June 10, 2022 1:04 pm

There's no escaping it, at some point you will have to deal with difficult tenants.  Just like every now and then you'll meet a rude person at the shops or an arrogant driver, there are always people out there that test our patience.

However, when they're occupying something of real value to you that you've invested your hard earned money in it can be very difficult financially and emotionally which is why you need to take steps to protect and prevent as well as doing the right things when it does happen.

Most property owners have to deal with difficult tenants at some point, which is not easy. Fortunately, we have compiled a list of difficult tenant types to look out for and tips to help you survive difficult situations. 

Difficult tenants can make it harder for you as a landlord to work. Some pay the rent late each month, others behave carelessly and damage your property.

The most common types of difficult tenants are:

  • Unable or unwilling to pay rent
  • Disturbing the neighbours / Noise complaints
  • Unreasonable requests
  • Subletting / Unwanted guests
  • Refusing to vacate
  • Committing crimes / illegal activities

Recognizing Common Types of Difficult Tenants

Applicant vetting is excellent for weeding out many tenants that may become an issue down the road. However, it does not account for changes in a tenant’s financial circumstances, emotional state, or personal situations. As a landlord, review these common problem tenants so you can recognize them early and respond accordingly.

Causing Damage

Damage to property can be a big problem for homeowners.  Some tenants do not take good care of the property and others sometimes do substandard DIY improvements without permission.  As landlords it is important that we take care of these types of tenants. Consider these ideas:

How to protect yourself from tenants from damaging your rental property
  • Well-written contract: Make sure you have detailed any and all maintenance requirements before renting your property to tenants.
  • Check the condition of the property carefully: take photos and document the condition of the property. This gives you a documented evidence which is very useful for recovering deposits.  A full professional inventory is very useful to have on hand.
  • Make regular inspections: It is a good idea to make regular inspections to any rental property. Your agent should check your property at least twice a year for maintenance issues. If you find that the tenant does not take care of the property, you can bring it up with them and resolve before it may start to cause any further issues down the line.

Unable or unwilling to pay rent

Not surprisingly, latecomers or people who can afford less are at the top of the list of difficult tenants. Delays and non-payments can have a significant impact on a landlords financial well-being (Contrary to popular belief, landlords are not evil men that have vast cash reserves to buy up property stock and cause damage to potential homeowners).  No matter how hard you try, your tenants may not pay on time or in full.

However, to limit this, follow the tips below:

Getting difficult tenants to pay on time
  • Rigid Policies: ASTs need to spell out precisely what the procedure for rent payments are and what happens if a tenant pays late. The tenants must be aware of their obligations and the consequences for not meeting those obligations.
  • There can be no softness on this issue, all tenants must be held to account for monies owed and you must be prepared to act accordingly at the appropriate moments.
  • Payment reminders, payment reminders as a first port of call often result in immediate payment.  It's important to give people the opportunity to rectify any errors may they be theirs, banking or otherwise before pushing forwards with any other processes.
  • Stay legal at all times, a great example of this is that section 21 notices aren't valid without a gas safety certificate.  It's vitally important that you remain compliant at all times and in line with the laws of the UK. 
A messy room in a rental property

Tenants can make quite a mess sometimes.

Committing crimes / illegal activities

If you have a tenant breaking the law in one of your properties it can be very difficult to control and manage.  The most common one is drug use which can be very difficult to prove and deal with.  A great technique that we've deployed in the past is to inform the tenants on inspection that we can smell drugs and we would be obliged to call the police if we saw anything or smelt it again, that resolves most of those issues without causing any further issues.

However in more serious cases such as drug sales, violent crime etc, the eviction process would need to be started with immediate effect.

The best ways to deal with these are:

Dealing with law breaking tenants
  • Detailed checks:  We ask all tenants what we legally can about their criminal history, we then google all applicants as well as checking their online social profiles. Great tenants on paper that pass credit checks and referencing can oftentimes not look so good when you look further into them.  Some people will say there are immoralities to that approach but you need to protect your home and property.
  • Regular Inspections: Your letting agent should be regularly inspecting the property on your behalf so should be able to pick up anything before it becomes a problem.

