Renting out your home is a nice way to make some extra income. However, there is risk – mainly, renting it to the wrong person.
Regardless of how much time you spend screening prospects, nightmare tenants can slip through. Therefore, it’s almost inevitable that you run into tenant harassment. What matters is how you handle these tough situations.
Below, we’ll cover a few examples of potential tenant harassment. Then, we’ll walk you through addressing and resolving these issues as quickly and painlessly as possible.
When you think of harassment, you may imagine verbal abuse, threats, or even attempts to harm you.
However, tamer actions may still constitute harassment, especially if the tenant intentionally and consistently breaks your lease agreement.
Here are a few signs your tenant could be harassing you:
A tenant who refuses to pay rent or claims they paid rent but did not may constitute harassment. Be careful, though, because honest mistakes happen.
For example, a tenant may attempt to pay you via check, but the check bounces. This probably is not harassment if it’s the first time ever or in a very long time.
You first want to reach out to them ASAP to let them know. Maintain an empathetic tone, and inform them you’re willing to forgive this one bounced check. Problem solved.
However, if checks continue to bounce, you might have a case of harassment. If you inform them of the check bouncing and they disagree or claim they paid you without rectifying the problem, that may be harassment.
Wear and tear is a fact of life as a landlord. Even one-off cases of damage can occur without it being something sinister.
However, routine or excessive property damage may constitute harassment. Furthermore, a tenant may claim uninhabitable living conditions through the damage they caused. That may count as harassment as well.
Some forms of harassment, like refusing to pay or property damage, aren’t the scariest things a rental investor might have to deal with.
But threatening communications are frightening. That can involve emails, text messages, phone calls, or even in-person verbal confrontations.
Tenants may also threaten to sue you for matters like uninhabitable living conditions, despite the tenant’s property damage creating those conditions. It’s hard to know if they have a lawyer in this case or if they wrote the letter themselves. It might be a tactic to intimidate you into meeting tenant demands. Better safe than sorry, though – getting a lawyer may be best.
Now, the tenant definitely has an attorney if you receive a threatening letter from an attorney on the tenant’s behalf. Still, this can potentially constitute harassment, depending on the circumstances.
For example, a tenant could sue if a landlord discriminates against them based on a protected characteristic in the Fair Housing Act.
On the other hand, a tenant may have drafted the letter themselves and sent it to you, hoping you believe it’s real.
It can be hard for someone who isn’t a lawyer to tell. Best to get a lawyer in this case.
In general, landlords have the right to evict tenants for a number of reasons, including:
Many of these, of course, are examples of tenant harassment.
That said, if harassment is why you’re attempting to evict a tenant, they might not budge so easily.
Now that you know a few signs of tenant harassment, let’s walk through the process of protecting yourself from dangerous tenants and resolving these issues as painlessly as possible.
First, don’t panic if you receive lawsuit threats from a tenant or their attorney. Panic can lead to bad decisions that make the situation worse.
Remember that legal action is common in the world of property management. In fact, it’s common in almost any business once you reach a certain size. The more properties you have under your control, the more parties there are that could threaten or file lawsuits.
Some tenants find any reason possible to get upset and often act irrationally if they feel they’re mistreated. Rebutting them with an angry attitude will only make things worse, even if you feel justified in doing so. Take a few deep breaths and get in the right headspace so you can address the issue calmly and rationally.
Some forms of tenant harassment aren’t dangerous, per se. For example, refusing to pay rent or sending you a letter is frustrating but not necessarily dangerous.
However, harassment can take a dangerous turn. If your tenant threatens to do something to you, contact the police immediately. Getting a restraining order against the tenant might be a good idea if the threats are especially frightening.
This is quite scary. The silver lining is that the tenant will likely face legal consequences, and the law will make sure they’re evicted. That at least removes you from the process of trying to get this nightmare tenant to leave.
Documentation can be the difference between heading to court and the lawsuit disappearing. Make it a point to keep records of everything in your business, including communications with tenants, and keep things organized.
If the tenant already has a lawyer, you will want to send them documentation that backs up your side of the story. This can cause the tenant to drop the suit if their lawyer determines they don’t have a strong case.
Even if you do head to court, more documentation never hurts when arguing your case before a judge. For example, if your tenant eventually leaves while owing you money, you want the paperwork to back that up in court.
Documenting everything is essential, but you must also know the law around these matters. Every state has specific laws about recording people. Brush up on these because breaking them can cause you a lot more trouble.
You also must know the laws around other potential steps in this process, such as evicting tenants and giving notice before entering the property.
It’s always good to attempt to avoid conflict. However, disagreements with tenants are inevitable. The best thing you can do is see things from the tenant’s perspective. Try to use empathy to solve the issue early. A calm conversation can help ease the tension and fix many of these issues.
This is true even if your client has already hired a lawyer. In fact, bringing lawyers in on both sides is better.
Lawyers bring objectivity and cold rationality to the table. Sure, they have to try to win for their client. But as a third party, their connection to the problem and methods for solving it will be strictly professional. Emotions are far less likely to get involved.
Of course, lawyers can be intimidating. However, acknowledging their benefits can help ease the stress of the situation. You can rest assured a professional is handling the problem and you can spend less time dealing with these matters.
Finally, find a solution to the problem. You can resolve some of these cases by sending facts and documentation to your tenant or their attorney. Again use empathy and avoid language that conveys anger.
Don’t proceed alone if doing this fails to solve the problem. Contact your attorney or hire one right away.
Lawyers can indeed cost a significant amount of money. However, your attorney fees can potentially protect you and your properties from far worse consequences. Once again, lawyers remove emotions from the conflict and can de-escalate the situation.
Don’t do the following if your tenant is harassing you:
Tenant harassment can range from inconvenient to downright scary, but they are inevitable. Staying calm is critical because reacting emotionally can only worsen the situation. Make sure to follow the lease agreement and all local laws to the letter to minimize tenant grounds for a lawsuit. Document as much as you can and get an attorney involved if necessary.
These situations are inevitable, so many investors turn to a property manager’s expertise. Property managers such as Evernest have robust screening and underwriting processes to keep out bad tenants. They and their attorneys can take the brunt of any harassment for you if harassment does happen. Plus, your property manager can quickly fill the vacancy once the nightmare tenant is gone.
Regardless, don’t let these situations upend your operation. Handle them with poise and dignity, move on, and continue providing your tenants with excellent service.
Matthew is the CEO of Evernest. He is a student of the book Good to Great and is passionate about building the best property management company on the planet (and maybe even the universe if Elon Musk will hurry up). You can usually find Matthew at the baseball field with his son, at a dance recital with his daughter, or at his favorite restaurant with his wife, when he’s not in the office. And if you can’t find him in any of those places, it probably means he’s traveling.
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