Managing Difficult Tenants and Preventing Tenant Lawsuits if Possible And Other Asset Protection Safeguards
By Nate Bernstein, Attorney at Law
Use psychology and positive energetic communication rather than brute force and intimidation.
- Sometimes the tenant’s problem and grievance has escalated because they cannot reach a manager or owner by phone and they are playing phone tag. The issue is one of poor customer service. If the problem cannot be resolved on the phone, have you or your manager set up an in person sit down meeting with the tenant and let both sides state their concerns and grievances. Show some empathy for the tenant. Avoid name calling, confrontation, shouting, and personal attacks. Sometimes a tenant just wants an in person meeting to be heard and to vent- which may in fact diffuse the situation.
- Follow up the in person meeting with a written plan of action- either what management will do or what the tenant has to do with a realistic estimated time frame. The written plan of action can be in the form of an email or a letter. If you make a promise in a letter, please make sure you fulfill that promise with action.
- Many issues can be resolved with a well drafted rental agreement or lease agreement, addenda, and apartment rules. In addition to the basic lease agreement- there should be an addendum that addresses- Issues such as what types of pets can a resident have ? What is the policy on comfort animals ? How many parking spaces does a resident get ? Does a resident have an assigned space ? What is the policy on barbecuing from the tenant’s deck ? Don’t forget that bed bug addendum !! I will leave it to your imagination to address areas of conflict for common areas or in apartment units.
- Enforcement of house rules and regulations should be consistent- if you give out one assigned parking place to a single tenant- don’t give out 2 parking places to another single tenant.
- If you have a smaller rental operation that does not have an in house maintenance staff- you should have your trade and repair contractor’s information handy and on speed dial. The basic ones are plumber, painter, air conditioning- heating repair, pest control, handy person, and appliance repair. A handy person who is a “jack of all trades” is invaluable but can remedy many problems in the unit. The tenant will really appreciate a fast response from you when they need basic repairs that affect the habitability of the unit. Use porch.com to get leads for trade persons such as plumbers.
- Sometimes if the property manager cannot resolve the problem by an email, phone call, or in person meeting, an attorney letter can be an effective tool to calm the tenant down, call for an enforcement of rules and get a plan of action in place. The attorney can also offer formal mediation as a solution, and see if the tenant wants that approach. The attorney letter can provide an important disciplinary function to deal with certain tenants, but not all.
- Sometimes a recitation of black letter law- a local ordinance or state law or even a case that is directly on point from the California Supreme Court can show a tenant that you know the laws and you are in compliance, and can prevent a lot of arguments.
- If you have tried the in person meeting, and other tenants are complaining about a situation, you can also serve a “Three Day Notice to Perform Covenant or Quit” that addresses a rental agreement violation. Before you do this its important to document the facts of the problem- who, what, where, how, when, and have the contact information from witnesses, such as other tenants. These other tenants can testify at trial against the problem tenant, and is key for having corroborating witnesses. The notice should also track local rent control ordinance requirements.
- Have a policy whereby tenants purchase a renter’s insurance policy. At least offer this as an option. This type of insurance can pay for a loss for damage to a tenant’s personal property, and can provide a fund to pay for losses that the landlord can avoid.
- Due the aggressive advertising practices of personal injury attorneys on television and billboards- tenants have plaintiff’s lawyers on speed dial. You have to be prepared for this type of claim. Have current liability insurance in place with high limits and broad coverage- any tenant, whether injured or not, can sue you or your company virtually for any reason- it does not mean that the case has merit. If the claim or loss is covered under the insurance policy, the insurance carrier will have to defend the lawsuit, and indemnify you up to the policy limits.
Copyright 2017 Nate Bernstein, Attorney at Law. LA Real Estate Law Group. All Rights Reserved.
The author of this article, Nate Bernstein, Esq., is the Managing Counsel of LA Real Estate Law Group, and a member of the State Bar of California and his practice concentrates in the areas of complex real estate litigation, commercial litigation, employment law, and bankruptcy matters. The contact number is (818) 383-5759, and email is [email protected]. Nate Bernstein is a 22-year veteran Los Angeles real estate and business attorney and trial lawyer. Mr. Bernstein also has expertise on bankruptcy law, the federal bankruptcy court system, creditor’s rights and debtor’s bankruptcy options. He previously served as Vice President and In House trial counsel at Fidelity Title Insurance Company, a Fortune 500 company, and in house counsel at Denley Investment Management Company. Nate Bernstein created www.laquiettitleattorney.com, a leading educational resource on quiet title real estate litigation. Nate Bernstein is a local expert on real estate law and economic trends in the real estate and leasing market, business law, and bankruptcy law. Nate has personally litigated more than 40 major real estate trials, and has settled more than 200 complex real estate and business cases.
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