Neighbor Says my Tenant is Berating Her and Her Son

21 Replies

A neighbor near a duplex that I own has called me twice now to tell me that my tenant is berating her and her son in the street, yelling obscenities and just going off.

I am not this neighbor’s landlord.

After the first time this happened, I called my tenant and explained that it was inappropriate for him to be screaming and cursing out the neighbors, regardless of their behavior (sounded like the other party did SOMETHING to tick him off both times).

Well, today I get another text from this neighbor telling me that my tenant is just going off inappropriately. I have no proof of what is happening here, but tend to believe the neighbor when she says my tenant is acting inappropriately.

My conundrum is that I don’t know why remedy I have here. Both incidents may have involved my tenant screaming at this lady and her son at that top of his lungs, but they are he said she said incidents, during daytime hours, and I think there’s a flimsy case at best that he is in violation of any noise clauses in my lease.

The neighbor is telling me to do something about this. I feel bad for her and suspect that my tenant is indeed behaving poorly. I also feel that there’s nothing I can do, short of waiting until the lease is up and factor this into the decision whether to renew.

Any advice?

@Scott Trench - your tenant is not your child and since this is post-1865, it is highly unlikely that the tenants are under your servitude. In other words, the neighbor needs to involve the police, not you. It is ok for them to notify you of what's going on (if I were you, I'd appreciate that gesture), however enforcement is not in your court. The exception is if you have proof of tenant doing something in violation of lease. My recommendation is that you advise the neighbor to call the police the next time it happens.

Why do people think a landlord is some kind of authority figure to bring disputes to? 

... That said, you'll have your average neighbor a lot longer than you'll have a typical tenant. So, it might be worth asking any other neighbors that you know personally, what they've seen? She could be the crazy one, or it could be the tenant. Who knows. 

There probably isn't much you can do (leases don't usually have anything about antagonizing the neighbors), but it'd be a consideration at renewal time.

@Scott Trench

I have a similar situation except they are both my tenants on neighboring properties. Both are disabled with issues that affect their temper and processing of things. There has been some kind of fall out between them that resulted in them both calling us and complaining about the other. We told them that we couldn't just evict the other tenant based on he said/he said. We told them each that if it was that bad that they needed to call the police and send us a copy of the police report. We told them to not speak to each other and escalate the situation but to get legal counsel. We also said if the harassment was that bad they should get a restraining order with all protests exhausted (a lot of places will issue a restraining order as soon as the paper is filed but allow the other person to protest it in court. The order becomes permanent if the judge approves it. This way we aren't evicting someone who is found not to be a menace by a court. There is a time period for them to file the protest and if they don't it is uncontested and we would respect that and start to evict.) 

The wife of one of the guys called us and wanted to know what was going on since her disabled husband was ranting and raving about it. We explained the above and she said she would speak to their attorney. Hmmm. haven't heard from either side again on this topic. 

The key thing is to be sympathetic to both sides without actually blaming the other. 

@Scott Trench Hi Scott, I am so sorry to hear that you're dealing with this headache. I agree with some of what has been stated above as far as staying out of potential domestic spats; potentially communicating with the tenant again about setting the tone, and being the bigger person in this situation but honestly, that's not really on you to have to do that. Sometimes clauses do include language around this but I'm not sure what yours states. I would say you could offer to have this tenant sign a lease within a different unit but if the issue is your tenant you won't really want to sign another lease with them. Maybe the next go-round include a clause that specifies language around causing disturbances to neighbors; again, not really on you to do anything but you also want to make sure your property doesn't become the scene of a domestic spat. So, could be a solution to communicate with your neighbor again and have them reach out to the proper authorities (again, I'm not necessarily seeing any obvious signs of negligence from your end as the landlord, but, that might be something a legal professional might be able to help you think through as far as figuring out next course of action).

I'm with @Tchaka Owen on this one. Tell the neighbour to call the police... landlords look after the property and components of that property for the purpose of habitation. Not this human interaction stuff... haha that's what the good ole popo are for!

@Scott Trench I would stay completely out of this going forward if you can avoid it and politely tell the neighbor that you have spoken to your tenant and advised him that his behavior is inappropriate. 

This shows the neighbor that you are not shrugging her off and are taking her seriously which is what she wants and going forward she will respect you for doing what you could. 

Also, tell her that on your end there is not much more you can do that you haven't already done and that if she feels threatened to either steer clear of him or to get law enforcement involved. 

Lastly, even if he did violate some sort of noise or quiet enjoyment clause in your lease, it is very hard in my experience to evict a tenant for something other than non payment or rent. Because of this factor, and you also hit on it at the end of your post, this definitely needs to be taken into account when you decide whether to renew your tenants lease.

@Scott Trench Sounds like you need to send your tenant to anger management classes!   

In all seriousness, like others, I would not involve myself in any personal disputes between neighbor and tenant. It is a messy game of he-said-she-said. It is a little strange that your tenant is screaming at someone during daytime in a residential area. 

