Professional tenants are the bane of any landlord’s existence. These people can come from any demographic background and are not easy to root out. After all, they make the act of fooling their landlord a full-time gig.
So what are professional tenants? They are tenants who make it a point to get as much unpaid accommodation from their landlord as legally possible. They typically know more about the Provincial Tenancy Act than the landlord does — face it, when was the last time you sat down and read the whole act yourself? — and are familiar with all the loopholes to extract as much free rent from the landlord as they can before being forced to leave.
They’re often good tenants at the start. For the first few months, they pay their rent, they don’t complain, but then something happens (they lost their job, their grandma is sick, or some other lame excuse) and they ask if they can pay their rent a little later. Their story sounds legit so the landlord, feeling bad for them, agrees to their request. This is the beginning of a long road of headaches and sleepless nights for the landlord.
After the landlord realizes the tenant isn’t going to pay rent and serves the tenants an eviction notice, weeks could have gone by. A possession order will take another several weeks before a formal hearing and if the landlord gets legally outmaneuvered by the tenant at this hearing, it could be several weeks more. At the end of the day, it could be months before the landlord finally forces the tenant to leave. All this time, mortgages, utilities, taxes, and insurance are still due and the landlord ends up losing thousands of dollars.
Now as a landlord, how can you keep these professional tenants from setting foot on your property? One word, screening, screening, screening. You have to screen the shit out of your prospective tenants. It almost feels like overkill but it will save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run. You’ll want info on current, and previous landlords, credit checks, current pay stubs, job letters, reaching out to all their references, and social media checks. You can even throw in a criminal record check if you want to be extra sure. Some of these documents can be faked which is why the more data you have, the less chance something will slip through.
It is also important to build a bulletproof case against your tenant from the beginning. That starts with having as much in writing as possible. Even if you discuss something on the phone, follow it up with an email just so you have it in writing. Take lots of photos of the house during the move-in inspection and have them in those photos if possible so show that they were there at the time so they cannot claim that damage was already there before they got there. It will also show the home’s condition at the beginning of their tenancy in case they claim the property is “uninhabitable” as a way to avoid paying rent.
Red flags to look out for include inconsistent housing history, requiring immediate housing, or inability to provide all requested documents for one reason or another. The actual reasons could be innocent but if something doesn’t feel right, just move on. If one person is interested, there will be another so be patient and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run.
If you, unfortunately, end up with a professional tenant or their close relative, the deadbeat, don’t worry yet; you’ll have some hard times ahead of you but you don’t have to resign yourself to this parasite leeching you dry for months on end. The key is to act quickly with the legal paperwork (ie. eviction notices, possession orders, etc.) and don’t fall for the sob stories. The faster you can get the paperwork started, the faster you can get them out. It still might take 4-6 weeks but beats this dragging on for months on end.
Of course, preventing the problem is always better than dealing with it which is why proper due diligence is key. Don’t be lazy with your background checks and good enough is never good enough.
Good luck and happy investing!
– Phil Wong