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How can I handle difficult tenants?

Image of Leanne Macardle

Leanne Macardle

Freelance Contributor

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At a glance

  • Make sure you’re prepared before you sign up a tenant, and think carefully about your choice.
  • You have the right to expect on-time rental payments, make reasonable rent increases and to claim for damage that goes beyond wear and tear.
  • While you don't have the right to enter your rental property without the tenants’ permission and notice, or to evict them without due process, there are things you can do if you're dealing with problem tenants.

On the whole, tenants are responsible people, who will treat you and your property with respect. Unfortunately, however, there are always going to be some exceptions – a tenant may be unable to pay the rent due to redundancy or relationship breakdown, or you could find yourself in the unfortunate situation of signing up a tenant who does not treat you and your buy-to-let property with any care.

To prevent and manage these situations, this guide will offer landlord advice and summarise your rights, so you know how to deal with difficult tenants should any issues arise.


Potential problems with tenants

As a landlord there are a number of problems you could come up against with difficult tenants, and it’s important to be aware of them so you don’t get caught off-guard. Some include:


  • Property damage. A certain amount of wear and tear is to be expected, but if it crosses the line into damage – of the fixtures, furnishings or the property itself – you could encounter problems. This is why it’s vital to have suitable landlord insurance in place.


  • Rent arrears. It can be difficult if your tenant is having trouble paying the rent, particularly if there’s a valid reason for it, such as loss of income or relationship breakdown. You may be able to offer leniency in certain situations or give the option of payment plans, but you may also simply come across unruly tenants and need to start the eviction process.


  • Noise or antisocial behaviour. If your tenants are getting into disputes with their neighbours for being too noisy or causing a disturbance, try to encourage communication between the two parties before things escalate. Make sure that your tenants are aware of their responsibilities too – ideally have a section in the tenancy agreement on neighbour disputes.


  • Refusal to leave. Some tenants may refuse to leave once the tenancy ends, and could even ignore eviction orders. You may need to start legal proceedings in some cases.


  • Illegal activities. There’s always the chance that your tenants could be engaging in illegal activities in your property. This is why it’s important to conduct regular inspections, and if you spot anything untoward, notify the police.


Dealing with problem tenants is never nice to contemplate, but hopefully, a lot of issues could be rectified with effective communication. This includes specifying expectations in the tenancy agreement ahead of time, and opening lines of communication as soon as problems arise.


Preventing landlord tenant problems

They say that prevention is better than cure, and that certainly rings true when it comes to tenant issues. Here are a few things you can do to prevent problems arising at a later date.


Make an inventory

Your first line of defence against tenant disputes is a proper inventory of the condition and contents of your buy-to-let property before the tenancy begins. The best way to do this is to pay an independent and competent party to carry out the inspection (your letting agent is unlikely to be considered independent).

You can do it yourself, but if you later need to rely on the inventory in a dispute, you’ll need to bear in mind that your word (as opposed to an independent party) may not be considered as reliable. Therefore, if you do decide to take care of this yourself, you should look to take dated photos of the property in order to establish the condition prior to let.


Choose your tenants wisely

This may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid landlord tenant problems is to choose your tenants wisely in the first place. This means it’s important to screen them thoroughly before letting your property out.

A good letting agent (preferably one that’s registered with the Association of Residential Letting Agents) will be able to help you by checking a tenant’s:


  • credit rating
  • employment status
  • references


If you’re going it alone, you’ll still need to run background checks. Ask your candidates for written proof of their ability to pay rent as well as references from previous landlords, and you’ll need to check their right to rent in the UK.

The Right to Rent check is a mandatory process that ensures your tenant can legally live and rent a property in the UK, and landlords can face significant fines if they’re unable to provide the necessary proof. Find out what you need to do on the Government website.

You’ll ideally want to meet your prospective tenants too, but remember that looks can be deceiving, which also means that someone who doesn’t look like a great tenant initially could turn out to be the most diligent and trustworthy!


