Litigious Tenant

23 Replies

A kid moved into my 6 bedroom house. After he moved in he tells me he has asthma and the other kids smoke in the house. I write a tough email to other tenants defending this kid and telling them no smoking AT ALL in house. It's in the lease. After another complaint from kid and another Threat of Eviction letter to my tenants, by all accounts, except for new kid, I'm told they stopped smoking in house.

Kid leaves abruptly and I reluctantly let  him after 3 or 4 months even though I lose a couple months rent.  

Now the mother wants all her money back, rental money included and is threatening to sue via her attorney.  Sue me for what I'm not sure. Her attorney says I put the kid at risk and broke laws by letting kids smoke.  Her Attorney also requesting I pay his bill, already in second correspondence. Granted the address of parent and lawyer is affluent Westchester NY town, but still, I went to the defense of her son 2 or 3 times and then she wants to sue me for second hand smoke or particulates in the air after they stopped smoking.  What would you do?

Call your own attorney to get this matter quashed and show you won't just bend over and take it.

Second, get your attorney, or possibly a new one, to amend your lease to include necessary hold harmless language as well as necessary wording about limitations on suing you, tenant agrees to reimburse you legal expenses etc.  Your attorney will know what language to put in there.

And finally, brush up on landlord tenant laws in your area.  This could be a simple matter that is dismissed easily.

@Christian Lincoln oh so often people run to attorneys in these cases. You did nothing wrong. You have a provision in your lease that says no smoking. You had a complaint that people were smoking and you addressed the concern. You wrote the letter reminding your tenants of the policy that says no smoking. The kid moved out. You didn't cause his asthma. You didn't ignore his concern (All this is assuming you aren't lying to us about the real facts of the case which is not unheard of so no offense to you I hope).  They are threatening to sue. Like you said, sue for what? They have no case. Let her know you have heard her concerns and you feel that you addressed the problem appropriately. Print out any emails that you sent showing the dates they were sent and print out any written complaints from your asthma tenant (assuming they were in writing since if they were verbal they won't hold up in court). If asthma boy texted you hopefully you have  a record of that because he will. 

Don't freak out here. If they actually bring a lawsuit against you then I would consult an attorney with all of your facts to determine your next course of action but think about this with some common sense. What case do they have? The other tenants smoked, it was annoying and probably caused him some discomfort. How many college parties has this kid been to where there was smoking? Did his mommy sue the people having the party? Please update this thread as this situation evolves. I'm interested to hear how it progresses. By all means if you are uncomfortable with your understanding of landlord tenant laws for your state you should consult an attorney but don't be so quick to spend money just because some kid's mommy threatened to sue you because her little boy had an asthma attack. 

Good luck 

Chris Simmons, great advice.  

Rob, you should be a lawyer. I sense that the lawyers in New York State are predatory enough to take this case on either side, when common sense should prevail.  What a waste of money, or weird way to prove to her asthmatic son she is protecting him from the bad world.  So bizarre.  Maybe I'll hold off on the legal approach and write one more letter.  I sense she is neurotic enough to just sue for the sake of it.   The weekend he left, both my front windows were smashed out of the house at 1am.  Nobody saw anything.  Side note.

This kind of thing will make getting a management company a relief at some point. 

Thanks guys.

Why are even speaking with them? Shut your mouth and wait until you are served. If they go that far, then get an attorney. 

I agree, although I might have left out the shut your mouth part ;) 

But @Matt M. is right. A banker acquaintance (and fellow landlord) told me he's been threatened with lawsuits many times. He has learned never to respond until there's notice to appear. And there never has been.

I've heard it 2 or 3 times myself, from tenants who were evicted for non payment of rent, threatening to sue to get their security deposit back. I print and file the email, and go on about my business. 

1. Stop dealing with the lady directly -let the lawyers hammer it out (if it gets that far).

2. Prepare copies of the lease, complaints, and responses to the complaints to have handy if the lawyers do get involved.

3. Burden of proof is on them - they have to prove you did (or didn't do) something that caused "harm". 

4. Log, any communication from tenant and/or mommy and place in the file you're preparing for your lawyer.

I have an old tenant that has been supposedly trying to "sue" me. Once she said that word, I blocked her number and stopped ALL communication. (after she moved of course)

It's been 3 years and nothing...

She did see an acquaintance of mine recently and asked where I was. He told her I moved out of State... Funny thing is she could google my name and track me down within minutes. 

am i the only one confused? as to why are 'kids' renting and/or smoking in ur house.

mom (who is suing/going to) wasn't renting with the kid? just the kid alone? u mentioned something like 'and then the kid left'.

@Christian Lincoln I worked for attorneys many moons ago, and they would advise people to just not respond.

She's paying her lawyer by the hour and he's letting her.

As far as a case, you did not knowingly put an asthmatic kid into a smoke-filled room.  You did, however, on the kid's word alone, try to protect him from smoke.

Plus, does his mother even have standing to sue you?  Was she on the contract?  How did she suffer damages/monetary losses by your renting a smoky house to her son?  If she was that worried about her son's health, why did she wait 9 months to get him to come back home?

And what monetary loss did the son incur?

You've already mitigated damages by eating several months rent in trying to "settle" this matter.

If I responded at all, it might go like this:

Dear Overpaid Attorney:

Please be aware that I consider this matter settled by the fact that I have already mitigated damages in this situation by allowing the son to break the lease early.  The son is in breach of contract, and I am entitled to a full year's worth of rent.  I allowed the son to move out early in an attempt to settle the matter.  The lost rent from my attempt to settle this matter cost me $__________ in 3 or 4 month's lost rent.

