws typically dictate a maximum amount that can be charged in late fees. It is generally up to 10% of the rent that is paid each month or a flat fee maximum.

Should You Even Be Charging a Late Fee?

The issue with a late fee being included on a rental agreement is that it allows someone extra time to stay in a rental without actually paying for that privilege. An eviction procedure cannot even begin until the grace period for the late fee has expired. Let’s take two examples for consideration. 1. Landlord A has a flat that he rents for $700 per month. The lease clearly states that rent is due by 5pm on the 1st of the month. He does not have a grace period or a late fee. This means he can file a Notice to Quit or Pay on the 2nd of the month right away in the morning. If the tenant doesn’t pay, with a 3 week average time for eviction, he can have a paying tenant ready to go for his flat by the next month. 2. Landlord B has an apartment that he also rents for $700 per month. The lease states that rent is due on the 1st of the month, but that there is also a grace period until the 5th of the month where no late fees will be charged. After the 5th, the lease states that $70 late fees will be assessed and rent will be due by the 8th. This means that Landlord B cannot start the actual eviction procedures until the 9th of the month. 3. The benefit of setting late fees is that you’ll be able to offset some of your costs that come with the collection of overdue rent. The detriment is that if you have a tenant who is in a rental and isn’t paying what is due, it can be 10-14 extra days of not receiving any income from the rental property.

Late Fees Can Sometimes Be Charged as a First Expense

Depending on your landlord/tenant laws, it may be possible to charge a late fee as a first expense. This means that you could take any rental payments that are received from a tenant and apply them to the late fees first. In the example above, let’s say Landlord B gets paid rent on the 7th of the month for $700. This landlord could then apply the $70 late fee first, meaning that the tenant is still out of compliance on the lease because the full amount has not been paid. An eviction proceeding can still begin. Late fees can be a delicate balancing act. Some landlords may choose to ignore late fees and just start the eviction process immediately. Others may choose to include late fees as a possible way to earn extra profit. Know what your legal limits are before you begin, be consistent with your policies, and you’ll have an overall positive experience.

Are Multi-Family Properties More Profitable?

When investing in real estate, there are always a few questions that must be answered before you start.

One of the most basic is: What types of property make the best investments?

Mixed-use properties have a different set of benefits and challenges than strictly residential.

Multi-family properties can produce more income, but they also come with larger expenses. Single-family homes may be easy to start, but they have hidden costs down the road.

Many investors swear by multi-family properties as the best investment, and they’re not wrong.

Pros of Multi-Family Properties
The benefits of multi-family properties can be summed up in three simple phrases:

  1. Lower taxes
  2. Lower vacancy rates
  3. More convenience

Pay Less in Taxes
Paying property taxes on a single building is typically much less burdensome than paying on separate properties.

This is usually due to one major factor: lot size. Larger lots come with higher tax assessments.

With multi-family dwellings, landlords only pay for one outdoor space (otherwise known as space that doesn’t earn) versus several.
Keep Properties Occupied
Another benefit to multi-family properties is the simple fact that apartments never stay rented 100 percent of the time.

There will be turnover.

In a single-family home, that means the entire property fails to earn when a tenant moves on.

In a multi-family property, staggered rental agreements help ensure that the landlord is never holding a property with no positive cash flow.

Convenient Management
Managing properties can be challenging, particularly when first getting started in the business.

Juggling insurance payments, rental applications, tenant notifications and legal proceedings like evictions is difficult for inexperienced managers.

Add on the challenge of property checks and maintenance scheduling, and it is easy to wind up spending more time on the road than at a rental property.

When all the units are in one place, it is much easier to schedule one day to visit every unit.

This cuts down on travel time, and it can also help minimize major system expenses. For example, landlords only face one roof repair per building, not per residence.

Cons of Multi-Family Properties
With all the obvious benefits, it may be difficult to see the downside, but there is one, and it is big — expenses.

Multi-family properties are more expensive to buy and more expensive to up maintain.

Yes, there is only one roof and one foundation, but there are several kitchens and bathrooms.

There might be a shared laundry room or individual washers and dryers in each unit.

Regardless, what that boils down to is lots of appliances that the landlord has to pay for.

Of course, the same would be true for a landlord who owned several individual properties, but there are some extra cautions that go with multi-family dwellings.

A leak in an upstairs bathroom can ruin several apartments, not just one.

A problem with a water heater might flood a downstairs neighbor.

A fire from a malfunctioning oven can cause smoke damage throughout a property.

This is on top of the higher price tag attached to any obviously commercial venture and the added cost of obtaining property licenses and insurance.

Multi-Family Is Still the Better Bet
The bottom line is that any investment holds an element of risk, but multi-family properties help offset many of the risks associated with real estate.

As long as the price is right, the location is good, and the numbers make sense, a multi-family property stands to make more money now and in the long term.

