Generally speaking, in tenancy situations, the landlord holds the power. They own the property, set the rules, and collect the money. In fact, the imbalance is such that tenants can find extensive information on landlord harassment online, including cases in which landlords engage in a variety of abusive actions and aggressive behaviors to get tenants to terminate their contracts. Far less recognized are those cases in which, for one reason or another, tenants are the aggressors in the relationship.
So what happens when you as a landlord, or your employees, is harassed by a tenant? Though it’s not as common, this sort of harassment does happen on occasion, and it can be distressing and even threatening. Looking beyond the basic framework of eviction, which is typically the outcome in such circumstances, here’s what you need to consider – and what steps you can take – when a tenant is causing problems.
Disruption Versus Aggression
Before contending that a tenant is acting aggressively, it’s important to distinguish between common problem tenant behaviors and actual harassment. A problem tenant may not pay their rent on time, may have unauthorized guest overs, or may be loud or disruptive in their relationships with neighbors. Some even cause property damage, though not in a malicious manner.
The difference between a tenant who is causing problems and one who is actively harassing you has more to do with the quality of the actions than with the specific behavior. An aggressive tenant, for example, might threaten you or their neighbors in daily interactions, maliciously damage property with the intention of forcing you to do repair work, and they may even assault you, workers on the property, or neighbors. In addition to these actions, aggressive tenants might invite guests who are there specifically to be threatening or disruptive or withhold rent as part of their threat pattern. The nature of the actions matters more than the actions themselves.
Get At The Root
While some tenants are explicitly malicious and will act out, particularly during the weeks leading up to eviction, in some cases tenants may act aggressively because they feel that their requests are being ignored. If a tenant begins showing signs of aggression, such as withholding payment or making excessive noise or threats, the first thing you should do is meet with them to set out your expectations. Then give them an opportunity to discuss any problems they’re having as a tenant and see what you may be able to do to assist them.
Very few tenants will act aggressively because they’re having a problem, but it may happen from time to time, especially if you own a lot of multi-family units. Tenants may have had negative experiences at past properties that inform how they act now, and you should consider this an opportunity to help them correct course going forward.
Protecting Your Employees
If you’re a landlord who employs a property manager, maintenance staff, or other professionals to take care of your property and your tenant begins to harass them, you need to take swift steps to protect them. All employers must have a harassment policy, with those employing at least five people required to establish that harassment policy in writing. Ongoing tenant harassment of employees can also place you in a position of liability under OSHA’s guidelines, so you need to intervene immediately. If you fail to protect your employees, they could bring a lawsuit under OSHA.
Any time you experience harassment from a tenant, it’s important that you warn your employees. Though some aggressive tenants will focus their energies on you, others will also target your employees. Give them the option of performing their job duties in alternative ways, such as during hours you know the tenants is at work, and they know they won’t be harassed.
Work With The Neighbors
Just as you’re responsible for your employees, you need to protect other tenants from harassment. Though this may not be a legal requirement – typically landlords are not legally liable in such cases – the laws vary by area, and it is a best practice. At the very least, you need to maintain a relationship with your tenants such that anyone having a problem with a neighbor can come to you for redress. Ongoing harassment of neighbors would also be considered grounds for eviction.
Safely Evicting Aggressive Tenants
When dealing with a tenant who is harassing you, your staff, or other residents, the most obvious outcome is eviction, but you should proceed with caution. Keep a record of all threatening interactions and encourage your tenant to communicate exclusively in writing during this time. If that’s not possible, keep recordings of voicemails and notes about any in-person encounters. You might also encourage staff and other tenants to maintain notes about threatening encounters.
As with more mundane evictions – they do happen, of course – it’s vital that you follow the letter of the law. In fact, evictions are one of the primary reasons that landlords employ property managers, like the professionals at Green Residential. Property managers have the experience necessary to carry out such procedures in keeping with local ordinances. This includes filing the appropriate paperwork and attending court hearings.
Tenant Management With Green Residential
Working with tenants is the hardest part of being a property owner – and it’s why many landlords struggle to rent their properties successfully. If your operation needs a boost, then, it’s time to get bring in the property management professionals from Green Residential. With over thirty years of Houston-area expertise, we understand your needs and the communities you serve.
Green Residential provides a complete set of property management services, including thorough tenant screening that will weed out the problem tenants. We also handle rent collection, maintenance, and eviction services so that you never have to handle a property management problem alone.
Wondering if Green Residential is the right fit for your property? Contact us today for more information about our property management services. Whether you rent to just a few tenants or have multifamily properties across the city, we’ll adapt our services to you.