Q: I own a house that I am currently renting to a tenant on a one-year lease. But over the months things have been getting very uncomfortable for me, and I would appreciate your advice.
With my prior tenants, I always received the rent check by mail without any problems. I allow my tenants a three-day grace period before I charge a $50 late fee, as I know it can take some time with the mail system. I will even look at the postmark and not charge them if they deposited the envelope in a mailbox on or before the third of the month.
With this latest tenant, everything was fine until she began to have trouble paying the rent on time. Even though the envelope was postmarked on the sixth and I didn’t receive the rent until the 10th, I waived the late fee as a one-time courtesy. But I did tell her that I had to have the check on time or I would charge the late fee in the future. She got very angry and insisted that the Postal Service made a mistake and failed to pick up the mail from the USPS collection box.
As a longtime landlord, I have heard many excuses but I told her I didn’t think that was the problem and that she just needed to make sure that she went to a collection box that would have a pickup after she deposited her envelope. That is when my tenant began coming to my home to personally deliver the rent check because she says she can’t be blamed for the Postal Service errors.
At first I thought this was unusual, but I was glad to have the rent in a timely manner, and if she just dropped it off at the door and left, everything would have been fine. But her behavior is becoming irrational and I have stopped even answering the door.
Since I am not coming to the door, last two times she came by to pay the rent she began to make a scene and is telling all of my neighbors what a horrible person I am because I require her to hand-deliver her rent. Of course, this is not true. I am afraid to speak to her. What should I do?
A: This is one of the reasons many landlords use a Postal Service box and have all rents and tenant correspondence sent there rather than to their personal residence. The advent of electronic rent payment or processing credit card rent payments can also be a solution in these circumstances.
I understand that you are reluctant to speak to the tenant, but I think that the longer you avoid a direct verbal communication the less likely you will be able to amicably resolve the tension. Since your tenant already knows where you live and it is not likely that you will want to relocate, I would start by contacting the tenant and discussing the whole situation in a professional yet firm manner.
Again, these days it is tempting to leave messages or use email, but a good old-fashioned two-way telephone or in-person conversation is what is needed here. You may want to bring someone with you if you feel uncomfortable, but it should not be an intimidating situation for your tenant either, as you both need to lower the tension and just have a cordial and polite discussion to get back to a more rational and calm landlord-tenant relationship.
Start by explaining that your rent collection policy is not meant to require her to hand-deliver the rent check and that you will always be reasonable in enforcing your late charge, as all you are looking for is the full payment of rent and would prefer not to collect late charges.
You should also indicate to her that if she insists on hand delivery that you will not be answering the door, but she must not speak to your neighbors, as this is a personal matter that doesn’t involve them.
Hopefully, a verbal conversation will resolve the issue, and be sure to listen to any and all concerns that your tenant expresses. She may back off and act more reasonably once she has had a chance to vent and tell you personally about her frustrations.
This clearly seems to be a situation that has spun out of control and has become much more emotional than it should be. However, if your tenant is unable to act reasonably, then you will certainly not want to renew the lease and should either terminate the tenancy or let her continue only on a month-to-month tenancy.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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