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What is Landlord Harassment and How Can Owners Protect Themselves?

The landlord-tenant relationship can, at times, be a trying one. That said, in many cases, these issues are easily resolved with professional communication and a little understanding. However, when situations escalate, property owners may find themselves accused of landlord harassment. Also, a dreaded landlord harassment lawsuit can deplete profits, not to mention valuable time. So, join us below as we help property owners discover what constitutes landlord harassment and the repercussions it can cause.

What Constitutes Landlord Harassment?

Disagreements and disputes can take on many forms. Landlord harassment is generally categorized as the ongoing use of aggressive tactics to intimidate the tenant. In other words, a landlord is either disrupting their right to quiet enjoyment or hostilely forcing the tenant to take some action. This could include vacating the property or not filing a complaint that they have a legal right to.

Accusations of landlord harassment are a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. So, as frustrating as a situation may be, as long as the tenant is not violating the law or lease terms, they have a right to live in the property.

Common Examples of What Constitutes Landlord Harassment

Harassment comes in many forms, and in some ways, it is in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, avoiding any actions that could lead to a landlord harassment lawsuit and the ensuing landlord harassment compensation is vital. Unsure what actions may incite claims of harassment? Check out this list of common examples of what constitutes landlord harassment below.

  • Verbally or Physically Threatening a Tenant

  • Sexual Harassment

  • Filing False Charges or False Eviction Against the Tenant

  • Refusing to Accept Rent Payments as a Means of Intimidation

  • Illegal Entry into the Rental Property

  • Not Providing Proper Notice

  • Unlawfully Changing the Locks

  • Removing Personal Belongings from the Property

  • Cutting Off Amenities as Described in the Lease Agreement

  • Disrupting Utility Services that Effect Habitability

  • Refusing to Perform Maintenance in a Timely Manner

  • Creating Nuisances that Disrupt the Right to Quiet Enjoyment

  • Verbally or Physically Threatening a Tenant

It should go without saying, but a landlord cannot threaten tenants. Verbal threats, threats of physical violence, or actual physical contact are all examples of landlord harassment. Also, keep in mind that verbal threats can occur via face-to-face interaction, over the phone, or in writing.

Sexual Harassment

The landlord-tenant relationship must remain a professional one at all times. Whether you have one property or 1,000 properties, owning a rental is a business. Therefore, your tenants are your customers, so treat them as such. Thus, at no time should a landlord make crude remarks or other obscene sexual advances towards a tenant. This can easily be seen as unwelcome and therefore lead to a landlord harassment lawsuit.

Filing False Charges or False Eviction Against the Tenant

When landlords need to evict a tenant, the thought of a lengthy court battle drives some to less legal tactics. However, rest assured that filing false claims or issuing fake notices in an attempt to intimidate and scare the tenant into leaving will not end well. This is not only illegal but also considered landlord harassment. So, these actions can justifiably lead to a tenant filing suit against the owner.

Refusing to Accept Rent Payments as a Means of Intimidation

When a landlord is desperate for a tenant to vacate, refusing to accept the rent might sound like a good idea. Well, it is not! Actually, refusing the rent as an attempt to threaten the tenant into leaving or retracting a complaint is landlord harassment. So, instead of taking matters into their own hands, landlords must rely on legal means to resolve landlord-tenant disputes.

Illegal Entry into the Rental Property

There are instances when landlords or a property manager need to enter the property. Generally, these instances relate to scheduled inspections, maintenance, or emergency repairs. However, when a landlord attempts to do an excessive amount of inspections or does not provide the tenant with ample notice of intent to enter, tenants can claim landlord harassment. That said, the only exception would include entering unexpectedly to complete emergency repairs that threaten the tenant’s health or pose a serious risk of property damage.

Not Providing Proper Notice

A lease and even local law will dictate the amount of notice landlords must provide to tenants for things like rent increases, entry for maintenance, and intent to evict notices. Therefore, not providing proper notice could result in a tenant filing a claim of landlord harassment.

Unlawfully Changing the Locks

Eviction is a legal process handled by the court after each side presents their case. That said, when a landlord decides to lock the tenant out as a means to evict them, it is both illegal and harassment. Furthermore, this can apply to changing locks on common areas, the tenant’s unit, or barricading these entry points in any way that impedes the tenant’s right to gain access.

Removing Personal Belongings from the Property

A landlord may not physically remove tenant possessions from the rental property. The only time when this can lawfully occur is if the tenant has abandoned the rental property. Once abandoned, each state has its own rules for how to handle personal belongings left behind. So, be sure to thoroughly research local laws to ensure compliance.

Cutting Off Amenities as Described in the Lease Agreement

When a service or amenity is included in the lease, the tenant has the right to it for their term duration. For example, cutting off access to certain common areas such as a gym or laundry facility or revoking parking access is not allowed. That said, property owners need to realize that this is not just landlord harassment but an example of possible landlord retaliation.

