Fighting Tenants

You ran the background checks.  You approved credit scores and financial responsibility.  References have been verified and security deposit and rent checks have cleared.

You’ve done everything possible to ensure your tenants will respect the property and pay rent on time.

But even the best tenant screening can’t prevent conflicting lifestyles between your neighboring tenants, causing high animosity, leaving you right in the middle of some tenant-on-tenant drama.

What’s a property manager to do?

Whether it is the stomping of a “loud” upstairs neighbor, excessive music or partying late at night, stealing parking spaces, or even aggressive smells permeating the next door unit, every property manager has encountered a tenant complaint about a neighboring tenant.

For the most part, these types of lifestyle complaints can be settled with a little mediation, compromise, and lease enforcement.  In cases of serious threats, harassment or violence, legal action might be necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of your tenants.

How to manage fighting tenants

The first step in handling tenant disputes, is to have a solid lease that details rules expected of tenants that promote a safe and peaceful environment.

A safe environment includes provisions about unacceptable harassment, threats or inappropriate behavior directed at other tenants.  And a peaceful environment includes conditions that make all tenants feel comfortable regarding nuisance or noise.

Lease terms for a safe and peaceful environment

Some property managers include specific provisions in lease agreements about what is included in a safe and peaceful environment in regards to noise and behavior for all tenants and their guests, and highlight that failure to comply is considered breaking lease terms and grounds for eviction.

If simple disputes and noise complaints cannot be settled with warnings, having a lease in place will assist you if must move on with an eviction.

Create a Resolution Policy and Procedure

To better manage tenant disputes and complaints, it is a good idea to have an established internal policy outlining how to handle these situations.  A resolution policy will help you respond consistently and proactively to tenant complaints.

Here are some steps you should consider taking to help you develop a resolution policy.

  1. Stop it before it starts.
    Give your tenants the opportunity to solve problems on their own.  When the tenant first moves in, offer them helpful suggestions about dealing with the neighbors, try including a handout with your tenant welcome package.  In the case of most noise complaints, the tenant in question might not realize he is being too loud and will happily turn down their music or quiet a social gathering if a polite request is made.
  2. Be Informative.
    Provide your tenants with instructions about how to file a complaint. Do you want your tenants to call you every time they have a complaint? Do you want them fill out a complaint form in the leasing office? Do you prefer an email? Regardless of the method you choose, communicating this to your tenants will help you avoid late-night calls to your emergency phone line.
  3. Acknowledge your tenant’s complaint.
    Regardless of your preferred complaint system, you must respond and acknowledge your tenant’s complaint as soon as possible. It is important that you take complaints seriously, so your tenants feel valued and respected.  (Even if you have to suppress an eye roll from Tenant Tina for another complaint about Tenant Tom’s “heavy breathing” through the thin walls.)  Inform your tenant that you recognize their concern and explain that you will take action about any lease violating behavior.  If no action can be taken, explain why.
  4. Make a call.
    Contact the tenant in dispute by phone and advise them that a complaint has been made against them, and tell them in what regards. Do not tell them who made the complaint-this can cause further disputes or tension among your tenants. If they are breaking rules outlined in the lease agreement, reference this violation and what actions are being taken. Remind them that lease violations are grounds for evictions.  Depending on the severity of the complaint, a warning might sufficient to stop the behavior.
  5. Put it in writing.
    After your phone call, send a letter or email to the tenant in dispute, confirming your conversation and what was discussed. Your letter should detail any actions that need to be taken by the tenant or management and reference any specific lease violations.
  6. Document everything.
    This is where tenant complaint forms can come in handy. You should also have a record of the date the complaint was made, what actions you took, your conversation with the offending tenant and what settlement was agreed upon.  Make sure to log every complaint, and build a file against repeat offenders. This will help you if any legal action needs to be taken in the future.
  7. Follow up.
    Check in with your tenant who made the complaint, to make sure they are comfortable and satisfied with their rental property arrangement. You do not need to specifically ask about their complaint, but reaching out will help them feel valued.

A disruptive tenant should recognize his responsibility to follow your lease terms and change his behavior after receiving a complaint notice. If a violation constitutes a potential threat to anyone’s health or safety, you should be prepared with legal counsel to take appropriate actions. Always consult a lawyer who is familiar with landlord-tenant rights in your state to help enforce rental lease agreements.

Part of having a successful rental property is enforcing a positive community among tenants. Proactively managing tenant disputes encourages tenant retention and helps you be a great property manager.

This article was originally published in May 2017

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