As a landlord, you can be accused of harassment if your actions motivate a tenant to willingly abandon the lease. This usually occurs when a landlord wants to evict a tenant but doesn’t want to go incur the cost and trouble of a legal eviction. Landlord harassment generally involves interfering with a tenants’ privacy or making them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Breach of Responsibility
If you fail to properly maintain a property, a tenant may have a claim for landlord harassment. A rental agreement implies a “warranty of habitability,” which means that you have accepted a responsibility to keep the property properly maintained. If you willingly withhold maintenance, such as routine repairs, garbage collection, or landscaping (if that is part of your rental agreement), you are not fulfilling your responsibility as a landlord. It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a landlord might withhold maintenance if they are dealing with a difficult tenant. However, it’s not a good idea to expose yourself to this kind of liability just to send a message to a tenant.
Creating a Nuisance
Another type of landlord harassment involves creating a nuisance, such as sending a lot of verbal or written complaints about a tenant’s behavior. Other examples of creating a nuisance include damaging or defacing the rental property or a tenant’s belongings, or doing something to make the tenants feel uncomfortable, like purposely making a lot of loud noise. If you want to evict a tenant for improper behavior, do not try to intimidate the tenant into moving out. It’s always best to follow the proper channels to communicate problems with a tenant.
Entering the Property
Entering the property can also qualify as landlord harassment. Local jurisdictions generally have laws that limit how often and for what reason a landlord can enter a tenant’s property. As a landlord, you have the right to inspect the dwelling a few times per year for the purpose of maintaining the property. However, this doesn’t give you the right to snoop through their things while you're there. It’s also important to remember that even though you own the property, the tenant has legal possession of it. You must give the tenant proper notification that you need to enter the dwelling, and the frequency of your visits should be reasonable depending on the repairs or maintenance needed.
Stating Rights to Access in the Lease
Some jurisdictions require leases to explicitly state the circumstances under which a landlord may enter the premises. Even if you are not required to do so by law, you should consider putting a clause about this in the lease. State in the lease that you have the right to enter the residence for the purposes of making an inspection, making repairs or to show the residence to a prospective tenant or purchaser. Be aware that the tenant has the right to limit these visits to a reasonable frequency, and you never have the right to enter the property without an appointment.
Abandonment of the Property
If a tenant appears to have abandoned a property, you can get a court order that allows you to enter it. However, this can be tricky in a few cases. For example, when tenants are moving out, they may leave things in the apartment with the intention of returning to clean it up. But if you think they have vacated the premises, you might come in ahead of them and try to charge them for cleaning up the mess they left. Tenants may also travel for extended periods of time, and this can cause confusion about whether or not they have abandoned the property. Encourage your tenants to communicate with you to avoid confusion in these situations.
In general, you can protect yourself from being accused of harassment by keeping the lines of communication open between you and your tenants. If you have a problem with a tenant, don’t try to handle it on your own. Always follow the proper procedure for documenting tenant problems and notifying them of any problems.
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