Do you have tenants who cause problems with neighbors or won’t honor the terms of their lease? Did your renters stop paying their rent? Are they hoarding exotic animals or engaging in suspected drug deals?
If you’re like most Houston landlords, you’ve been doing everything possible to avoid filing an eviction lawsuit. It makes sense to try other options first; the court system is backed up and evictions are costly.
However, you don’t want to wait too long. A problem tenant can turn into a nightmare in a short period of time.
Whether you’ve been dealing with a problem tenant for a while, or your problems have just started, here are four things you must do to protect yourself and your investment.
1. Document every interaction you have with your tenant(s)
Record every interaction and observation with a problem tenant, especially when it’s negative – no matter how small. Don’t make an exception for any incident, no matter how insignificant the event might seem.
For instance, if your tenant flips you off, don’t respond, but record the interaction. Documentation is key to avoiding and/or winning an unfounded lawsuit brought by a disgruntled tenant.
If your tenant pulls you into court, you’ll need a solid record of everything your tenant has said or done if you’re to be successful in revealing their true character to the judge.
You don’t want to lose a lawsuit brought by a tenant
Some people are extremely good at “cleaning up” and presenting as a professional, trustworthy individual in court. If a tenant brings you to court and the commissioner or judge regards them as the more credible witness, you could lose.
If you lose a court case against a tenant, the consequences can be harsh. For example, you might be required to pay the tenant a large sum of money for damages; or worse – the tenant might win the right to stay in the unit.
Once a judge rules that a tenant has the right to remain in your unit, it’s much harder to evict, even when the tenant is clearly violating the terms of their lease. Also, tenants can win a lawsuit on a technicality.
Documenting every interaction with a tenant might not seem important right now, but it can help to prove your case later if you get sued. No landlord expects that to happen, but it’s a smart idea to be prepared for it.
2. Always obtain 911 transcripts
Often, problem tenants engage in domestic disputes that require calls to 911. If you live on the same property as your problem tenant, there’s a high chance you could get roped into one of those disputes, even if you’re just a witness.
Even if you don’t get roped into a dispute, you need to know what’s happening on the property when you’re not around. You can find out by periodically requesting 911 records that cite your tenant’s name and residence.
Incidents you need to know about might include:
- Domestic violence calls
- Reports of theft or property damage
- Suspicious persons
- Protection order violations
- Calls involving other tenants in the same building (to which your tenant may have been a witness)
Problem tenants are terrible liars, but you need proof
One thing problem tenants don’t do very well is tell the truth. They don’t think twice about lying to 911 operators and police officers who respond to the call.
They’re not thinking about anyone getting the transcripts in the future – all they’re thinking about in the moment is how to get out of trouble or shift the blame.
A tenant’s lies can be used to your advantage if the person sues you later. But you have to obtain the transcripts as soon as possible and document any lies or discrepancies you’re aware of. If you wait too long, you’ll probably forget.
If your problem tenant lied to the police or a 911 dispatcher, and you can prove it with transcripts, that evidence will challenge their credibility.
3. Always obtain court transcripts and videos
As in 911 calls, problem tenants may lie in court. They also express facts in court that can help you prove that other statements are lies.
For example, say your tenant has an inoperable, unregistered vehicle you’ve requested they remove from the property. Then you went to court to get a protection order against the tenant for physically assaulting you in response to your request.
During your protection order hearing, your tenant might say something that confirms the vehicle is inoperable and unlicensed. This will come in handy if you evict them and they sue you.
During the eviction court hearing, your tenant might claim you threatened to tow their functional, fully licensed vehicle for no reason. If they present well, the judge might believe them without evidence of registration and operability.
But if you have court transcripts from the earlier hearing, you can demonstrate that your tenant lied in future interactions. Don’t let any court transcript fall by the wayside; connect with the court reporter’s office to order transcripts on your way out of court.
4. Know the law
To deal with problem tenants, you have to be familiar with both federal and Texas state law. This is no small feat.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the entire system. Although the Texas state Supreme Court ruled the CDC’s eviction moratorium unconstitutional, and has stopped enforcing its protections, a more permanent law could be passed by Congress soon.
Problem tenants are bad enough. Problem tenants who know their rights and know the law are worse. There’s nothing wrong with tenants who know their rights; the problem is when tenants use their rights to manipulate their landlords in court under false pretenses.
Ignorance of the law is not excusable in court. If you don’t know the law, you’re more likely to make a mistake that may cost you dearly.
Are you confused by the changing landlord-tenant laws? Contact Green Residential today
If you’re not interested in keeping up with the ongoing shifts in Texas landlord-tenant law driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, you need a property management company who will work for you. With Green Residential on your side, you won’t have to worry about making a costly mistake with problem tenants.
We’ll handle everything for you, from serving proper notices to filing eviction lawsuits on your behalf.
Being a property investor shouldn’t be stressful. If you’re overwhelmed by your duties, or you just want someone else to handle your business, call us today. We’d love to help you manage your Houston properties.