Be specific in your tenancy agreement

The tenancy agreement should cover every eventuality so there’s less chance for disputes to arise in the future. For example, make sure to specify whether or not pets are allowed and whether tenants can undertake any DIY or home improvement projects – even simple things like hanging pictures – and specify if things like subletting are permitted. If things aren’t in writing, it can be more difficult to prove fault at a later date.


Document everything

Once the tenancy has been agreed, you should keep records of everything. This includes all financial transactions, communications from the tenant and any maintenance issues that crop up, and make sure to have everything in writing so you have evidence should you need it in the future. This becomes particularly important if you’re facing problems – always log any disputes or issues that arise so you can refer back to them if need be.

Another document you’ll need to keep hold of is your certificate of landlord insurance. Having a suitable policy is essential to protect your interests, with the right one able to cover your rental property against tenant damage and even providing protection against void periods and lost money if your tenants can’t pay the rent. This ensures you can still keep up with your buy-to-let mortgage payment obligations even if your tenants can’t meet theirs.


Maintain good communication

It’s important to maintain good communication with your tenants. This means you should be professional but approachable, and if they contact you with a repair or maintenance issue, make sure to have it dealt with as quickly as possible. Regular inspections can also help ensure that your tenants are treating the property well, and offer a chance for any issues to be rectified before they go too far.


Know your rights as a landlord

You’ve taken all precautions, thoroughly screened your tenant and conducted a meticulous inventory. Yet somehow, against all odds, you’ve managed to let your flat to an unhygienic, antisocial tenant who has a very ‘easy-going’ attitude when it comes to paying rent. So, what are your rights?


Payment of rent

  • You should have a written tenancy agreement in place, such as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. This sets out the amount of rent payable and when.


  • Try to get your tenant to pay their rent into your account by standing order. That way you can evidence which payments you receive and, more importantly, which payments you don't.


  • If your tenant doesn’t pay rent for a set period, and no solution is forthcoming, then you have the right to serve your tenant an eviction notice. However, there is a procedure to follow when doing this (see below). You can also attempt to reclaim any unpaid rent. 


If you’re letting through an agent, make sure to check the terms and conditions before signing an agreement. Letting agents generally offer two types of service:


  1. an introduction service, or
  2. a full property management service.


Check what your agent covers as part of their managed service should your tenant defer payment. Some letting agents offer arrears management, whereby they chase arrears subject to a pre-agreed arrears management process and collect missed payments or arrears as part of their contract with you.


Raising the rent

  • You can put up the rent at certain points in a tenancy. This will depend on the specifics of the tenancy agreement – you may have to wait for a fixed term to end before you can make the increase.


  • You can’t charge what you like, however. The rent has to be justifiable and comparable to similar properties in the area, otherwise the tenant can complain and you could be forced to restore the rent to an acceptable level.


Neglect and damage of the property

Your tenants have a level of responsibility to keep your buy-to-let property clean, in good condition and smoke-free (unless your agreement specifically says otherwise), and will also be expected to complete basic maintenance, e.g. change light bulbs and use the heating system responsibly.

However, damage caused by tenants or their visitors is not uncommon. Whether by accident or on purpose, there will always be tenants who cause damage to your rental property and belongings – furniture, carpets, etc.


  • While you are responsible for most repairs, if damage is caused by the tenant, then you should be able to claim the repair costs back.


  • The tenant is obliged to stick to the terms of the tenancy agreement regarding matters such as the keeping of pets – if damage or maintenance is required because of this, you can make a deduction from the tenant’s damage deposit or ask them to pay for the cost of repair.


  • The exception to this is for fair wear and tear’ such as to carpets or other furnishings. You can’t charge the tenant for these.


  • Whenever you propose to charge a tenant, make sure you have proof that the damage was caused while the property was occupied by them. You’ll want to take photos (and refer to those from your inventory) and should properly cost the level of damage caused, complete with quotes to back you up if the tenant chooses to dispute the figure.


