Anyone who tells frequent lies will probably have problems dealing with others, particularly those living with or loving the liar. A landlord is not likely to have that type of personal relationship with a tenant, so this kind of behavior won't be a problem on that level.
However, if a tenant lies about matters relevant to the tenancy, a landlord may have to take action to protect her financial interest. Her best options to respond to tenant prevarications will depend on when the lies occur in the landlord-tenant relationship: before the tenancy has begun, during the tenancy or as the tenant is moving out.
Prospective Tenant Lies in a Rental Application
A landlord's first contact with a prospective tenant is usually when he holds an open house for the rental unit. The prospective tenant visits the unit and fills out a rental application. While it is impossible for the landlord to determine whether the tenant is lying just by reading the rental application, running a background check or credit check on the person may reveal discrepancies.
A landlord finding a number of inaccuracies in a prospective tenant's application might confront the tenant and ask for an explanation. He might demand proof of the tenant's story and reject the application if it turns out that the tenant lied.
Alternatively, he may determine that the matters lied about were not relevant to the landlord/tenant relationship. For example, if a prospective tenant misstates the year she graduated from college or stumbles on the spelling of a former address, the landlord might chalk these up as errors rather than lies and give the tenant the benefit of the doubt.
Read More: Tenant Improvements and Betterments: Altering Rental Property
Prospective Tenant Lies About Finances
The backbone of the landlord/tenant relationship is financial. The tenant pays a security deposit, as well as a set amount of rent every month and usually, the unit's utility bills. This means that the landlord has a clear and immediate interest in the tenant's finances. When the tenant lies about finances in the rental application, the landlord must get the facts straight.
To ensure that she is getting the truth about the prospective tenant's finances, a landlord can ask for the name and contact information of the person's work supervisor to confirm salary and work history. Running a credit check on the prospective tenant will also flush out any tendency to pay bills late or to skip out on debts. It's probably also a good idea to call prior landlords to check on rent payment history.
If the landlord finds that the tenant lied about salary, work history or rental history, he should consider rejecting the person's application for the unit. It is far easier to turn the liar away at that point, even if it means interviewing and selecting another tenant, than it is to evict a prevaricating tenant down the road.
Tenant Lies About Pets/Smoking or Similar Matters
Almost every rental agreement specifies a pet policy: whether the tenant has a right to keep a dog or cat. Likewise, if an apartment has a "no smoking" rule or does not permit overnight guests, these restrictions belong in the written agreement. The landlord should speak with the prospective tenant about the "house rules" before signing on the dotted line.
What if a tenant agrees to follow the rules but, after moving into the unit, doesn't? The landlord can address this type of lie in many states by simply sending the tenant notice that he is terminating the tenancy. The landlord can usually terminate a month-to-month tenancy with 30-days' written notice, that is, by giving the tenant notice that the tenancy will be over in 30 days. While he may prefer that the tenants get out immediately, terminating the tenancy is often the easiest way to get rid of the problem.
In some jurisdictions, a landlord must give the tenant an opportunity to remedy the problem. For example, a California landlord must prepare a "3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit" and give it to the tenant. This type of notice can be used whenever the tenant is violating terms of the lease or rental agreement and the problem can be fixed. If the tenant doesn't correct the violation within three days, the other option is for the tenant to leave the premises.
Tenant Fails to Pay Rent
A tenant who fails to pay rent isn't necessarily lying. Perhaps the tenant steps right up and admits the failure to pay rent, giving some excuse for that failure. Even if the tenant acknowledges the issue and gives an honest explanation, the landlord can serve an eviction notice.
Most state laws recognize that a landlord rents out units for financial reasons. And when a tenant fails to pay rent, the financial deal is broken. That's why there is usually a shortcut to evicting the tenant in this case. For example, in California, the landlord can prepare a "3-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit." Like the "3-Day Notice to Perform Covenants or Quit," the rent notice gives the tenant only three days to get the back rent paid up or else get out of the unit.
Of course, not all tenants who get these notices actually pay up their overdue rent or else leave the premises. When this happens, the landlord usually has to file an action in court in order to get the tenant evicted. Each state has its own procedures. In California, the legal action is for unlawful detainer. The landlord files an unlawful detainer complaint in court, serves it on the defendant and prepares to go to court.
Departing Tenant Lies About Condition of Apartment
Most landlords require tenants to put down a security deposit before they move into the apartment. The deposit can serve to make up for any unpaid rent when the tenant leaves or to pay for any damage done to the apartment during the tenancy including cleaning. On the other hand, the tenant does not have to leave the unit in better condition than it was at the beginning of the tenancy, nor is the tenant liable for ordinary wear and tear of the unit.
A tenant who leaves a unit damaged or extremely dirty might lie about the unit's condition at move-in. The landlord's best move here is prevention. During the initial walkthrough of the property, the landlord should take photos or videos to definitively establish the condition of the apartment at the beginning of the tenancy.
Refusing to Return Security Deposit
If a landlord didn't take photos during the walkthrough and then finds herself dealing with a lying tenant, she still has some options. She can refuse to return the deposit and seek evidence of the condition of the property at move-in.
She might be able to find witnesses, other prospective tenants who viewed the unit before she rented it to the current tenants, or neighbors who visited the unit early in the tenancy. It's also worth talking to any roommates who lived in the unit with the tenant.
The landlord should be sure to follow the law in her jurisdiction regarding security deposits, and provide full notice to the tenant as required. For example, most states require that the landlord submit copies of the repair bills and cleaning expenses or other evidence of the work done to the unit to the tenant.
- Always call the police if the situation threatens to become dangerous. Do not risk your own safety.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.