Q: I have a rental house and during a recent drive-by to check on my property I noticed that there were two cars in the driveway that I had never seen in the past. I called my tenant and they told me that they had some family that is staying with them for the holidays. I allow my tenants to have guests for up to two weeks so I wasn’t that worried. However, the holidays are over and yesterday evening I went by again and the cars are still there. The rental property has four bedrooms so I think they have sublet rooms in the house but are telling me that they just have visiting family. What do I do about these additional occupants?
A: Tenants frequently abuse the guest policy by having additional occupants in their rental unit for extended periods of time. But you may have trouble determining the difference between a temporary guest and a new live-in occupant. If you suspect that your tenant has added an additional occupant to the rental unit, your first step should be to talk with your tenant to find out what’s going on. While you already spoke to them during the holidays, it is clear now that the facts have changed. Nonetheless, be sure to get your tenant’s story before jumping to any conclusions. This policy is sound not only because it’s the considerate thing to do, but also because you need to be careful to avoid claims of discrimination, particularly if the additional occupants are children.
If you find that the tenant is not in compliance with your guest policy, immediately send him a Lease or Rental Agreement Violation Letter indicating that he must have the additional occupant leave as soon as possible or be formally added to the lease or rental agreement as a tenant. If the new occupant is an adult, that person must complete a rental application, go through the tenant screening process, and sign the lease or rental agreement if approved. If the tenant fails to cooperate, you may need to take legal action.
Q: I own a duplex and had the same tenants for many years with absolutely no problems. One of my tenants recently moved out of state and a new couple have moved in. I followed all of the proper prospective tenant screening techniques and checked with their last two landlords before approving their application to rent and agreeing to a 12-month lease. But since they have moved in I have had numerous complaints from my other tenant and even the neighbors. They are demanding that I kick them out and tell me that they don’t want to get involved because it’s my job to ensure that they are not bothered by these new tenants. I know that these complaints must be true, but when I have made surprise visits to the property everything is quiet. My attorney tells me that since I haven’t heard the noise myself I may not be able to convince the court that I have any grounds to evict them for violating their lease. What should I do?
A: You’ll usually hear about a noisy tenant from one of the tenant’s neighbors. Let the tenants who are complaining know that they should always contact law enforcement and file an official complaint as soon as the noise level becomes a problem. Then they should let you know that they’ve done so. Have a policy requiring all complaints that tenants might have about their neighbors, especially for noise, to be in writing. Neighbors usually don’t want to go to court to testify; they just want you to quickly solve the problem and allow them to keep their anonymity. But if the noisy tenant disputes the charges, the courts are usually reluctant to accept your unsubstantiated testimony — and the neighbor’s testimony becomes critical. A report from law enforcement and a written complaint made contemporaneously by a neighbor carry a lot of weight.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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