  • If the damage is considered way beyond ‘fair wear and tear’ and the tenant will not either repair it themselves or pay for the cost of repair, you are within your rights to serve an eviction notice and retain the sum of money from their damage deposit to cover the cost. You could also go through a legal process to ask the tenant to repair the damage at their expense; there are specialist tenant eviction services that could help you do this.


Tenancy length

  • The length of the tenancy will be set out in the tenancy agreement that all parties will need to sign. Normally, shorthold tenancies are for periods of six or 12 months, but they can be longer by negotiation.


  • You’re within your rights to end the tenancy after the agreed period, for any reason, provided you give the tenants at least two months’ written notice.


  • You may be able to terminate the contract sooner if there’s a legitimate reason (such as if you’re dealing with arrears or tenancy violations). You’ll still need to give suitable notice and will need a court-granted possession order.


What you can’t do

It’s important to remember that your tenants have rights too, and there are a few things that you’re not allowed to do as a landlord.

For example, it is illegal for you as a landlord to enter your rental property without prior agreement from your tenant. Landlords do have rights to ‘reasonable’ access to carry out repairs for which they are responsible, but unless it’s an emergency you will always need to get permission from the tenant with at least 24 hours’ prior notice. If you don’t follow this process you could be prosecuted for harassment. If you are unsure, get advice from your local housing advice centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.

You can’t keep hold of your tenants’ deposit without good reason, either. If you are letting using an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, you are obliged to put your tenant’s deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme. If you want to make a deduction from the deposit – perhaps due to damage the tenants caused to your property – you must be able to prove that the damage was their fault, and you’ll need to back up why you need to deduct the amount by providing quotes for any cleaning or repairs needed.

Even if you’ve exhausted all other reasonable options and want your tenants to leave, you can’t just physically chuck them out on the street or ‘help’ them move. When it comes to evicting problem tenants, you have to be careful not to make an illegal eviction, as this can lead to legal action against you. Instead, there’s a clear process you need to follow.


How to evict a difficult tenant

Sometimes, dealing with problem tenants has only one remaining course of action: eviction. While it should never be the first port of call – effective communication may be able to help resolve matters in the first instance – it’s an unfortunate risk for anyone who becomes a buy-to-let landlord.

In most cases, there are three stages to the eviction process:


  1. Give notice of eviction. The tenancy agreement should specify a notice period that you can give your tenants to vacate the property. This should be at least two months if it’s to coincide with the end of a fixed rental agreement, but can be as little as two weeks if they’ve broken terms of the tenancy.
  2. Apply for a possession order if the tenants remain in the property at the end of the notice period. There are different possession orders you can apply for depending on whether or not the tenants owe rent – use a standard possession order if they’re in arrears, and an accelerated possession order if they’re not. 
  3. Get a warrant for possession. If the possession order is granted and the tenant still does not comply, you can apply for an eviction warrant. The court will then arrange to send in the bailiffs.


The website has more information on this, as well as PDF documents and forms you can download.


While it’s important to make sure your rights are protected, don’t forget about your buy-to-let mortgage. The right mortgage, with low monthly repayments, would also help protect your income in case of any unexpected tenant-related expenses.

Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice.

house keys in hand

At a glance

  • Make sure you’re prepared before you sign up a tenant, and think carefully about your choice.
  • You have the right to expect on-time rental payments, make reasonable rent increases and to claim for damage that goes beyond wear and tear.
  • While you don't have the right to enter your rental property without the tenants’ permission and notice, or to evict them without due process, there are things you can do if you're dealing with problem tenants. will never contact you by phone to sell you any financial product. Any calls like this are not from Moneyfacts. Emails sent by will always be from Be ScamSmart. will never contact you by phone to sell you any financial product. Any calls like this are not from Moneyfacts. Emails sent by will always be from Be ScamSmart.