Unreasonable requests

The best types of tenants are the ones that look after their home and you don't hear from often.  However there are always the continual complainers, our favourite one here at Somerset Lettings is either ants or full bins.  Whilst most tenants handle things like these themselves, some others choose to complain about these things.

How to Deal With Tenants Who Complain Constantly

  • Firstly you must deal with all items that are the obligation of the landlord, if there is a leaky boiler for example then it's up to the landlord to look at that and rectify it.  After that, it is down to your relationship with your letting agent, a good relationship will have the agent fielding all requests and only passing you the relevant / important ones and dealing with the tenant on your behalf.
  • Proactive management:  As the first port of call the letting agent is there to deal with these things, if a tenant asks for a lightbulb to be changed then most of the time they are told to do it themselves.  However your agent must be aware of the situation of each tenant, an elderly tenant might need support in more things than a younger one and be willing to pay for our handyman to help with odd jobs, it's a case of using our heads but most of all making sure the landlord has as little hassle as possible.

Subletting / Unwanted guests

As a landlord you want to know who's in your property, however, lives are fluid and things change.  We have all had tenants who go through a break up or form new relationships.  Some other tenants sublet rooms illegally which can cause a multitude of issues not least that the property isn't likely to be licensed as a HMO.

In terms of relationships changing the circumstances are important, if it is a partnership split, will the remaining tenant be able to pay the rent, they may want to stay but as a landlord and agent you still need to do your due diligence on any potential new arrangement.

If a new partner becomes involved they may start staying at your property more and more regularly.  At what point that becomes official in terms of tenancy obligations is a grey area but we look for evidence that anybody extra is or has been staying when we do our inspections.

Overall, good tenants are good tenants, everybody has life changes over time so it's our job as letting agents to keep a good relationship with them and spot things on inspections.

What you should do if your tenant is subletting or has extra guests

  • Subletting:  You cannot allow this, more than 2 people from different family groups in the same household is classed as a HMO.  to run a HMO you need to have a licence amongst other things such as a whole different set of fire regulations to pass.  If the tenant is living elsewhere and has sublet the whole property for a profit then that is against the terms of the AST and can be a legal minefield as the tenant is now the landlord so who pays for maintenance?

    The biggest questions though are these;

    If there's a fire who is responsible? (The subletter but you would have to prove you didn't know via inspection reports etc).

    If charges are brought because the property caught fire whilst being used as a HMO without a licence, the correct fire system, fire doors, exit plan etc and somebody got injured or worse then who is liable? (The subletter again but you would have to again show that you didn't know)

    Would your insurance pay out in such a situation? (Likely not, the property was being used for a purpose it wasn't insured for).

  • Property inspections:  Periodic documented inspections done properly and professionally might seem monotonous and pointless at times but they are worth their weight in gold when they root out these kinds of activities.
  • Guest policy:  Of course your tenants can have guests but what are the limits on that?  You can set those at the start of the tenancy.

There are some best practices for dealing with difficult tenants

We know what to look for and how to prevent and spot many issues from occurring but no system is perfect and some tenants will be difficult.  When those problems do arise it's up to your lettings agent to manage the situation and advise accordingly.  You may want to evict a tenant straight away but your agent should know the processes and procedures you must follow before giving notice.

What the team of you and your letting agent does and how you work together is the key to resolving these issues:

  1. Always remain calm and reasonable
  2. Get everything in writing, even just a message to agree what was said
  3. Establish boundaries, do not accept any kind of abuse or shouting
  4. Work with the tenants where you can (this overcomes 95% of all issues)
  5. If required ask them to leave
  6. Evict if they refuse and you have grounds to
  7. Make sure your letting agent is on point with all docs and communications

Always remain calm and reasonable

These types of tenants will oftentimes make you angry when they cause issues and that's understandable but also not helpful.  Acting in anger can often worsen a situation, if you do need to go to the eviction stage then everything must be done properly and professionally to ensure a successful eviction.

