Ideally, your tenant relationships will be pleasant and mutually beneficial. Your tenants will be nice, polite, and respectful of your property, and in exchange, you’ll make sure they have a good place to live.
Unfortunately, landlord tenant relationships don’t always unfold this smoothly. And if you end up in a tense situation with a tenant, some of your actions and behaviors could come back to haunt you.
Notably, if your tenant accuses you of tenant harassment, you could be held liable for damages. Even if you’re found innocent, the process of dealing with the accusation can be stressful and time consuming.
So, what exactly is tenant harassment? And what are the best ways to avoid it?
The Basics of Tenant Harassment
Tenant harassment is basically committing an unnecessary action that causes harm to one or more of your tenants. It can take the form of a direct physical confrontation, verbal dialogue exchanged remotely, or even malicious inaction.
For the accusation of tenant harassment to be taken seriously, there needs to be serious harm or the threat of serious harm to the tenant, willful action or inaction on the part of the landlord, and some kind of malicious intent.
Examples of Tenant Harassment
As you can tell from the description, it’s pretty easy to avoid tenant harassment if you treat your tenants with politeness and respect. But there are some fringe cases where the lines are somewhat blurry.
These are some of the most common examples of tenant harassment, and they are all activities you should avoid at all costs:
- Entry without advance notice. Legally, landlords are required to provide advance notice before entering the property. This is meant to establish tenant privacy and a sense of security; nobody wants their landlord to barge in on them in the middle of the night. If you enter without notice, it’s considered harassment, with a few exceptions; for example, you may be allowed to enter the unit in a genuine emergency.
- Stopping access to utilities. Just because a tenant is difficult or hard to work with doesn’t give you just cause for shutting off access to utilities. Utilities like natural gas, electricity, and water are necessary for survival and shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip to get your tenant to move out or pay their rent.
- Withdrawing amenities that were included in the lease agreement. Certain amenities may be included in your lease agreement. If they are included in this document, you can’t change your mind and take them back as a retaliatory action, or else you may be considered to be practicing tenant harassment.
- Intentionally delaying or ignoring repairs. If something important in the unit requires maintenance or a full repair, you could be considered deliberately harassing your tenant if you intentionally attempt to delay or ignore those needs.
- Changing locks to individual units. You can change common area locks as frequently as you’d like, but you can’t change the locks for individual units without notice; mostly, this is considered harassment if it’s used as an intimidation tactic.
- Taking or damaging tenant possessions. The tenant lives on your property, but they can own property of their own. Taking or damaging tenant possessions is considered a form of harassment.
- Increasing rent without notice. Most areas allow you to increase rent periodically, provided you give sufficient advance notice. Increasing rent without notice may be illegal and may be considered harassment.
- Providing notice inappropriately. There are certain protocols for how and when you must provide notice for certain things. Ignoring these parameters will end up hurting you.
- Aggressively pursuing a buyout. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to buy out a tenant, but aggressively pursuing this option and constantly following up with your tenant could be considered harassing behavior.
- Verbal and physical threats. Any verbal or physical threats to your tenant can (and rightfully should) be considered harassment.
- Faking documents. There are many valid reasons you could evict a tenant. But if you try to threaten or intimidate your tenant by forging eviction documents, you could get yourself in significant legal trouble. Don’t fake any documents; do everything the right way.
- Creating a nuisance. One of the more egregious examples of tenant harassment is deliberately creating a nuisance to annoy your tenant into moving or taking some other action. For example, you might intentionally start construction on a project in the middle of the night to create noise and wake your tenant up; this is unacceptable and illegal.
- Sexual harassment. All forms of sexual harassment of a tenant are unacceptable, just as sexual harassment is unacceptable in every other social context.
Three Easy Ways to Avoid Tenant Harassment
Thankfully, there are three very easy ways that you can avoid all forms of tenant harassment and keep yourself in good standing:
- Work with a property management company. If you hire a property management company, that company will become responsible for almost everything related to your property, including screening new tenants, collecting rent, and even conducting maintenance. This organization will serve as a buffer between you and your tenants, so you rarely, if ever, directly interact with your tenants.
- Talk to a lawyer. If you know exactly what the laws are and you actively try to obey them, you shouldn’t ever be found guilty of tenant harassment. Hire a good lawyer and consult with them regularly to make sure you’re doing everything correctly within the parameters of the law.
- Keep thorough records. As another protective measure, keep thorough records of all your interactions with tenants. Save all your emails. Keep all your text messages. Consider recording your phone calls and conversations (if allowed). This way, if you’re ever falsely accused of harassment, you’ll be able to produce a paper trail that demonstrates the truth.
Managing tenants is much easier when you have a competent property management company on your side. If you’re interested in learning more about property management, or if you need help on any real estate decision, contact us for a free consultation today!