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April 16, 2024

Examples of Tenant Harassment and How to Handle It

Noah Goldman
Chief Operating Officer

As property managers, we all know that living alongside renters who may not get along with each other is a fact of life. However, that doesn’t mean nothing should be done when conflict arises, and the tenants should continue wallowing in misery. After all, respectful, responsible tenants have the right to reside in a peaceful environment.

How much do you really know about tenant harassment of other tenants and how to deal with it? In this article, we provide advice for multi-family property managers who often have to address bad tenants who are harassing other tenants in their properties safely, correctly, and legally.

Examples of What Constitutes Tenant-on-Tenant Harassment

Even with the latest and greatest tenant screening capabilities, you may wind up with tenants at odds with each other. Even if your official lease agreement clearly states tenant expectations, arguments may be inescapable.

In a perfect scenario, we’d all like to trust our neighbors. It would be nice to share a cup of coffee and chit-chat from time to time or reach out to borrow an ingredient you need for your latest recipe. At a minimum, the goal is to be on decent terms with them. Unfortunately, renters aren’t always perfect, and some conduct isn’t always very “neighborly.”

Some tenants will act hostile or defiant when an action or behavior is questioned. For example, the renter next door who regularly blasts loud heavy metal music late at night despite repeatedly being asked to lower the volume.

Or, perhaps one tenant is driving another tenant crazy –  does one make excessive noise on the regular? Or toss trash out in a common area? Maybe they have loud social gatherings into the wee hours of the night too frequently?

Whether it’s property damage, verbal abuse, threats, or some other annoying behavior, your renters don’t have to live their lives in a constant state of irritation or fear, especially because, in some cases, things could cross the line into deliberate harassment.   

What to Do If One Tenant is Harassing Another Tenant

Here are some steps to consider to avoid conflict between renters and diffuse any skirmishes that may occur:

Be transparent and communicate. Give your tenants easy-to-understand, detailed instructions about how to file a complaint. For example, do you want them to reach out every time they have a complaint? Is there a form available for them to complete when something comes up? Or would you prefer them to reach you via email, text, or phone call?

Acknowledge complaints. It’s crucial to respond to a tenant’s complaint right away. When you take complaints seriously, your tenants will feel respected and heard. Be sure to let your renter know you understand their situation and let them know that you will take action about any lease-violating conduct. And if you simply can’t, be sure to be clear in your explanation.

Take action and make a call. Reach out to the tenant in dispute and let them know that a complaint – and what type – has been made against them. The key part here is to ensure you don’t tell them who made the complaint, as it can lead to further tension or disputes between the two parties. If you find out they are breaking the rules outlined in the lease, emphasize the violation and spell out what actions will be taken. Also, remind them that lease violations are grounds for eviction.

Keep a record of all communications.  Get everything you discussed in writing, including the date the complaint was made, any actions taken, conversations had, and any agreement you came up with. Send the letter to the tenant in dispute. Be sure the letter describes any actions that either the renter or landlord needs to take and references any violations. Log every complaint and create a file against repeat offenders. We can speak from experience – this will help immensely should you be required to take any legal action down the road.

Follow up. Check in with your renter who made the original complaint and confirm they’re comfortable with the arrangement. You do not need to bring up the complaint unnecessarily, but this proactive strategy can help them feel heard and respected.

Use a preventive approach. It’s important to allow renters the opportunity to resolve issues on their own. One way to avoid conflict is to offer helpful tips about dealing with neighbors when they first move in. For instance, with most noise complaints, a tenant being questioned may not even realize they are being too loud. Perhaps they will cooperate from the start and lower their music or reduce the volume during a party if asked nicely.

How to Stay Legally Compliant

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a 2016 rule on harassment states that “a housing provider (including a homeowner’s association) or property manager is liable under the Act for negligently failing to take corrective action against a third-party harasser when the provider or manager knew or should have known of the harassment and had the power to end it.”

Multi-family property managers should never dismiss a tenant who complains another tenant is harassing them. If you’re a landlord or property manager and one of your renters complains they are being harassed, ultimately, it’s your responsibility to investigate the situation and address any concerns. Realize that if you do nothing, you risk being sued or worse.

Additionally, it’s crucial to understand that you can evict a tenant for harassing another tenant. In fact, harassment falls under the category of disruptive behavior and is considered a valid reason for eviction under most state laws and lease agreements.

The Bottom Line

As a multi-family property manager or landlord, you have what might seem like countless roles – recruiter, administrator, groundskeeper, problem-solver, among many others. Sometimes, you may be required to add mediator to this list, especially when your tenants are arguing with each other.

By being communicative and understanding, and, when that doesn’t work, being proactive, you’ll find yourself well-equipped to curb a tenant’s continued harassment effectively, even if it means charting out a legal course of action.