Newbie needs advice on tenant harassment, please help!

11 Replies

Hi everyone,

We need help on a dicey situation that is only seeming to get worse. We have a duplex in Oakland, Ca. Bought it empty, carefully screened tenants, and they moved in. Upstairs is a woman who lives alone, and downstairs is a couple.

From the first morning that the upstairs tenant moved in (5 weeks ago), she started getting texts about noise from downstairs. Then emails, then stops to talk in the driveway.  This was almost daily. We got complaints about downstairs could hear everything and can't sleep. Every footstep, middle of the night trip to the bathroom, her alarm sounding in the morning, etc. were all becoming a problem. One of the downstairs tenants works from home and complains about footsteps that occur at noon (not just a middle of the night issue).  In an effort to mitigate the drama, we offered to put carpeting in the upstairs bedroom, but not the rest of the apartment.  

The morning that the carpeting was about to go in, we got emails from the downstairs tenant about 10 minutes of a repetitive squeaking noise the night before from the upstairs bedroom. They had texted her about it as it occurred, and when she didn't stop, they recorded and sent the recording to us in an email.  They also cc'ed the upstairs tenant on the initial email (not including the sound file). They made it clear that they knew what the sound was. The upstairs tenant was mortified and angry, hours later she was approached at her car by an angry downstairs tenant demanding that she not wear shoes in her apartment. The upstairs tenant refused to talk to her, and said to direct all complaints at us.  She is also convinced that their recording and sending of the files was illegal.  We've gotten mixed opinions. 

We conveyed the message to the downstairs tenants, and offered to let them out of their lease. It's clear to us that they are not suited for apartment living (though we didn't say that). We have gotten no response.  Today, about 10 days later, the upstairs tenant has informed us that they have been creating a hostile environment for her. Repetitively slamming doors when she comes home, banging the walls when she walks around, parking closer and closer to her car. She informed us that she will be filing a police report because while she was walking to her car this morning, the downstairs tenant lunged out of her window and screamed at her to "just take off your f*#$ing shoes!"  She is feeling unsafe.

We have an appt with a lawyer tomorrow morning - our first one as we are only 6 weeks into having this property rented! I would appreciate any and all advice and experience. I have no idea what to expect, other than I imagine it's extremely hard to get tenants out. It seems so obvious that any tenant who lives above them will be a problem for them, so they ought to go find a SFH to rent, but I think the "reasonable train" has left the station.

Thanks so much, and sorry for the long post!


Hi Pria,

we have been having very similar issue, not exactly the same, but similar. We have a rental townhouse so there's nobody above or below our tenants, the issue for us is our next door neighbor. 

She also complains, bang on the wall, complain about noise, she even use a device to record noise! and also have set up video camera pointing to the driveway.
she was either unemployed, or she's doing home business for some sort, that's why she's always at home.

When this first happened, we try to resolve issues by working between her, HOA and the tenants. However, after couple times we kind of knew what's up!

Long story short, i think our neighbor is just looking for action, seems like she's bored, or she's just not fix for apartment/townhouse/condo environment. One of our tenants sent her a warning letter from their lawyer, and she kept quite for a while.
we have also told her to call the police couple times, surely enough she never called.
I think telling her to call police actually help the situation becasue her complains were based on no basis, and she probably don't want to get in trouble for calling police because of silly reasons.

Our HOA has helped a bit too, a lot of time conflicts go directly to HOA, which save us some crazy phone calls and emails.

for you, how was the noise level between the upper and lower level? understand that certain level of noise do happen in these housing environment, but if they can hear every single thing that's happening, that could be a real issue.
are they crazy people being unseasonable? is it only the upper tenant that's causing trouble? or both?
Maybe investing in some sound proof ceiling/floor/wall? Or if they are being unresonable and just causing trouble, let them to deal with each other, or even tell them just call the police maybe the solution.

You can only be an impartial mediator for so long.  Eventually, when one of the tenants is clearly in the wrong, your duty is to protect the other tenant's right to the quiet enjoyment of their leased premises.

