Worker Exposes Landlord to Liability
A tenant in North Carolina this week shared a video recording he made with the local news. The tape purports to show a maintenance worker rifling through the tenant’s belongings. He was supposed to be fixing the dryer vent.
One of the most significant take-aways from this case is the fact that the tenant felt he needed to install the video camera. Bad employees directly affect tenant retention. In today’s transparent world, an unhappy tenant will not go quietly. Word will spread quickly, online and on social media sites, that the property is poorly-managed. Fewer good tenants will apply, more will move out, and profitability will suffer.
Additionally, the exposure a landlord faces for employees who don’t respect landlord tenant law is staggering:
Tenants can file lawsuits – and win — for violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment;
A tenant may be able to break the lease with no legal consequences; and,
The tenant may be able to sue for personal injury. Worst case scenario, they will win punitive damages.
Damages awards in these types of actions routinely exceed the value of the rental agreement.
Take steps to prevent any exposure you may face to this common landlord liability:
Landlords are liable for the choices they make when it comes to employees. Be picky about how you find new hires. Run a background check, and thoroughly check references before you consider bringing someone in, even part-time, temp or contract workers. Reject problem applicants rather than trying to limit their access to tenants.
Perform an orientation of all new employees and contractors. Go beyond an explanation of your policies –include some basics of rental law, like when it’s legal to enter a unit, protecting tenant privacy, and handling keys.
Who’s in Charge?
Make sure there are levels of supervision over workers, especially those who have access to tenants’ units. One trick is to log a worker’s time. Such a log may show when they checked out a key, when they entered the unit, how long it took them to finish the repair, and how long it took to return the key. The tenant file should have a record of why the worker was present and when notice was provided.
If the property has an on-site manager, make sure they are properly supervising all grounds workers and leasing agents. The manager should know where everyone is at any given time.
Talk to the Tenants
When evaluating management policies, don’t forget the biggest critics: the tenants. Periodically check in with tenants about the level of service they are receiving, and address any concerns that may be surfacing. Before a worker attacked a child he was watching at the play area, tenants had complained to the landlord about the employee’s suspicious behavior. That fact was pivotal to the jury awarding damages in the subsequent wrongful hiring lawsuit against the landlord.
Besides, when tenants feel they have your ear, they’re not as likely to go to the news to air their complaints.
American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for all your property management needs. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.