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Being a landlord has its benefits, but be wary of nightmare tenants

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CALGARY - Joyce Klaver's experience renting apartments to students in Waterloo, Ont. has been mostly good, but there have been exceptions.

There was the young man who creeped out his roommates by making little altars out of animal bones and hair from the shower drain.

"That was pretty disruptive," she said. "I had to evict him."

Then there were the students that dumped half a truckload of sand into their common area and held a drunken volleyball tournament — in the nude.

But overall, Klaver enjoyed her time as a landlord and made a good living doing it. Her son now runs the business, Waterloo Off-Campus Housing.

"Some of the kids I've met, I might see them 15 years later, much like a teacher," she said.

"I get to see these kids as they're going through their lives and I keep in contact with a few of them."

Becoming a landlord can be a good way to bring in some extra income, but it's important to do your homework to make sure you don't end up with a problem tenant — and know how to respond if you do.

It's crucial to understand what your legal obligations are and what is required from tenants. The law varies greatly from province to province.

"I think the first thing you need to recognize is that as soon as you make the decision that you'd like to rent that you're now going into a business and it's a business that's governed by laws, by rules, by regulations," said Gerry Baxter, executive director of the Calgary Residential Rental Association, which offers courses and support to landlords.

"You have to take the time to educate yourself in how the legislation operates."

A lot of landlords like to think the best of people and don't effectively screen out bad tenants, said Rochelle Johannson, a lawyer with the Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta.

"They really liked the person that came, so they let them rent even though they might not be a perfect tenant on paper. And then there were problems later on."

Just calling references may not be enough, as a friend can easily pose as a past landlord and sing a prospective tenant's praises. Johannson recommends doing a little more digging and even using social media to get more background.

In many cases, an applicant must consent to having personal information shared.

Ike Awgu, an Ottawa lawyer who represents landlords, said employment checks are also necessary.

"It's not only to ascertain whether or not they can afford to live in your unit and have been working there for a while. But also so that if things go south, if you have to sue them for money or they cause damage, you can garnish their wages."

Just one letter from a lawyer to a delinquent tenant's workplace is often embarrassing enough to get a prompt payment, said Awgu.

Like references, Awgu recommends approaching the employment check with a bit of skepticism.

"Google things, people," he said.

Some landlords do credit checks on their prospective tenants, but Awgu said that's not necessarily the best way to get an accurate picture. A lot of new Canadians or young tenants won't have much of a credit history and "there are people who have really good credit and then they're just monsters."

If issues do come up, responding quickly and in a consistent manner is key. Johannson says it's a good idea to set out a protocol ahead of time outlining the steps to be taken if a tenant does cause problems.

And make sure to get everything in writing.

"If you're standing in front of the judge, if you have things that are written that a judge can look at and see, then you're already starting off on a better foot," said Johannson.

Awgu said letting bad situations drag on too long just makes matters worse. Often landlords want to solve the problem themselves instead of getting help from a lawyer early on.

"The number of stories I hear that began with 'I wanted to be a nice person.' are legion," he said. "You can't let yourself be made a fool of. And far too many landlords basically do that by the time they call our office."

Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter

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