I do not believe the mother in this situation has any standing to sue.  However, should she decide to attempt do so, I'm sure the question of why she allowed her asthmatic son to remain in an environment for 9 months, that she now claims to have been a dangerous environment for her son during that entire time, will be asked by the court.  

And of course, the court will want to know what monetary damages she or her son personally incurred by her son living in my unit for 9 months, despite my allowing them to break their lease and leave owing me $_____________ in unpaid rent.

The court, will also be made aware that not only was I unaware that the son was severely asthmatic, or that there was any supposed smoking going on in my rental, but that despite these facts, when the son advised me that there was smoke in the unit, on his word alone, I addressed the matter of supposed smoking in the rental with a swift and firm hand.

And of course, you can explain to the judge why you are filing this type of frivolous case in his/her court.

Please inform your client that should she pursue a court case, I will counter-sue for breach of contract, for all rent due on it, for filing a frivolous lawsuit, and anything else my attorney finds appropriate, and I will be asking the court to have her pay my attorney fees as well.

Any further communication I receive from you will be forwarded to an attorney.

Most Sincerely,


Yep, I'd probably send this letter :-)

My attorney wants 500 dollars to write the letter back.  Ahhh New York.


Note to self:  avoid pampered 'kids' with helicopter moms.  Check!

Originally posted by Account Closed:

am i the only one confused? as to why are 'kids' renting and/or smoking in ur house.

mom (who is suing/going to) wasn't renting with the kid? just the kid alone? u mentioned something like 'and then the kid left'.

 Sounds like a college town rental where he is renting each room individually to students, instead of renting the house out to a family.

I'd be more worried about the fact that the other tenants are smoking in your rental!  Smoke damage to the walls, replacement of the carpets, ugh what a headache.  Of course you could have mitigated most of this by a simple 48 hour notice to enter after first letter and verified what was going on in the house by 'inspecting' the house.

But the majority of posters are correct, ignore her until she starts coming around, she might be a bored housewife too, just looking for a bees nest to poke at.

@Sue K. Thank you Sue. I will consider sending something like this or having my attorney do it for 500 bucks.  Well said.

@Troy Fisher et al.  I think she may be a bored house wife but she's more of an ex-lawyer who has enormous anxiety about her quasi gifted, quasi autistic child and needs to convince herself she is protecting him.  In fact It probably has very little to do with me. I believe she will sue to make a point. She has the money and the means. What the point is, I don't really know.  And in fact after a neighbor on a different property cut down 13 hard wood trees without asking AND THEN WON IN COURT, I have no idea what makes this world click forward immorally or stupidly, or occasionally with vague common sense. I thought the tree issue was a slam dunk. 

Maybe the letter is a bluff scare you into not pursuing the money owed on the lease? Maybe it's just a quick shakedown?

Either way, I wouldn't answer their letter or take their calls. 

  It costs a lot of money to sue someone, if it's not a slam dunk case where a contingency lawyer would foot the bill. She would have to put up a big retainer and be willing to risk that & having to pay your attorney's fees...and having egg on her face as well.

 I wouldn't sweat it...

Ignore the letter the threats.  Stop talking to them.  IF and that is a big IF since lawyer fees are so high there she does sue you then talk to attorney.  

Whatever you do, don't send their attorney a letter laying out your entire case.  That might stop them from suing you, but it will give them great insight into your defense.    

I feel your pain. Defense is always necessary but I think you should be playing more offense.

The lease is the contract between the landlord and the tenant. What's in the lease is what the judge is going to look at in court. If your lease is anything like my rental lease it says that the tenant is responsible for YOUR legal fees and court costs so you should be bringing a court action against them for non-payment of rent and they would be responsible for your back rent AND your attorney costs.

Dealing with attorneys gets expensive but it is a necessary evil on occasion. Like someone else mentioned...let them serve you first. I certainly would not send any correspondence to the tenants attorney that he could possibly use against you in court.

I cant tell from your post if he owes you 2 months rent or 4 months rent

Fact of the matter is you should be going after the tenant for your back rent when you really think about it. He violated your lease by leaving early. Presumably your security deposit at least covered1 months unpaid rent.

I would hate to give in to this bullying. But how much is the total rent involved here that was collected from this person? And how many hours of attorney time at the attorney's rate will burn through that rent?

Don't forget to add this to your file on this tenant since there might be a need for rental  history down the road, and that is where this sort of nonsense can bite back at them. 

@Christian Lincoln

 Don't waste your money getting a lawyer to write some letter. Why bother? Nothing has been served to you. There is no case. Why would you spend money on a case that doesn't exist?

The lady and her lawyer are simply trying to scare you. Just ignore the letter. The only time you need to respond and/or get a lawyer is once you've actually been served with a legal suit.

Again, don't waste your money! Ignore them. They have nothing on you.

Originally posted by @Cal C. :

Ignore the letter the threats.  Stop talking to them.  IF and that is a big IF since lawyer fees are so high there she does sue you then talk to attorney.  

Whatever you do, don't send their attorney a letter laying out your entire case.  That might stop them from suing you, but it will give them great insight into your defense.    

 I disagree about not letting the other side know your case.  In my experience, if you let them know that you have a strong case, and the law is on your side, they will back down.  Let them look up all of my points and decide if they are ready to go before a judge and argue them successfully.  They usually think a "lay" person won't know any law and will be intimidated with a bluff from a lawyer on their stationery.

If you wait to present your strong case, you have to pay to get to court for your "aha" moment.  It's cheaper to let them know ahead of time, in my opinion, because it keeps you out of court - at least that's been my experience.

I'm with the majority on this one, ignore the letter and don't respond unless you get a summons to appear in court.  I have been threatened by tenants (as a property manager) that they would sue me, I have yet to receive a summons for a law suit.

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