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Many landlords wonder when they're responsible for getting involved in tenant disagreements. Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. In short, the obligation you have depends on the type of harassment that is taking place.
With that in mind, this article should give you a better sense of what steps you need to take to help resolve the following types of tenant conflicts. Armed with this information, you'll have a better idea of what's expected of you in a given scenario.
If it's discriminatory harassment, you have legal obligations
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), all property owners and managers are responsible for ensuring that they meet certain obligations under the Fair Housing Act. The act specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, or disability.
If one tenant is harassing another on the basis of one of these protected traits, you have a duty to establish and enforce anti-harassment policies, to put in place methods for tenants to safely report harassment without fear of retaliation, and if necessary, to designate a complaint coordinator responsible for investigating and taking corrective action on any complaints.
If the harassment is a safety concern, have the complaining tenant involve the authorities
If the harassment causes someone to fear for their safety, the best course of action is to have the complaining tenant involve the authorities. In the meantime, you should consult with a lawyer or check state and federal laws on the matter.
Federal regulation 7 CFR § 3560.159 allows you to terminate a tenant's lease in the event that "actions by the tenant or a member of the tenant's household ... disrupt the livability of the housing by threatening the health and safety of other persons."
However, you'll also want to check your state and local laws, as the same provision allows for termination of the lease due to "actions prohibited by state and local laws." In Washington state, for example, pursuant to RCW 59.18.180(4), eviction is allowed if an arrest results from a crime being committed.
If it's just a disagreement, review the terms of your lease
That said, sometimes tenants simply have disagreements with one another. In many cases, these disagreements can be settled with a polite request from one tenant to another, However, if the trouble continues, your best course of action is to do the following:
Start by reviewing the terms of your lease. Most leases have provisions regarding tenant conduct and specifying the expectation of a safe and peaceful environment. If the actions causing the disagreement violate the terms outlined in your lease, it's your responsibility to intervene.
In that case, you'll want to inform the complaining tenant that their voice has been heard and that you're going to take action against the lease-violating behavior. Then, contact the tenant causing the problem in writing. Inform them:
- That a complaint has been made against them (but not by who).
- That they are in violation of the lease.
- What actions will be taken if the behavior continues.
Give them time to fix the issue, but make sure to document any correspondence you receive on the matter. If the behavior continues, you may need to take further action, and if you do, it's best to have documentation on your side.
The bottom line
Disagreements between tenants happen. While many times these disputes can be resolved without landlord intervention, it's important to realize that you do have a responsibility to provide a safe and peaceful living environment for the people living in your property.
When disagreements violate the terms of your lease or when they become harassment, it's your duty to intervene. Read these guidelines and take them to heart so you can be sure you're holding up your end of the bargain.
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