To me, you are at that point.  Your downstairs peoples' actions are harassing and wildly inappropriate, even if upstairs was noisy.  Which I would not assume.  You need the nutjobs downstairs out.  People get to wear shoes in their homes, walk to their cars without being harassed, and even occassionally get to have sex, without having to live in fear.

Our lease has a clause about complaints, basically, I would give them a written warning about their behavior. If the problem continues, give another one threatening eviction (if they are on a month-to-month lease, just don't renew it and they will be gone soon enough). And I would talk to your attorney about what you can do in your state with your lease about getting them out due to complaints and behavior issues. It's certainly trickier to do it that way, but it is doable.

Oh, and don't give up on trying to get them to move voluntarily. 

Oh, also have everything on record, phone calls, complains emails, etc. When it comes to police, court, attorney, all of those will help.

Only 10 minutes of repetative squeeks?? Ouch..... J/K :P

You said you had carpet put in did that not help out?

When I was a tenant years ago in a 4 family house, 2 elderly sisters moved into one of the apartments. From the start they were bitter and nasty and complained about every sound they heard from every apartment. They would bang on my wall with their canes when my alarm went off in the morning (who says the elderly are hard of hearing??), they would bang on the ceiling of the upstairs tenant when he came home from work late, they would curse at us all when they saw us outside (despite their claims of being good Christians), complained about hearing the TVs, and on and on. The landlord sent them letters regarding other tenants' rights to the quiet enjoyment of their homes too, but nothing shut them up and other tenants threatened to move.

He wanted to evict them, but what judge would throw out old ladies? He finally resorted to a "cash for keys" option. He found them a new apartment, paid for them to move and gave their full security deposit back. I think he even paid their first month's rent.

So @Pria H. , try buying them out, so to speak, before spending money on lawyers and evictions. Make them an offer they can't refuse.

I call this the "Happy Clause". Email them with a one time offer and give them 24hours to reply.

The offer is, "We can see you are not happy here. We will offer you a ONE TIME opportunity to leave by 5 pm Aug 30, 2014 with no penalty. This offer is good until 5 pm July 31st. Please confirm acceptance in writing. If you elect not to accept this offer then it's our understanding that the present living conditions are acceptable and the complaints about such will end immediately"

This is the perils of an up/down duplex. Airborne sound is likely conveyed via the heating duct system. Carpet will help with the footfall noise but it's a real challenge of these types of properties.

Reading these responses is so helpful... Thanks!

@Bruce L.  Wow, really similar situations! The unit isn't any more noisy than any other duplex. The upstairs tenant says she can hear things too, but to her it's background noise. We are definitely keeping good track of things. Thanks for the advice and good luck to you.

@Richard C.  I agree completely. Today tipped the scales. 

@Chris K.  The frustrating part is that this happened the night before the carpet was going in, so they didn't even try to be patient and wait for the next night. We have no idea whether it's helping. At this point it's any noise at all that seems to be a trigger for rage.

@Andrew Syrios   I was hoping to see what the beginning of the month would bring... maybe they are looking to move voluntarily and will give us notice, and maybe we'll be advised that we can still wait and see. They still have 10.5 months on a lease. I'm guessing we'll have to issue a notice telling them to stop the harassment.  I fear the rules in Oakland make it pretty tough for us to do much, but I'm not sure. Definitely going to have to beef up the lease for next time. Thanks for the suggestion.

@Aly L  I shudder to think what that would look like here in the bay area. 

@Bill S.  Interesting idea! the tricky part is that they aren't really complaining to us anymore, so much as they are terrorizing the upstairs tenant.

@Pria H.   I still think the happy clause is in order. You will never force these people to be civil so unless you want the next 10.5 months to be miserable for you and the upstairs tenant get them to move on, now.

If it continues, your upstairs tenant may have a case to break her lease and possibly even sue you for mental anguish.

Again, these people will not change so you need to extract yourself from their lives.

Sounds fun. Dis involve yourself unless someone is threatening you. Not your problem. You offered to let her out of the lease. Is something illegal about the so-called noise? Doubtful.

I agree with @Bill S.  ,

Just let them out of the lease, and full deposit return if they clean up and leave by XX/XX. They're going to be a headache. Rental demand is high here. Shouldn't be an issue finding someone else. Probably not worth the headaches to keep them..

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