Also, since it is in Denver County, you could have the neighbor fill out a noise complaint or call 311, and then the City of Denver inspector can send someone to talk to your tenant/send a letter and maybe that would get him to calm down. I think landlords sometimes can be too nice to appease our tenants (I'm guilty of this), but the city doesn't care about being nice, and they can be the bad guy for you without you getting involved again. 

Check out the link:

@Theresa Harris and everyone else - truly appreciate the feedback and your experience here. I’ve got a lot to learn in this business and it’s a privilege to get to crowdsource opinions like this. Will factor in each of your input in thinking through this situation.

@Scott Trench so I know folks say to call the police but it really sounds like a waste of police time as well (she didn't mention being threatened or feel in danger, just mad). I would start with tactical empathy (Chris Voss - Never Split the Difference). Then when you get the feed back that they feel heard, suggest they contact the tenant in a non-emotional time and see what they can work out after the emotions have subsided. Tell her you can do nothing until she has done that. Now the next time she contacts you, you can ask her if she has taken it up with the tenant. Since the answer will be no, she will stop calling you.

Finally, don't contact your tenant regarding this issue. Telling them it's inappropriate will do no good. They are adults and I'm sure have been told this numerous times in their life and have failed to redirect. You are wasting your breath and damaging your relationship with the tenant. Remember they are in possession of about $500k worth of your property. People that loose control do stupid things like set fire to a property. I bought a property once that the tenant's parting shot to the landlord was calling every code enforcement entity in the state. The landlord had the power cut at the pole, his pipes had holes drilled in them and the tenant was in a psych ward. 

@Scott Trench Just about everyone has a video camera on their phone. Why doesn’t she record this behavior so she has documentation for the police? That would be my suggestion to her to try and be helpful. I agree with the others that there’s not much you can do as the landlord if it’s not a violation of your lease.

@Scott Trench Why do you suspect that your tenant is acting inappropriately?

I do believe that a landlord bears some responsibility for what goes on in their property however, if the neighbor feels threatened or unsafe you should make it very clear to her that she needs to call the police for her safety. You should also make it clear to her that you have notified your tenant that you have received complaints regarding their behavior and beyond that, you are committed to always operating your business in accordance with the law.

 @Bill S.  I don't think a landlord should refuse to contact a tenant causing problems because of the fear of retaliatory action from a psycho tenant. Listening respectfully is always the first step towards solving a problem.

Having said that, all problems can't be solved, and tenants with personality disorders do not behave rationally. personality disorders are intractible, and largely unteatable; as a result I work very hard to avoid tenants with personality disorders as they cannot be reasoned with. I hope you aren't dealing with one of these.

@Matt Pastier , had a fine idea -to have the complaining neighbor record the next incident on a cell phone.

@Sharon Rosendahl 's comment “The key thing is to be sympathetic to both sides without actually blaming the other.” is excellent.

@Bill S. ’s comment was also spot on, “I would start with tactical empathy (Chris Voss - Never Split the Difference). Then when you get the feedback that they feel heard, suggest they contact the tenant in a non-emotional time and see what they can work out after the emotions have subsided. Tell her you can do nothing until she has done that. Now the next time she contacts you, you can ask her if she has taken it up with the tenant.”

Both Sharon and Bill’s recommendations are positive effective forms of human interaction -that cost you nothing, enhance respect for you, and help those who are involved in strife to bring out their better character.

Responders who say that the police should be called to intervene or handle the strife between your tenant and his neighbor may be correct. The conflict is already a disturbance of the peace. However, the fact that police can be called, the fact that you have no legal duty to intervene, the fact that you are not a social worker, none of that should keep you from offering your own guidance to your tenant. If you have something positive, helpful, educational or just neighborly to say, it is good human relations, good landlord relations, good business to speak wisely to those who are struggling. A few well directed words or sentences cost nothing but a few moments of your time.  Your thoughtful input can be valuable.

Most of us can empathize with Bill S’s comment, “don't contact your tenant regarding this issue. Telling them it's inappropriate will do no good. They are adults and I'm sure have been told this numerous times in their life and have failed to redirect. You are wasting your breath…”. It is true, that often our words appear to do no good. However, it is not a waste of our breath to speak up when called for, or to tell people what they need to hear -even if they don’t want to hear it. Eventually, given time, words of wisdom and truth will have an effect.

There can be considerable cost to speaking up, as is reflected in the Bill’s statement that speaking to the tenant could be, “damaging your relationship with the tenant. Remember they are in possession of about $500k worth of your property.” However, in my view remaining silent when character is called for, out of concern about the reckless wrath of another, is a form of servility that costs more than it saves.

If this situation escalates, then someone calling the police is what will likely happen. You would be doing your tenant a service by at least mentioning to him, that if the police are called to respond to trouble at your building, it could be bad for your tenant and it would necessarily be a concern to you. It may be worth your time to check your landlord tenant act (The same pattern is used nationwide). In my state, WA, threatening conduct by a tenant can result in modest, but real costs to the landlord (sudden loss of the good tenant).

"RCW 59.18.352

Threatening behavior by tenant—Termination of agreement—Written notice—Financial obligations.

