Tactics used by tenants from hell - and how to deal with them

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Whether you have managed rental properties for years or are a new landlord, sooner or later you may face the scenario every property owner dreads - namely the tenant from hell.

"Horror stories abound about dead animals, fixtures yanked from their fitments, and even excreta smeared on walls – a last protest action before eviction," says attorney Simon Dippenaar.

He explains what actions are available to you if your dream tenant has turned into your worst nightmare. He also explains how to ensure you remain compliant with rental housing legislation while protecting your asset and your interests.

Tactics of the nightmare tenant

"While non-payment of rent is not the only behaviour that makes a tenant difficult or undesirable, it is usually the first indication that there is a problem, and can accompany other unsavoury conduct," says Dippenaar.

"There are several tactics a tenant might use to avoid paying rent. It's important not to fall for them."

Paying partial rent

A tenant may pay a portion of the rent owed. While they may promise to pay the balance the following month along with that month's full rent, this is a warning sign and you are unwise to accept it, according to Dippenaar.

This is because, if you accept partial rent one month, you cannot begin the eviction procedure. The tenant has thus bought time.

Paying in cash

"The problem with cash is that it is untraceable, and therefore if you take your tenant to court, they may claim they made rental payments they did not make, and you cannot prove otherwise," says Dippenaar.

"It is easy to produce a fake receipt. You need to be able to show a record of payments made and clear evidence of the months when rent was not paid."

If cash is the only option, give them a receipt that you both sign at the time and keep a copy for yourself.

The hardship story

"Some tenants will ask for more time to pay rent, accompanied by a tale of woe designed to gain your sympathy. While their situation may be genuine, it is very hard to verify," says Dippenaar.

"No matter how much compassion you have for their misfortune, you are not a bank or a charity."

The maintenance ruse

A tenant may claim that a property is uninhabitable or in need of maintenance and withhold rent until the "fault" has been addressed.

"Make sure your lease specifies how maintenance requests are to be made (in writing is best), and then acknowledge every maintenance request, track progress in a system, and provide the tenant with updates," suggests Dippenaar.

"If you respond in a timely manner to written requests for maintenance, the tenant has no grounds for withholding rent."

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