Emilie Fairbanks, Esq.

202 681 4694 office

202 688 1864 fax

419 7th Street NW, Suite 405

Washington, DC 20004


Contact Us Now

Consultations by appointment. 

This area does not yet contain any content.

Check out our latest blog posts!

« Nightmare DC Tenants | Main | The Late Fee Law in DC: What Landlords Need to Know »

Dealing With Difficult DC Tenants

So you think you might have a difficult tenant? Do any of the following sound familiar? Does the tenant call you, email you, or text you repeatedly to report maintenance problems but when you go to look won't let you in or there isn't anything wrong? Does the tenant pay the rent late or not at all some months and when you bring it up the tenant has numerous excuses, stories, and reasons for failing to pay, so you extend the deadline again? Does the tenant refuse to communicate at all and then when you come to see the property after assuming all is well for a long time you find maintenance problems that have caused damage and led to bigger issues? Maybe these problems make you crazy and you think this is the tenant from hell. I will share some tenant from hell stories another time, but in these cases, I regret to inform you that YOU, the landlord, are contributing to the problem. The good news is that means you can almost always be part of the solution. 


Let's take each type of problem tenant. 


1) The Clinger: this tenant calls at all hours, follows up with emails and texts, and maybe even calls DCRA to report problems that either aren't there or that they won't let you in to fix. Sometimes this tenant IS the tenant from hell and you have to tread carefully. But sometimes you are contributing to the problem. Landlord tenant relationships are just that, relationships. So, are you setting boundaries and expectations? Did you tell the tenant how you want to be contacted, what constitutes an emergency (a water leak, the ceiling caving in, a fire, etc.) and what doesn't (ants, loose carpet, shower dripping), and what the process is after a maintence issue is reported? For example, will you call or email to set a time to come inspect and then send a repair person? Will you just send a repair person? Will you give a choice of times or just schedule and notify the tenant of the time? Are you following that process? Lack of information and boundaries makes some people anxious. Provide those things and many of these problem tenants will calm down. Those that don't are high maintence tenants, a different kind of problem, and one that is much harder to deal with. They deserve their own article. 


2) The $$$ Problem: This tenant pays late or doesn't always pay. You might get a payment on the 22nd or you might get a double payment the next month. Or they might miss a month. But if you call, cajole, beg, plead, you might get your money. So you do. Repeatedly. If you don't no money is forthcoming. Despite that pesky lease that says rent is due on the first. Although you often are placated that they usually pay the late fee. Oh dear landlord I have bad news. You are enabling this tenant. You have become their mom, not their landlord. And until you break the cycle, you will have a part time (unpaid) job as their budget coach. Not very profitable. How do you break the cycle? Silence. Stop telling them the rent is due. Then if necessary you may have to take legal action. They are adults. The rent is due should be evident with that turning over of the calendar thing every month. The water company, their credit card, the student loan isn't sending them sad little emails saying oh I was wondering if you have the rent? Nope. So you have made yourself their least important bill. I know you are saying BUT THIS IS RENT. And? You have taught them the consequence to failing to pay is...nothing. 


I often hear two other protests, First. The tenant has money problems, medical problems, kids, dogs, lost their job, it's Christmas...you get the picture. I am paid to lack sympathy. But I remind you dear landlord YOU have kids, a house, a mortgage, medical bills, dogs, etc. A tenant with a history of paying on time and in full who has a sudden temporary crisis may well be a good tenant you want to help. NO PROBLEM. They are not a problem tenant. But create a system. When will they pay you? Can you forgive a month of rent to give them breathing room and then go back to normal? Another  not problem that falls into this category is the tenant who always pays on the sixteenth because they just have too may bills due on the first. If you can be the bill due on the sixteenth and it causes you no financial problems (really), change the lease. Great. Everyone is happy. But the tenant who is taking advantage of you often NEVER paid on time. They didn't start the lease well. They have a new excuse every month. I am not suggesting they are bad people. They can't afford your property. 


The second protest I hear is that landlord tenant law in DC is so tenant friendly there is no point to suing. I have covered Should You Sue for Nonpayment previously so I will just say this. Unpaid rent isn't like wine. It doesn't get better with age. Maybe you shouldn't have let this tenant in. Ok. Maybe you shouldn't have let the rent amount unpaid get so high. That is in the past. Time to deal with it. It won't get better if you don't. 


3) The Quiet Mess: Oh the tenant who doesn't tell you your property is falling apart. Doesn't that piss you off. Sadly, no matter what the lease says, unless they caused the damage, (and really even then) the only person you have to blame is you. Because DC law requires you inspect the property regularly. What does that mean? In my experience twice a year. You are required to check the heating system in the fall by law, so that's one. Add a spring inspection for any ice damage or bugs and you are set. You will know what's going on. If they don't let you in and your lease is written correctly you can potentially pursue them for eviction for that. Would you want to? Maybe. Not letting you in can be a sign something is wrong. Hoarding, unauthorized occupants, damage, and unauthorized pets are often founds when inspections are done. So provide notice and inspect your property. Don't wait to hear from the tenant. They don't care about your property like you do. It isn't their investment. 


The good news is these are all problems with relatively easy solutions. They may take time but they can be solved. If you need help or guidance contact us to schedule a consultation. 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version