If a tenant notifies the landlord that he or she, or another tenant who shares that particular dwelling unit has been threatened by another tenant, and:

(1) The threat was made with a firearm or other deadly weapon as defined in RCW 9A.04.110; and

(2) The tenant who made the threat is arrested as a result of the threatening behavior; and

(3) The landlord fails to file an unlawful detainer action against the tenant who threatened another tenant within seven calendar days after receiving notice of the arrest from a law enforcement agency;

then the tenant who was threatened may terminate the rental agreement and quit the premises upon written notice to the landlord without further obligation under the rental agreement.

A tenant who terminates a rental agreement under this section is discharged from payment of rent for any period following the quitting date, and is entitled to a pro rata refund of any prepaid rent, and shall receive a full and specific statement of the basis for retaining any of the deposit together with any refund due in accordance with RCW 59.18.280.

Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a landlord to terminate a rental agreement or file an unlawful detainer action."

Other commenter’s have suggested adding a clause to your rental contract. In case you’re interested, this is a clause I use under “Duties of Renter,” in my rental contracts.

"Duties of Renter: It is the duty of renter to treat all persons respectfully and civilly, to timely pay the rent, and to maintain usability of the property.

  • Respect and Civility: Respectful, calm, polite and civil interactions are required. Shouting at other residents, guests or neighbor’s is not permitted. Failure to act respectfully toward another tenant, guest, or neighbor, shall be considered a breach of this contract and may result in termination of the renter’s tenancy. Initiating a physical assault of another person on this property will terminate the tenancy of the aggressive party, except in cases of self-defense."


Best Wishes

I would make them shake hands , hug , and make up . Actually I would do nothing ! Your not the neighborhood watchman or guidance counselor. If someone feels threatened they should call the police . This is a neighborhood domestic disputes problem . your just the guy who manages the property there . It is only giving you a headache because you are allowing it to do so . We do it to ourselves ,foolishly taking on the weight of the world onto our shoulders when 99%!of the time we have no control over it anyway !

@Scott Trench

Ah, managing human behavior. The real job of every landlord. I would respond something like...

I can’t control the behavior of anyone, nor is that my responsibility. If it is such a problem that you feel it must be addressed, then you need to call the police and do what you feel you need to do. I have no legal authority in this situation. More or less “Suck it up buttercup, and don’t call me anymore”.

Never, ever stick even a toe in that water (tenant disputes). You will only be rewarded with more strife as their real goal (probably subconsciously) is to make you and anyone else that will listen just as miserable as they are in life. Don’t go there, ever.

@Scott Trench how would you handle it if your neighbor was yelling at you? Would you call the bank holding their mortgage and ask for them to help? Obviously it is not exactly the same thing, but I am trying to make a point. You cannot get in the middle of disputes or you will spend all your time acting as a mediator. 

I have gotten calls and letters from neighbors at properties many times. Early on I would try to help resolve the dispute, which always just put me in the middle of a he said she said. I started asking neighbors to work directly with my tenant. I suggested they build relationships and treat them like a home owner. I also tell neighbors if there is a violation of city ordinance or the tenant breaks the law, they can report it to the appropriate authorities (not me).

Once a law is broken, then yes a landlord can get involved. Most leases have crime free clauses or at least they should. Up until the tenant is breaking the law, the best advice is telling people to work through their differences.

Increasingly when people act like this, it is getting common for people to take a video and upload it to Facebook or Youtube. You have to be a moron now days to yell at people in public, knowing cameras are waiting everywhere. This person, if caught on video, could lose their job or friends over their misbehavior. I would not tell the neighbor to video future incidents, but you may want to remind the tenant that cameras are always watching. In fact that is even good advice for landlords when interacting with tenants.

Tell the neighbor to call the police when it happens. It would also help for the neighbor to document the yelling VIA video and submit that to the police on the down-low (so the angry neighbor doesn't know the neighbor submitted that evidence).

Related to this, yesterday I'm working on an upstairs unit and my downstairs tenant blasted music. I called the police (noise complaint) and less than 5 minutes after the police left she blasts the music again. 

I'm not renewing her lease (it's up at the end of November) and I'm not opposed to evicting her if she disturbs the new tenant once that person moves in. 

We can't let tenants disturb others. 

@Dennis M. and @Tony Gunter   you are of course right that it is not Scott's responsibility to mediate disputes between a tenants or between a tenant and neighbor.  I agree that it is foolish to take onto ourselves the responsibilities that are not ours.  My point, was not that Scott is responsible to resolve the conflict, but rather that it is not necessary to avoid the existence of conflict (keep out toes out of those waters).  The problems of others, whether tenants or neighbors, are also an opportunity to offer positive interaction, as suggested by both Sharon and Bill.  Supportive interaction with others costs us virtually nothing, enhances respect for the landlord, and helps those who are involved in strife to bring out their better character.

Since expressions of empathy, hearing out the person, and providing feedback cost only time, taking the opportunity to do so is good human relations, good landlord relations, and good business.  Tenants and neighbors who know you'll listen, believe you are fair and decent, become a valuable asset.  

I admit to completely missing the idea of having them shake hands, hug and make up.  Good call Dennis.  Gold star.