A very wise Zen quote states, “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know.

If you are fortunate enough to have never had a hostile tenant, then you either a) know something great that you should tell, or b) you have not been a landlord very long. If the former is true, then feel free to stop reading here and continue in your Zen greatness. As for the rest of us …

Unfortunately, there is no “Staples Easy Button” when it comes to dealing with difficult tenants. They come from all walks of life, and their moods, personalities, quirks, desires, and eccentricities vary as much as the variety of properties that are available for rent. It is nerve-racking enough to take the leap and purchase investment property. That anxiety is all the more maddening when it involves entrusting your real property to tenants you have never before met, especially when they turn out to be people you wish you had never met.

No landlord or landlord attorney, Zen or not, would ever wisely claim to have all the answers. However, drawing collectively on experience gained from numerous landlord-tenant legal battles, the following are some hints that may help in trying to make sense of difficult rental relationships:

  • Always keep a professional demeanor. I cannot emphasize enough that this is RULE #1. Not only is this a good general rule in life, it can greatly impact any legal issues that may arise. I have seen one too many clients whose poor attitudes toward their tenants consistently cause what would normally be minor legal disputes to turn into protracted and expensive legal battles that are ruled more by emotion than logical decision making;
  • Adopt a rule that states a resident agrees to act in a manner that will not disturb the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of neighbors, other residents, or unreasonably disturb your ability to manage the property or conduct business activities;
  • Document in writing, with video, and photographs each act that constitutes a violation and/or unreasonable disruption of your ability to manage;

Report any serious violations to the Police Department and aid in prosecution;

  • Issue the resident a written 10-Day Notice for each breach of the Lease Agreement (or Immediate Termination Notice if the violation is serious enough) with a demand that he/she communicate to management only in writing as to any concerns regarding the property. Include in the notice that the only exception to such written communication would be that of an emergency situation.
  • Be prepared to enforce the rules if the resident continues to act in a defensive manner. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself, but always do so in a professional and non-aggressive manner. Never let any resident be abusive to you without consequence. If you allow abuse from any resident, you open the door to continued abuse from that resident, as well as any other resident who finds out;
  • Use a recording device whenever you talk to such a resident. As long as one person in the conversation is aware that the conversation is being recorded (yes, you do count as that “one person), then such recording is legal in Arizona without any requirement to notify the other party that you are recording the call. The strictness and specificity of your Community Rules can be one of your best tools if diplomacy fails. A recorder can help you be on the offensive and not feel like you are constantly on the defense when residents are rude, obnoxious, swearing, intimidating, threatening, embarrassing, demanding, or outrageous. If you feel uncomfortable about recording the resident without the resident’s consent, you can inform the resident that you are recording all conversations, which would likely go a long way in assuring that the resident treats you with respect;
  • Make sure that you treat all residents consistently as to avoid Fair Housing issues. This includes developing a protocol for addressing all potential and actual tenants, both during the application process and during the lease itself;
  • Do not give “warning” notices. Keep your notices consistent with those outlined in the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. If utilized effectively, the notices provided under the Act provide almost all of the tools you need to provide the warnings you believe are necessary, while at the same preserving your rights as a landlord to exercise your legal remedies when the time comes; and

One last bit of Zen wisdom: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

It is my hope that these bits of wisdom will help in dealing with the pain of a difficult tenant, with as little suffering as possible.