Disrupting Utility Services that Effect Habitability

When property owners lease their units, they agree to maintain the property in livable condition. This is otherwise known as a warranty of habitability. Essentially, this states that tenants have the right to basic utility services, including water, sewer, and heating during cold months. So, if landlords use utility interference as a means to get tenants out, it is clearly landlord harassment. However, if the discontinued utility results from the tenant’s nonpayment, this is not landlord harassment and is the tenant’s responsibility.

Refusing to Perform Maintenance in a Timely Manner

Going along with maintaining a warranty of habitability, landlords cannot simply refuse to make repairs or intentionally delay maintenance needs. Doing so opens property owners up to the possibility of tenant litigation and landlord harassment compensation. Also, not completing repairs may make the tenant uncomfortable, but it also affects your valuable property investment. So, perform requested or necessary maintenance promptly to avoid accusations of landlord harassment.

Creating Nuisances that Disrupt the Right to Quiet Enjoyment

Performing maintenance tasks on a rental are inevitable. However, work done with the intent to create excessive noise, prolonged inconvenience, or disruption to the tenant’s use of the property unnecessarily is an example of landlord harassment. Additionally, leaving debris behind, beginning work too early in the morning, or lasting long into the night is also ill-advised.

Normal Actions That Are Not Considered Landlord Harassment

Tenants can indeed claim a variety of landlord harassment scenarios. That said, there are also perfectly legal actions that landlords can take. Therefore, when landlords and tenants understand what actions are appropriate, it helps diffuse situations and avoids miscommunications. Continue reading below for a few scenarios that are within a landlord’s legal rights.

  • Entering in an Emergency – Landlords do not need to provide prior notice to enter during an emergency such as a fire, gas leak, or flood.

  • Raising the Rent – Rent increases can occur as long as they are within state guidelines and landlords provide proper notice to the tenant per their rental agreement.

  • Changing Locks for Certain Circumstances – While arbitrary lock changes are not allowed, landlords can change the locks in certain situations. For example, at the request of a tenant who is a domestic violence victim. Check your local laws.

  • Issuing a Notice to Quit – When a tenant violates the lease, the landlord has a right to take action. In this instance, sending a notice to quit is not landlord harassment. Instead, it notifies the tenant they have a set amount of time to correct the issue or face eviction.

  • Offering a Cash for Keys Incentive – Landlords may offer a buyout to tenants as an incentive to move without formal eviction as long as they adhere to local laws. That said, tread carefully as repeated attempts might come across as landlord harassment.

  • Filing for a Legal Eviction – Property owners can file to evict a tenant, with proper notice, if the tenant has not paid their monthly rent, has violated the lease, or refused to vacate at the end of the term.

What Should You Do When Accused of Landlord Harassment?

The goal of any rental business is to have a positive and professional landlord-tenant relationship. However, sometimes personalities clash without warning. When that occurs, landlords need to protect themselves and their interests from getting caught up in a landlord harassment lawsuit.

  1. Communication Logs – As a good business practice, maintain a communication log for all of your tenants. Then, take detailed notes on any communications or conversations you have. Remember to note the date, time, and what was discussed, along with any further actions needed.

  2. Detailed Records – Property management software aids landlords in keeping significant records right at their fingertips. Reports on payment history are beneficial as that is a common source of contention between tenants and landlords.

  3. The Buddy System – Having a witness or neutral party observe and record landlord-tenant interactions is useful at diffusing disputes.

  4. Retain Documents – Maintain easy access to a copy of any rental agreements, renewals, notices, inspections, photos, notes, or other communications.

  5. Know the Law – Understanding the law and a landlord’s responsibilities is critical for landlords. Therefore, always refer to local laws and ensure compliance with all tenant communications.

  6. Enlist Legal Help – When in doubt, reach out to a qualified attorney familiar with the challenges of a landlord-tenant relationship.

Bonus Tip

Hire Professionals – Maintaining composure in hostile or frustrating situations is not easy. If the thought of handling difficult tenants is overwhelming, trust the experts. Instead of tackling it on your own, reach out to a local property management company. A professional property management company will handle tenant communications and ensure legal compliance of your rental business’ actions.

Closing Thoughts

To have a successful rental property business, keeping your tenants happy is vital. Personality conflicts aside, landlords must provide a safe and habitable living space. Therefore, refusing maintenance requests, engaging in intimidation, or retaliating against a tenant will only do more harm than good to both parties.

Why not choose a stress-free alternative to resolving tenant issues? Let someone else take care of it for you! Overland Management is the premier full service and customer-focused rental property management company, find out how we can resolve your tenant issues or help get the most out of your investment by giving us a call today.

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