Why You Should Follow Up With Tenant References

Renting your property to tenants can be a great way to make a living or earn extra money on the side, but without proper diligence, it can also be a source of tension, stress, and financial burden.

The biggest way to prevent headaches and stress when dealing managing tenants is to screen them properly before they sign the lease and take control of your rental space.

In this blog, we’ll touch on the main steps of the tenant-screening process.

These steps, plus a background check, can weed out potentially problematic tenants before they sign a lease for your property.

What is a personal reference?
Personal references, usually asked for on rental applications, are people handpicked by the tenant for landlords to contact.

In an ideal world, these people will vouch for a tenant’s good character telling a landlord what a great person and renter a prospective tenant is.

Personal references usually fit in these categories:

•    Family members and close friends (this is the dominant category)
•    Former roommates and cohabitants of the prospective tenant
•    Work associates (either co-workers or supervisors)
These people can give invaluable insight into a tenant’s behavior and help you figure out whether a tenant will be a positive member of your rental community.

Why check up on them?
So why would you call people who are the trusted confidants of a prospective tenant?

Aren’t they just going to brag on the tenant and give you a positively biased account?

Honestly, the answer to that is probably going to be yes, but without doing the due diligence and asking questions, you might squander a huge opportunity to screen out a potential problem tenant.

A tenant’s personal references are supposed to compliment the tenant’s character, work ethic and respect for their surroundings and others; therefore, positive answers from these references really don’t mean much in comparison to the checks you’ve already made.

One of these handpicked references might say something intentionally or unwittingly that casts doubt on a tenant’s character or viability.

Negative references from a trusted source of a prospective tenant, intentional or said in the throes of conversation, can be a bombshell that could disqualify a tenant from consideration.

Think about it. If the tenant’s mother tells you about times when she or her husband paid the tenant’s bills, wouldn’t that make you think twice about that tenant’s ability to pay his or her rent on time?

If the tenant’s friend mentions the tenant’s penchant for playing loud music and partying, wouldn’t that make you question the tenant’s ability to be a respectful member of your rental community?

If the tenant’s roommate mentions a pet that the tenant “conveniently” left off the rental application, would this cast doubt on the tenant’s honesty and integrity?

Those are things you wouldn’t discover without diligently checking personal references.

Tone of questions
Personal references aren’t going to give you dirt on a tenant unsolicited; therefore, you have to know how to ask the pertinent questions.

Before asking questions, be sure to review The Fair Housing Act and use it as a reference to avoid questions that could get you in civil or legal trouble.

Be sure to ask questions that require more than just a yes or no answer.

Questions such as “How many times was [name of tenant] late on bill payments?” are harder for a reference to avoid than “Was [name of tenant] ever late on a payment?”

Checking up on personal references might seem superfluous, but it’s absolutely necessary in the tenant-screening process.

While you’ll receive glowing reviews most of the time, that occasional negative review of a tenant from a personal reference could save you from disaster.

Writing a Past Rent Due Notice

Most tenants are pretty reliable when it comes to paying the rent on time.

There are a few tenants who might push the deadlines from time to time, but they get the money there.

Then there are a few tenants who pay their rent in bits and pieces as the money comes in.

You might get $100 here, $50 there, and a bag of quarters because they’re using their laundry money in an emergency.

In situations like this, bookkeeping can become a nightmare.

That may be the goal of the tenant who pays periodically instead of in one lump sum.

By making the landlord keep track of how much rent has actually been paid, they are taking advantage of those who don’t keep accurate books.

In the short-term, it means that a tenant can save money on their rent. In the long-term, however, a lease is a contract that covers an entire year. If you discover that you haven’t been paid the right amount of past rent, then here’s what you can do.

A Past Rent Due Notice Is a Collection Letter With a Twist

The first feelings that come to mind with the discovery of past rent that is due is invariably frustration.

Once those feelings begin to subside, you’re ready to take action.

Even if you discover rent is 8 months past due, you can collect on it.

The first step is to write a notice to the tenant to inform them that the rent is missing.

It can be short and simple, but needs to be formatted as a business letter because it counts as an official notice of breech.

Your letter can be as simple as this. In a review of your account, it was discovered that in May 2014, rental payments for the rental property located at 123 Main Street were incomplete. Instead of $1,000, a total amount of $725 was received. Please remit the past due amount of $275 immediately by [Set Date].

Landlord/Tenant laws are different in every jurisdiction, so what you can or cannot do with this notice will depend on those laws.

Some allow for landlords to charge reasonable interest on the past due amount.

Others allow for eviction procedures to be started with the delivery of a notice like this.

The bottom line is this: landlords don’t have to just eat the costs of missing rent.

Is An Eviction Really Necessary?

Although missing some past rent can be financially problematic, it doesn’t automatically mean that a landlord should immediately start an eviction process.

Many tenants will simply cough up the money because they know that it is owed.