It is your lettings agents responsibility to oversee this and make sure that everything is done properly not only in a professional capacity but also personally.  Your letting agent is either inexperienced or dishonest if they say they never have these issues, they've should've seen it all before and know what to do.

Get everything in writing, even just a message to agree what was said

Keeping written records can be a painstaking task but it's important to log everything.  In the event of a dispute if you can reference a conversation, then it helps prevent conflict in the future. 

Pictures and videos are even better as they give no opportunity for dispute further down the line.

Establish boundaries, do not accept any kind of abuse or shouting

Oftentimes a difficult tenant will also be an unhappy tenant and they may become loud and abusive. As agents our first thoughts must be to establish why the tenants think they have a genuine grievance and why and explain to them what the outcome is.

Oftentimes late or non paying tenants become angry and blame the condition of the property, bringing up minor things never before raised as issues.  However, as agents it is for us to draw the line, establish boundaries and work proactively in these situations.

If you are dealing directly with your tenant then you must remain calm but assertive, establish boundaries and do not ever allow those to be crossed.  That almost all the time prevents any further escalated communications with the tenants and you can move forwards to a resolution.

Work with the tenants where you can (this overcomes 95% of all issues)

As above, once you have listened to, established any issues that need resolving and worked through what you can, the tenants often become good tenants.  Maybe they have had bad experiences with previous landlords and had to get angry to get things resolved, maybe they were brought up that way, maybe they're having a tough time, maybe they're just not nice people;  whatever it is, our role is to keep the rental flowing in, the property in good condition and people homed.

Some of the best and longest term tenants we've ever had have had periods of rent arrears but resolved them and then stayed a long time looking after the property as they have respect for the support the landlord gave them at that difficult time for them.

Even if you do move to evict, it's better to do so in good communications with the tenant and even better to work with them for them to leave without going through that legal process.

If required ask them to leave

There always comes a point at which you have to ask difficult tenants to leave.  If you've followed the above the tenants will most of the time be understanding and accept your decision.

Legals options are not a nice route to take and cause anxieties for all parties so should be used as a last resort only.

However, if they don't leave voluntarily then you will have to serve them their notice.

Evict if they refuse to leave and you have grounds to do so

Submitting a section 8 or section 21 notice is the last resort but they are legal frameworks for evicting tenants for you to use as required.  After serving notice you set into place a process that may require a court date to confirm the eviction.

There are certain reasons to use a section 8 or a section 21 notice and it's up to your agent to advise on the right one to use at the time.

Make sure your letting agent is on point with all docs and communications

If your agent is on top of all your documentation then that helps with everything, as previously mentioned as an example, the lack of a gas safety certificate would prevent a section 21 notice being served.

Lettings agents deal with all of the customer facing sides of a business so you get that peace of mind that things are being dealt with without any hassle or difficulties for you. 

Selecting the right lettings agent is essential and well worth the investment especially when it comes to difficult tenants.

A good lettings agent should offer

  • Tenant checking and referencing
  • Marketing
  • Inventories and move in  / out reports
  • Maintenance services
  • Help and guidance on evictions
  • Rent Collection
  • Rental financial statements


Pre-screening and stringent checks prevent most of these issues from arising, most issues can be traced back to a poor checking process at the start of a tenancy.

Our team is so well accomplished at vetting tenants that less than 1% of our tenants end up being evicted.  We offer 6 months free to any landlord of ours who has been through this process.

If you're currently in the midst of a difficult time with your tenants then you can switch to us or start using us at any time and we will take over the whole process and sort it out for you before placing a tenant that will pay, won't cause issues and will leave you as a happy landlord.

Are you sure that your property meets all of the compliance regulations? Non-compliant landlords face up to £30,000 in fines.

Check that you are fully compliant today with our free comprehensice compliance guide, helping to keep landlords, tenants and properties safe.

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