When a Tenant Starts Changing the Lease Terms

As an investment property owner that is renting apartments a lease is the binding contract that should govern the rental agreement between the owner and the renter. This may seem obvious to you, but don’t be surprised to find some tenants who will make attempts to alter the listed terms within the lease. I make every effort to communicate any specific needs on my part, both in a phone conversation and within the body of the lease. I often repeat myself to bring home my point. Here are a few cases I have experienced where the tenant has either chosen to ignore the terms of a lease or alter them in some way.

Lawn Care and Upkeep

I have a property that has a fair amount of lawn which is divided equally among 2 units. Since there is a utility shed on the property and it would be quick work for each tenant to care for their side of the yard I state in the lease that general care and maintenance of the yard is a tenant responsibility.   I provide a lawn mower and leave the rest to the tenants. One tenant has recently decided that other than mowing the lawn, all other landscape issue should be my responsibility. This goes against what is outlined within the lease, but he is a good tenant and I am glad to be renting to him. Since the property is not to far and I have the ability to do the work, I do perform this maintenance on my schedule. If I had to drive 3 hours round trip, if the tenant then began to change other aspects of the lease or I had to hire a contractor to perform the tasks, it would be a different story.

They Couldn’t Handle the Heat

One of my units is a large basically 3 story townhouse type duplex with high ceilings and large rooms. It can be a burden to heat and uses home heating oil as the heat source. I keep the rent lower than I might otherwise due to this factor and explain this and the importance of monitoring the fuel tank during the course of the cold season. I warn that running low or out of heating oil severely affects the operation of the oil burner and typically requires maintenance to rectify.

I again repeat myself a few times on this issue and have a clause in the lease describing tenant responsibility in maintaining a proper level of heating oil. If I did not include these terms a tenant might be tempted to be lax in their monitoring of the fuel level and find themselves without heat on several occasions. In the recent past I had a tenant that did not seem to understand this, which resulted in repeated calls to fix the furnace. It got so bad that the furnace had to be practically rebuilt resulting in the tenants having no heat for 3 days. The next summer the tenant asked if they could terminate their lease early citing that they simply couldn’t afford the heating oil. Judging by the frequent observation of the 3rd story window being opened, I was not surprised, (possibly being used as the ‘smoking area’ I assume). I agreed and doubled down on my communication, regarding the need to maintain the home heating oil level, when interviewing for a replacement tenant.

Adjustable Rent and Due Date

I have ongoing mortgages on all my property. It is important that I have a consistent and predictable rental income stream so I am not faced with scrambling to pay a mortgage. On top of that are all the other costs of owning these units like utility, water and association dues to name a few. None of these costs are adjustable or can be put off for an extended length of time. My leases reflect this fact by giving a specific due date and rental amount, (late fee if not paid by X date). One tenant is testing the limits of the rental rate amount and due date on a constant basis. I am almost to the point of voiding the current lease and finding a more suitable tenant.

I have worked with the tenant repeatedly to try and get back on track with the payment cycle. Each effort eventually works but the renter soon reverts back to shorted rental amounts and very late payments. I have to deal with not only constantly emailing and calling to receive rent checks but keeping track of the negative carry over amount and how much the rent is short by each month. I am almost to the point of needing a ledger to record the current past due figures for the renter.

My advise on this type of ‘adjustment’ in the lease terms is to not let the situation drag out to long. Doing so might mean a renter vacating the property without notice and leaving you with the task of trying to collect sometimes thousands of dollars in past due rent. In my opinion after a few honest attempts at correcting the situation, you are better off canceling the lease with the tenant and finding someone that will be more consistent with their payments.


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