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How to deal with difficult tenants

Chris Torney / 19 January 2017 ( 27 February 2020 )

What are your rights if the people you are letting a home to cause problems?

Protect yourself if letting a property with a tenancy agreement

One of the biggest worries that would-be landlords have concerns how to deal with problem tenants.

What are your rights if the people you are letting a house or flat to fall behind on their rent, say, or damage your property?

Do your homework on prospective tenants

One of the best ways of avoiding any problems involves screening tenants properly before you sign a rental agreement. If you use a letting agency to find tenants, they should check the likes of credit records, employment status and references from previous landlords.

If you are letting the property yourself, you can ask for references as well as sight of recent payslips or bank statements.

Overdue rent

Even tenants who pass such a screening process can cause problems, and one of the most worrying issues is late or non-payment of rent.

Make sure you have a written tenancy agreement which sets out how much rent is due and when it should be paid each month: this will make your legal position much stronger. It should also set an end date for the tenancy, at which point you have the right to ask the tenant to move out if you wish.

Ask tenants to pay their rent by standing order into your account: this means they are less likely to forget and you have a record of payments.

If your tenant is withholding rent and matters can’t be resolved informally, you will need to send a formal letter demanding payment. If this doesn’t work, you need to state you are planning to take legal action.

Once the rent is two months in arrears, you can take court action to seek possession of your property.

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Tenant disputes

In some cases, tenants may withhold rent on the basis that you as landlord have not fulfilled your own obligations, for example when it comes to making repairs.

It is vital that you ensure that any reasonable requests from your tenants are dealt with promptly and fairly.

Tenants do not automatically have the right to withhold rent if they are not happy about something, but you will be on safer ground if you have upheld your end of the bargain.

Damage to your property

At the start of the rental agreement the tenant will pay you a security deposit that acts as protection against any damage incurred during the tenancy. 

This deposit must be held by an independent tenancy-deposit scheme rather than in the landlord’s own bank account, as was the case in the past. The idea is that any eventual disputes about damage are settled by an independent arbitrator.

But it is vital that you have an inventory of your house or flat carried out – perhaps by an independent professional – when the tenancy begins, and that you and your tenant sign the inventory as being accurate.

This will make it much easier to apportion blame for any damage when the tenant moves out.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.