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The Illegal Tenant – How to Handle a Difficult Situation Like a Pro

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Marina Shlomov - Monday, September 18, 2017

The Illegal Tenant – How to Handle a Difficult Situation Like a Pro

An application is processed; the tenants sign the lease, and they move in. Sometime during the tenancy, another resident appears to be living in the property. This is a clear violation if the rental agreement that states the tenant does not have the authority to sublet. This situation can have different scenarios. 

     The new residents could simply be long-term guests and the situation may resolve itself.

     The legal tenant could have just moved someone or several people into the property but remained in the residence with the new residents. 

     Another situation is that the tenant “sublet” to another party without permission of the property manager and or owner, then vacated the property, and allowed the other party to move in. 

Find out the facts

The first step is to find out WHO is currently residing in the property and how long they intend to stay there. If the legal tenant is still residing in the property, then the first step is to make immediate contact, find out more information, and immediately let them know they are in violation of the lease.

     How many new people have moved in?

     Are they temporary guests or intended to be permanent residents? If so, when will they be leaving?

     Is the current tenant planning to move?

If the legal tenant has moved out and sublet to other parties, it is imperative to make contact with the new residents as soon as possible and find out what is happening in the property. While it may seem that the tenant did the property owner a favor at first glance, there are several problems with these actions.

     You know nothing about the illegal residents – income, rental history, and credit. Our tenant screening covers these important items. 

     There is no signed agreement with the illegal tenant. Therefore, they have not agreed to the terms in the rental agreement.

Plan a course of action

Uncovering the facts regarding the illegal residents will determine what plan to take. It is also imperative that all actions comply with current landlord/tenant law. 

If it appears that the people who moved in with the tenant are compatible with the property and there is no property damage, then the simplest action is to notify the legal tenant in writing that all new residents of legal age must fill out an application and go through the application and approval process. If the screening produces positive results, then the next step would be to have them complete the rental agreements and become legal tenants in the property. Property managers encounter this scenario when a tenant fails to notify their property manager that they want another party to move in. It is also important to stress to all residents that once this situation is resolved, it is not to happen again.

Alternatively, if the uninvited residents do not pass the screening process or they refuse to comply, then it is time to issue a notice requiring the legal tenant to remove all parties not listed on the rental agreement from the property. If they fail to comply, it may be necessary to take legal action. Consulting an attorney who specializes in landlord/tenant law is extremely important at this point. 

The steps are similar when the tenant who has sublet the property to unknown residents. It is more common to have more difficulties when the legal tenant has vacated and moved in unknown parties. It is also imperative not to accept rent from illegal residents unless they become legal tenants. To do so will only give them claim to their tenancy and once again, seeking legal advice is imperative. It is necessary to take action, even if it means going to court because having illegal residents will only lead to more problems.

The majority of the time, we as property managers find our thorough tenant screening is the first step in preventing this problem. However, people and their circumstances are unpredictable. There are times when you have to evaluate what is happening and take the most practical steps to correct a difficult situation.

Marina Shlomov, a managing partner at ALH|Podland Realty & Rental Homes Property Management is the author of many articles on Landlording, Property Management, and Real Estate Investing. A residential builder in the state of Georgia since 1999, Marina is an investor herself. Her Atlanta property management company is intended “For Investors” and “By Investors” for a simple reason – she knows what investors’ goals are and she works hard to reach their goals. In her spare time, Marina likes to spend time with her family, friends, garden, read and travel. Check her out at You can find Marina’s articles and comments at @rentalhomesatl on Twitter, on FacebookGoogle+, Blogger. and YouTubeBigger Pockets and REI CLub and LinkedIn.

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