How to deal with bad tenants

It would be an ideal world if investment properties always returned a profit, were always tenanted, and always had courteous and punctual tenants. Unfortunately for some landlords, though, their buy-to-let situation is not always ideal. Problem tenants can cost time, money and energy. When it comes to dealing with tricky tenant situations, it pays to know what your rights as a landlord are and what options are available to you. Here the housing and property specialists at Insight Law take a look at both.

Your rights as a landlord

The most common type of tenancy agreement is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, which is set out in the Housing Act 1988. This type of arrangement grants a fixed term for the tenancy, meaning landlords have a right to regain control of the property after this term ends. Being a shorthold tenancy, the terms usually entitles tenants to property use for a fixed period of six or 12 months, but a longer period can be negotiated at the start of the tenancy. The tenancy should automatically continue running upon reaching the end of the fixed term unless steps are taken to terminate it.

In this type of arrangement, landlords can ask tenants to leave after the agreed period even if they have done nothing wrong, so long as they have given the appropriate amount of notice. Sometimes, landlords may need to regain control of their property earlier than the fixed term, which is okay so long as there is a valid reason (such as a property sale or there are substantial building works needed which would make the property uninhabitable while works are being carried out).

It may also be the case that you’d like to quickly gain control of your property if you have nightmare tenants. According to a survey by Direct Line Landlord Insurance, roughly one in seven tenants break the terms of the tenancy agreement, with the worst violations being the most frequent. Perhaps surprisingly, late rent payments (or any at all) was the worst offender, making up 25% of all violations, with smoking in the property closely followed at 21% of all violations. Trying to deal with bad tenants can be a nuisance in itself, which is why it’s important to remember some golden rules and good manners on your part.

Quick tips to diffuse the situation

If you’ve got a problem tenant:

  • Remain calm and rational
  • Speak to the tenant first to understand the reason for their behaviour before taking any formal action
  • Respond to any queries promptly
  • Try to build a communicative relationship
  • Keep written records of any communication, including dates, and take photos during inspections
  • Seek legal advice if necessary

The eviction process – if things cannot be resolved

Sometimes the eviction process may be unavoidable. If a problem tenant is close to the end of their lease, it may be worthwhile enduring any normally unacceptable behaviour to make for less paperwork when you do try to regain property control. If that timeframe is too long to wait, you can go through the process of evicting early. The choice is yours, but there is a strict process you must follow regardless of your decision.

Eviction at the end of the fixed term tenancy

Landlords are entitled to regain possession of their property at the end of the fixed period provided you give at least two months’ notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. If the tenants fail to vacate the property by the date specified on the notice, landlords can apply for a possession order or warrant for eviction. It is always advisable to get legal advice that is specific to your circumstances before taking any legal action. 

Eviction during the fixed term tenancy

For a landlord to evict a tenant from their property during the agreement, there must be a valid reason or breach of tenancy terms based on one of the grounds set out in section 8 of the Housing Act 1988.

Some of the most common grounds for eviction are:

  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Breach of contract
  • Damage or disrepair
  • Incorrect or false information provided
  • Rent arrears
  • Late rent payments
  • Repairs or development work

Landlords cannot legally evict tenants from the property without a court granted possession order; failure to do so means you could be committing an unlawful eviction offence. The first step of the eviction process requires serving the tenant with a notice stating they must leave the property by a specific date. If the tenants do not vacate the property by this date, and there was no agreement in place that allowed for a time extension, then you may apply for a possession order. Quite often, though, writing to tenants with a formal warning or notice is enough to encourage them to leave without having to pursue further action.

How to avoid bad tenants in the future

Understandably, having dealt with problem tenants, it’s a situation you and all landlords want to vehemently avoid in the future. Some tips to avoid a repeat offence are:

  • Use a letting agent or established tenant finding service
  • Validate all identification or legal documentation, and verify proof of employment through positive contact with their employer
  • When checking references, verify with company switch board operators that you are talking to who you think you are
  • Research a tenant’s rental history and ask for references from previous landlords
  • Meet potential tenants prior to finalising the tenancy agreement
  • Make any special conditions of the tenancy, such as garden maintenance, very clear

Need help with a problem tenant?

Prompt legal advice can help stop an issue with a trouble tenant growing into a bigger problem. Let Insight Law’s property solicitors in Cardiff (02920 093 600) and Bristol (0117 925 6257) help.


[1] The Tenant’s Voice, 'One in Seven Tenants Break The Rules!'

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