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Bad tenants are a landlord's worst nightmare. Between not paying their rent, trashing your rental property, allowing pest infestations, committing criminal acts in the property and a hundred other miserable acts, bad tenants can make a landlord's life miserable. Fortunately, there are tactics you can employ to minimize the damage caused by bad tenants.

messy tenantsFirst Line of Defense: An Airtight Lease Agreement

Before you allow a tenant to move into your property, you can lay the groundwork for addressing future problems by using an airtight lease agreement. Every state has different landlord-tenant laws governing what your lease agreement can contain, so be sure to use a state-specific lease agreement. These can be sometimes be obtained through your state's website, but more likely you'll have to buy one online (EZ Landlord Forms offers a custom lease agreement for each state).

Among other provisions, a strong lease agreement states clearly the landlord's policies on cleanliness, property maintenance, criminal activity, late rental payment penalties and all other common problems that can arise.

Second Line of Defense: Adhere to All Disclosure Laws

Bad tenants will often run crying to sleazebag attorneys or Legal Aid, claiming that the "Big Bad Landlord wants to evict me! I didn't do anything wrong, oh protect me protect me!" And the first thing lawyers will do will check to make sure that your lease agreement is valid and that you complied with all applicable landlord-tenant laws, including delivering all of the necessary disclosures. You have several options for complying with these laws:

  1. You read your state's landlord-tenant code directly
  2. You hire a real estate attorney to tell you what to do, or
  3. You use an online landlord forms system that automatically fills in all of the required forms for your state. 

Third Line of Defense: Offer a Deal to the Tenant to Vacate

It always pays to offer a carrot before a stick, so when your tenants go bad, sit down with them, preferably in person and make them an offer. If they can be out of the property within the week, with all of their belongings, you won't take them to court and get a judgment against them. If they want to fight and drag it out, then tell them that you're going to file the eviction, which shows up on their credit report, and obtain a hefty judgment against them for back rent, court costs, legal fees and damages to the property.

Fourth Line of Defense: Comply with All Local Eviction Laws

Every state outlines different eviction procedures in their landlord-tenant laws, and all landlords need to comply closely with them if they want to clear the bad tenant out of their rental property this decade. As with every other step in this process, as a landlord you have several options:

  1. You can hire a real estate attorney who specializes in evictions, which is effective but pricey;
  2. You can hire an eviction specialist, which is less expensive and often effective; or
  3. You can do it yourself, by mailing the appropriate notices to the tenant and filing an eviction form with the local landlord—tenant court (see the above landlord forms link for state-specific eviction instructions).

As a final note, it helps to have all of the tenants' asset information on record, for collection purposes, and the cheapest and easiest way to learn this information is to simply have the tenant fill it in on their rental application.

Which brings us back to the initial point of prevention: Through being diligent from the beginning, when they first fill out the rental application and you first sign the lease agreement, you can lay the groundwork for dealing with future problems. Hopefully, you'll never have to do any of these actions, and your tenants will all be clean, make their rental payments on time and take good care of the rental property—but don't count on it.