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How to Deal With a Dishonest Tenant

In a perfect world, every tenant would be the real deal. Everything they put on their rental application would be true and you wouldn’t have to worry about excuses for late rent or lies about what’s happening in your property. But in case you haven’t figured it out by now, this isn’t a utopian society. There’s always a bad apple in the bunch – and sometimes that bad apple ends up being your tenant. Do you know how to handle a dishonest renter?

Most Common Things Tenants Lie About

When you have a tenant who is blatantly dishonest about important issues and matters, it can drive a wedge between your professional relationship and create real financial, legal, and logistical headaches. Tenants most commonly lie about things like:

  • Rental application. Tenants will often provide misleading information on a rental application in order to make themselves seem more attractive. This could look like inflating earnings, ignoring a past conviction, or lying about the real relationship with a reference on the application.

  • Rent payment. There are a million and one rent excuses. While they’re occasionally true, they’re typically a cover for the real issue (like losing a job or blowing the rent money on Amazon).

  • Lease agreement rules. When you draft a lease agreement, you take the time to put in certain protections. A tenant who wants the property but doesn’t like the rules might try to lie about what they’re doing. (Owning a pet in a pet-free rental property is one of the most common things tenants lie about.)

  • Condition of the property. When it comes time to move out, a tenant might lie and tell you something works when it’s really broken. Or they might try to act like a massive stain or hole in the wall was there when they moved in.

If you’ve been in the business long enough, you’ve seen your fair share of dishonesty. And while every tenant is going to tell a white lie every now and then, it becomes problematic when a pattern emerges. If you don’t deal with it quickly, trouble will follow.

How to Address Dishonesty

When you encounter a dishonest tenant, you have to be strategic in how you respond. Here are a few helpful tips and tidbits:

  • Stay calm. The moment you overreact, raise your voice, or get violent, you cause the tenant’s walls to go up. They become defensive and will refuse to come clean or concede anything.

  • Speak with confidence and certainty. Avoid using the following words and phrases: like, just, I was hoping, do you think you could, These make you come across as weak and submissive. Speak in a direct, matter-of-fact tone.

  • Don’t let dishonesty slide for weeks or months before dealing with it. You need to nip it in the bud. The quicker you address the issue, the less likely it is that it will turn into something serious.

  • Take time to consider why the person across from you is lying. There’s typically a concrete reason or justification (in their mind). If you look at the lie through that lens, your discussions will be much more productive.

  • Eventually you’ll need to give the tenant an ultimatum with clear consequences. It’s best to provide the tenant with some time to meet your requests so that they can calm down from any emotional peak they may be experiencing in your conversation. If the tenant doesn’t meet your expectations for them, be prepared to follow through on your consequences. This is the only way to fully address the issue.

Avoiding Dishonest Tenants in the Future

When you already have a dishonest tenant in the fold, you have no choice but to confront them head-on. However, in the future, you can make a concentrated effort to avoid entering into contracts with dishonest tenants. Here’s how:

  • Dig deeper. You can weed out most dishonest tenants through more thorough tenant screening. This includes running a credit check, asking strategic questions, conducting a background check, and speaking with current employers and past landlords. Don’t skip any of these steps. Each one is integral to getting the full picture of who a prospective tenant really is.

  • Trust your gut. Sometimes all of the screening is clean and a tenant looks good on paper, but your gut tells you that something is off. As long as you aren’t discriminating based on something like race, religion, age, or gender, you’re well within your rights to choose another tenant who seems to be a better fit.

  • Sign airtight lease agreements. For your protection and peace of mind, make sure you sign a crisp lease agreement that’s thorough and complete. This will give you something to point back to should you encounter situations where the tenant refuses to tell the truth.

  • Set a precedent. If you’ve ever been around young children, you’ve seen how conniving they can be. They constantly test boundaries and search for how much they can get away with. If you give them any ground, they’ll seize it and then fight for more. Much like a child, a tenant will follow your lead. If you let something slide early on in the relationship, they’ll take it to the next level (and the next…and so on). Having said this, it’s imperative that you set a clear precedent from the very beginning that you won’t put up with dishonesty.

When you follow this proven four-step process, you’ll significantly reduce your proximity to dishonest renters. As a result, you’ll have more time and energy to dedicate to retaining good tenants.

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