If you’re being harassed by your tenant, you have a variety of options, including using the legal system, to handle the situation.
What is Harassment?
Harassment is any act or omission by or on behalf of the tenant that causes or is intended to cause harm to the landlord. Considering that many landlords and tenants reside in the same general area, the ability for a tenant to cause disturbances and negatively impact the living environment is very possible. In doing so, the tenant would be violating the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
Harassment is not simply “verbal abuse,” but can actually take many different forms. Here are some common examples of harassment by tenants:
- Refusing to pay rent. A tenant must pay rent on time and make every effort to keep doing so.
- Causing excessive property damage. A tenant may not excessively destroy the landlord’s property.
- Threatening communications. A tenant should not make oral or written communications threatening the landlord’s well-being.
- Refusing to leave when evicted. Landlords have the right to evict tenants, and when they do not leave, it could count as harassment.
- Assaulting the landlord. The tenant physically causes harm to the landlord.
What to Do When a Tenant Harasses You
There are certain steps that you as a landlord can take to address tenant harassment. Ensuring that you do so without facing legal consequences is crucial.
Ask the Tenant to Stop
The first step you should do as a landlord is talk with the tenant. You could send the tenant a letter through any written medium, such as an email, a letter, or written text. Ensuring that the communication is written is essential to keep as evidence (and to keep a backup, such as a picture on your phone, if it’s handwritten).
It is possible that the tenant is unaware of the consequences that may stem from continuously engaging in harassing behavior. Clearly explain the impact of the tenant’s actions and what could happen in the long run, such as termination of the lease. If the tenant agrees to stop, then you and the tenant can continue to carry out the existing lease agreement.
Start the Eviction Process
If the tenant continues to keep harassing you even after you have asked them to stop, you have every right to evict them. While the same eviction process generally applies for every state, there can still be certain different notice requirements to be aware of. Notice requirements involve the landlord notifying the tenant of lease violations. Once notice requirements are met, then you can file a case with the court to ensure the tenant is properly evicted.
Report Dangerous Behavior to the Police
Any time a tenant begins harassing you, there is always the risk or threat of imminent bodily harm or injury. Furthermore, you could feel unsafe, which, in and of itself, can be very harmful to your well-being.
If this is the case, call the police immediately. The police will be able to provide the protection necessary to make you feel safe. If the threats are severe, it might be possible to obtain a restraining order, so you never have to see the tenant again.
Documenting all the communications and actions you have taken with regards to combatting tenant harassment leaves you with the necessary information for court. Having records of your interactions with the tenant will only help your case, as it provides a foundation for why you are entitled to compensation or other courses of action.
If the tenant has a lawyer, you can send them the documents. If the lawyer deems that you have sufficient documentation, they could suggest that the tenant drop the lawsuit since they don’t have a strong case.
Know the Law
Although documenting everything is essential, you can only know what to collect if you know the law. States may have different requirements for proving different forms of harassment. Not only does knowing the law inform you of the necessary requirements, but it also informs you of what not to do in response to tenant harassment. You do not want to be accused of landlord retaliation, especially when you are responding in the best way you know how.
Most importantly, stay calm. Work to find a solution to the problem. The last thing you want to do is react negatively and angrily so as to jeopardize your chance at a remedy. Moreover, reacting negatively could put you at risk for being charged with retaliation.
What Not to Do When a Tenant Harasses You
There are also certain actions you do not want to take when you are facing a harassing tenant. Doing these could make your relationship with the tenant worse and could lead to more altercations.
Threaten the Tenant Back or Respond Angrily
One of the most important things to note is that if you are being threatened by a tenant, you should never threaten them back. When being threatened, it is critical to continue to be professional and respond in a calm manner, so as not to say or do anything you would not originally do.
The reason why threatening a tenant could be detrimental is you could be in violation of laws that prevent landlord retaliation. In a court of law, the tenant could misconstrue your conduct as retaliatory, and you could pay the consequences.
Change the Locks
Removing and/or changing locks could actually violate your state’s laws and be construed as landlord harassment. Doing so will not only escalate the situation, but could be used against you in a court of law.
Remove the Tenant’s Belongings
Similar to removing and/or changing the locks of the rental premises, removing the tenant’s belongings may also be against the law. The tenant has the right to quiet enjoyment of their home, and the landlord cannot just go in and take all the belongings, especially without notice.
Ways to Avoid Tenant Harassment
With a little bit of prevention, you can likely avoid most instances where a tenant might harass you.
Run a Thorough Background Check
Although background checks may be common, ensure that it is very thorough. A background check allows you to discover any criminal background, eviction reports, credit reports, and anything else that could raise red flags.
Contact Previous Landlords
Another method of understanding the tenant’s background is asking previous landlords. The previous landlord will be able to speak about everything related to the previous tenancy, including any problems or disputes.
When there are no previous landlords, it might be possible to gain employer information, which could also give insight into how the tenant is as a person.
Form Good Relationships with Your Tenants
Ensure that your relationship with your tenant is good. Creating a good relationship with tenants lowers the risk that they will decide to harass you or cause you any problems.