Sometimes mental mistakes happen while paying the bills and a long-time tenant might write the wrong amount on the check.

If you’ve had a tenant that has been stable and consistent, then the notice above should be sufficient to secure the missing money.

Any time past rent that is due is found to be missing, the entire history of payments for that tenant should be closely examined.

Sending a past rent due notice is relatively simple.

Make sure to have documented proof of delivery in some form, quickly follow-up on this notice if payment is not received, and more often than not you’ll get the rent you need.

Organization in Your Life as a Property Manager

When it comes to property management, organization can help keep you moving steadily and smoothly forward.

Whether you’re in the middle of tax season or simply keeping up with files on tenants, it’s best to have a steady protocol that you follow throughout the process.

Start with your screening process.

Once you’ve placed your add for your rental you’ll start to receive calls and emails that show interest in the property. While there is certain information that you cannot choose your next tenant based on, there are plenty of details you can look into that will help you choose.

Have each applicant fill out the same application for you so that you are not asking different groups of people different questions.

Once you receive these applications you can begin your pre-screening process to weed out the applicants that will obviously not fit with your property.

Is your rental non-smoking? You can deny any applicant that says that they smoke on their application.

After you run a tenant screening report on them, did you find that their credit score is below what you’re willing to accept?

Make sure to have a list of requirements already written down so that no one can claim discrimination.

Saving Time

If you own multiple properties and/or have another job on top of being a landlord/property manager, you’ll probably find yourself hoping to save time where you can.

Driving all over town to meet with a new tenant to sign paperwork can be troublesome, especially when you find that either you or the new tenant have forgotten a piece of the paperwork and you’ll have to meet again.

You may wish to invest in a service that provides access to electronic signatures so that you can simply email the lease or any other paperwork to the tenant and they may email it back.

This saves time and money in gas and printing costs.

Saving Space

You’ll want to keep detailed files on each tenant that passes through your property.

While they’re there, you’ll be building the file.

Hopefully they’ll come in, live peacefully, and leave without any need to use it in any sort of legal action against them, but should you need to file an eviction you’ll want to be ready.

Choosing to store files securely online is becoming increasingly more popular the obvious reasons in that it saves space and it makes those files easier to search.

You may have the name, but shifting through draws of papers for your tenant may become tiresome.

If you have it files online you may simply click the search tool to find what you’re looking for quickly and easily.

As you continue on in your career you’ll learn your own tricks and pick up on those of other landlords and property managers.

Use these to your advantage to make sure you are not wasting your time needlessly.

How to Write a Lease Covering All Bases

When it comes to writing a lease, every state and locality has its own set of rules and regulations. Nonetheless, there are certain general guidelines which you should follow to protect your interests and meet your legal obligations when writing up a lease.

Length of Lease

You need to clearly define the length of the lease, and specify any provisions for its automatic renewal. Be sure to include language allowing you to alter the terms of the lease at key points (i.e. the yearly anniversary of the lease signing).

Names and Status

It’s important to make sure that each and every person who will be living in the property is explicitly included on the lease. Though it can be tempting to let one person “take charge” of the leasing arrangements, you still have legal liability for anybody living on your property, so you should make sure that they are all directly covered by the obligations of the lease.

Guests and Occupants

To avoid situations where new roommates or residents move into the apartment after the lease has been signed, it’s important to include a section that sets a limit for the length of time that “guests” are allowed to occupy the residence before they become legally obligated members of the lease and/or trigger penalties for breaching the agreement.

Rent and Payments

Rent should be spelled out explicitly, along with clear information about when it is due, when it will be considered overdue, and what penalties will apply if the payment is late. Even if you plan on being a more generous and flexible landlord, it’s still a good idea to keep the lease itself pretty iron-clad and strict.

Security and General Deposits

Make sure you include a description of any deposits that will be required, along with circumstances or activities that will allow you to penalize or hold that deposit if your tenants damage your property.


Be sure to include language specifying who’s responsible for utility bills, whether it’s you or the tenant. In most states, required utilities will be limited to electricity and water, although some may also require you to make gas or propane available for heating.

Pets and Property

Rules for pets should be made clear, including the type and number of pets allowed, and what the consequences are if they chew, scratch or otherwise damage your property. Special rules for your tenant’s personal property should also be included. This could be any number of things, such as prohibiting of water beds, candles, open-coil heaters, backyard installations and anything else that needs to be covered.

Maintenance of Property

Although local sanitation laws will often cover this area, it’s still important to include specific language about your tenant’s responsibility for keeping the place looking neat and tidy. This includes taking out the trash, maintaining the lawn, and any other daily upkeep tasks. Don’t be tempted to assume grown adults know how to handle themselves, because you could very well be held responsible for any code or sanitation laws they break.


In order to avoid potential lawsuits against you in the event of an accident, crime, or disaster, it’s a good idea to insert a clause requiring your tenants to obtain renter’s or leasing insurance to cover their personal property.