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Let’s be honest, there are a lot of bad landlords out there – but there are also a lot of awful tenants. Here are some of my bad tenant moments I would like to share…

They exemplify a few of the countless things that can go wrong for buy to let landlords.

In every case, though wrongly treated, I was fundamentally at fault.

If you are a landlord and something goes wrong, it is almost always your fault – rooted in some inadequacy in your knowledge, experiences, systems or practices.

There are important lessons to learn from my experiences if you are a landlord now or you are planning on becoming one…   

1. The phantom tenant

This tenant was so bad, I did not know of his existence until many years after the tenancy had ended!

I engaged a letting agent to find me a tenant and thought I was renting out my two bedroom East London flat to two friends.

Rent was paid on time and everything went well; the flat was clean and tidy when the tenants left.

About a decade later I was having a few drinks in a pub with the letting agent, who I had got to know well – and trusted and quite liked – but hadn’t dealt with for 6 or 7 years after he stopped being a letting agent.

Yes, he probably had a bit too much to drink because suddenly….boom!

Unintentionally and unknowingly he revealed in a roundabout way that years ago he was in the habit of getting properties from landlords, purporting to rent them out to tenants, took the tenancy himself and then sub-let to an agency which provided back up to young people leaving the care system…charging twice the rent paid to the landlord!

Putting one and one together I realised that I was one of the duped landlords.

My letting agent was effectively my tenant and I didn’t have a clue.

Needless to say, I did not buy another drink that night.

Key things I did wrong:

  • Carried out insufficient due diligence; I did hire him based on a personal recommendation, but greater due diligence on my part might have helped
  • Although the agent was being paid to find me a tenant, I should have been looking over his shoulder – never completely trust an agent
  • I didn’t make periodic visits to the property to get to know and speak to the occupiers; had I done so I might have found out their true identity and uncovered what was going on.


2. The brazen tenant

I lived for many years in my one bedroom flat in West Hampstead and when I bought somewhere else (like all good property entrepreneurs) I decided to keep it and rent it out.

As it was my former home and a really attractive flat, I especially wanted to get a top notch tenant and I chose one of the best agents locally and made it very clear that I wanted a good quality tenant able to afford the rent.

The rent was paid on time for about the first six months of the one year tenancy – then the arrears started to build up and the excuses started to mount.

The tenant then started playing games by ignoring my correspondence and phone calls, while all the time the arrears were increasing.

I engaged an agent to visit the property and the news he brought back made me livid.

My tenant had moved out and had sub-let the flat, collecting rent from my property but not paying me a penny. This was a tenant with a serious moral deficit. My thoughts and thinking at the time cannot be published.

When it was all done and dusted I lost around £5,000 in total. 

Key things I did wrong:

  • Should not have listened to the tenant’s excuses; as soon as he was in arrears I should have started the legal process for eviction – that might have reduced the rental losses
  • Failed to carry out quarterly visits to the property; that might have prevented the sub-letting.

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3. The prisoner tenant

These events occurred in a northern town whose reputation is not impeccable.

I won’t name the town because I don’t do stereotyping.

The agent got me a tenant, a nice young lady with great references, and everything was hunky-dory for a month or so into the one year tenancy.

Then one morning I got a call from a neighbouring tenant to say that there was a swarm of police cars outside the building and a man from my flat was being arrested.

This is a complex story and not all the facts are relevant – however, the key thing is that the young lady apparently never moved into the flat but handed it over to an offender who had been let out of prison on an electronic tag. 

He evidently failed to comply with his release conditions and so the police came a knocking and carried him back to jail.

When my agent checked the flat, it was a mess and cost about £1,000 to clean and redecorate.

The tagged offender had clearly taken full advantage of his freedom and it looked like he had been partying every night.   

Key thing I did wrong:

  • I didn’t visit the property a week or two into the tenancy to check who was living there. A quarterly visit would not have saved me as the problem occurred less than two months into the tenancy. 

4. Conclusion

What stands out from these experiences is the importance of visiting a rental property on a regular basis – firstly within the first week or two of the tenancy starting and then every three months or so thereafter.

Make sure you have these visiting rights in your tenancy agreement, especially if the agreement is prepared by your letting agent.

If your property is managed, a good managing agent will normally carry out such “fact finding” visits, but it is your responsibility as the landlord to check that they actually do so.

Have you had a bad tenant experience?  Are you willing to share? Please leave your comments below.

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Dalton Barrett
Rebel Property Coach

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  1. Great advice here. Do you think that the tenant reference systems offered by letting agents are worth the extra cost? What is your experience of using these? Do they offer any more security than doing the checks yourself?

  2. Important advice as ever. I have an ongoing tenant problem. Rent paid on time but constantly asking for things to be done that turn out to be a waste of time. For example, the flat is too cold. I send an engineer and it turns out they don’t want to put the heating on to save the bill in ZERO degree temperatures. Another example; tumble dryer not working – taking too long to dry stuff. Turns out they put soaking wet towels that have not been spun into the dryer. Since May I have had something like forty requests.

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