When and how to intervene in tenant disagreement/fights?

11 Replies

Well, I've owned my 4 unit for all of 12 days and got my first tenant call loaded with drama.  The building is a low income rental for families, 3 bedroom units, 3 of the 4 units are section 8.  When I first met 1st floor tenant prior to the purchase of the building, she complained about the noise made by the 2nd floor tenants, and told me she was looking to move out.  The 2nd floor tenants make references to the nasty 1st floor tenant.  Both pay their rent on time, according to prior landlord.  

So today, the first floor tenant calls me.  She's upset that the 2nd floor tenants apparently tossed the wreath she put on the door into the street, and tossed a rug she had in the hallway into the street (they share an entrance way).  She then goes on to complain about how noisy and disrespectful they are.  I  figured I needed to stay out of the drama - and I told her that if the tenants were breaking the lease, I could do something, but that they needed to handle disagreements among themselves.  If they were disposing of her property, she did have the option of calling the police.  I also let her know that I knew she was unhappy months ago, and that if she wanted to move, she was on a month to month lease and that was an option for her to move, and that I was open to helping her by releasing her security deposit earlier if she needed cash to move.  During the conversation, she said she'd call the police, but that I'd get in trouble because there's an ordinance that landlords need to keep their buildings from being disorderly (I've since looked into this, I'm not too worried).

Throughout I was calm, respectful and polite - and I think she sensed that so I was able to calm the drama a bit - but honestly, I don't like this tenant.  When she moved in under the old owner, she got in saying she had a 3 BR voucher, but then only had a 2 BR voucher, so she pays less rent than anyone else in the building.  She's taken over the one parking spot, and has a boyfriend who has mysterious friends from Massachusetts.  I can give her 30 days notice - she's on month to month - but wanted to give her the option to make that decision.  

Should I intervene more/get involved?  I am interested in why the 2nd floor tenants removed the wreath/rug... should I call them?  Do I need more explicit leases about who can store stuff in the common hallway?  Do I call the police and warn them of the drama?  Other ideas, thoughts?

Thanks!

Don't get involved.  Review lease for 'disturbing other tenants' clause and the seniority of the two combatants  - - longest tenured tenant wins - - *IF* you do have to intervene.

You obviously don't care for the first floor tenant who lied when she moved in and is causing other problems. Why deal with the previous owner's mess? Give her 30 days notice and make the change. That may help motivate the remaining tenants to play nice together. If it doesn't, give them their 30 days notice on a schedule convenient for you and select your own tenants. You do not need the drama.

@J Beard - the leases I've inherited are stock Section 8 leases, I've connected with a local lawyer as I want much more clarity around expectations in my leases.  I hadn't considered "disturbing other tenants" clause, so I'll keep that one in mind.  Would you happen to know of any resources for good sample leases?  I'll have my lawyer review, but want a comprehensive draft.

@Jeff Rabinowitz - yes, I think I'll need to go that route.  It will give me time to spruce up her unit - which is the nicest one, and brings in the least amount of rent thanks to her initial lie.  

Here's another vote to give her notice to vacate...

And by the way, when these things happen don't intervene unless it's for some reason fairly serious.  The more you intervene the more the complainers will complain!  

The tricky thing is to find that sweet spot of intervention that protects your interests without encouraging tenants to complain about each other.  But it sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on it already.

Tammy,

Ah the drama of low income landlording! Think you are getting good advice.  We listen to tenants but try to not take sides or play referee.

To get a good starting version of a lease/agreement that meets the tenant landlord or your state, I'd join a local property owners association.  The fees are minimal and include state specific paperwork, monthly meetings, quarterly newsletters of new happenings, etc.

I noticed your tags aren't working, so the folks you replied to may not have seen your responses.  To tag, type @ and the first few letters of their user ID.  Names will pop up in the bottom left; click on the one you want to get a hyperlink.

@Tammy Richards

Jeff, Matt and Michele have given you sound advice.   

The only bit I might possible add would be to require (and remind) your tenants that any complaint against another tenant must be made in writing before you could even consider taking any action.

We have found this goes a long way to encouraging tenants to work out their own solutions.

@Roy N.   - great idea, to have them put it in writing - makes it more onerous.  

@Michele Fischer - thanks for the tag advice, and for the advice to join the local property owners association - I have found some good forms on their local website.

@Matt Clark - yes, the sweet spot... I did decide to speak with the 2nd floor tenant who tossed the 1st floor tenant's stuff on the street - as that crosses  a line for me. From the reaction that I received, I think 2nd floor is train-able, though we'll see.

@Jeff Rabinowitz - giving 1st floor tenant notice tomorrow.  She's a pain.

@J Beard - thanks for the lease advice, I'll pay attention to that type of clause.

Drawing up a draft lease now, thought unfortunately Section 8  says they need 60 days to process revisions to leases.  My plan is to introduce the new lease in a month or so to the other 3 tenants, and give them a sample copy to review.  I'll talk it through with all of them, will be able to gauge their reactions, and they can decide to stay or go.  I figure it's a good way to start teaching them how to be tenants that I want in my building... and if any are a royal pain in the meantime, I can not renew their lease without cause.

Update:

Thanks everyone again for the good advice.  It helped me take action sooner than I might have.

@Jeff Rabinowitz - gave 1st floor tenant 30 days notice yesterday - she was shocked as I think I had been so calm and pleasant with her that she thought she had an ally... happy it could happen outside the building.  Being a sole female landlord is making me familiar with a number of good smartphone safety apps.  When I visited my other tenants after, they  complained about the noise from the feud on the other side of the building.  

We'll see if she actually leaves... without a fight... already researching security measures... she's Section 8 so I'm hoping her fear of losing voucher will keep retribution down.  Also not going to rush into getting 2nd floor onto a 12 month lease until I can observe more about their interactions with other tenants.

@J Beard still looking for a good lease clause about tenant disagreements.  Also looking into soundproofing!

Sounds like you did the right thing.  I'd keep the second floor tenant on a short leash. Send a strong message to your other tenants that you don't put up with this kind of behavior.

Originally posted by @Tammy Richards :

Update:

Thanks everyone again for the good advice.  It helped me take action sooner than I might have.

@Jeff Rabinowitz - gave 1st floor tenant 30 days notice yesterday - she was shocked as I think I had been so calm and pleasant with her that she thought she had an ally... happy it could happen outside the building.  Being a sole female landlord is making me familiar with a number of good smartphone safety apps.  When I visited my other tenants after, they  complained about the noise from the feud on the other side of the building.  

We'll see if she actually leaves... without a fight... already researching security measures... she's Section 8 so I'm hoping her fear of losing voucher will keep retribution down.  Also not going to rush into getting 2nd floor onto a 12 month lease until I can observe more about their interactions with other tenants.

@J Beard still looking for a good lease clause about tenant disagreements.  Also looking into soundproofing!

 Sounds like you are kicking @ss and taking names. I have a feeling that once your remaining three tenants see the PIA tenant get booted out and see they have new leases and a new Sheriff in town, they'll straighten up and you'll have less trouble. Well-done!