How To Manage Disputes Between Tenants

It starts simply enough.  A tenant (in a multi-family property) contacts our office to ask what can we do about the loud tenants next door?  Some other real tenant complaints we receive are regarding smoke (legal and illegal), loud music, cooking odors and even a Confederate flag hanging from the front porch of a duplex.  Managing multi-family properties involves a higher standard of diligence just because people are sharing a space.  Despite the diligence shown through strict approval processes, problems will arise.  Knowing a path to manage disputes between tenants is an important responsibility of any landlord.
Your lease should provide guidelines and rules about what is considered a nuisance in these multi-family properties.  But what happens if the offending tenant just refuses to make any changes to their behaviors?  What options does a landlord have?  Start with a small stick and know that your lease will back you up if you need it to bring peace again to your property.

Try to Mediate

The landlord can certainly attempt to talk it out.  The easiest first step is to just kindly request the other tenant to stop the behavior.  First though you have to balance if the situation might get worse if the accused can identify the accuser.  This is often the case in a Quad or smaller structure.
Sometime the first best path to resolution in these smaller properties is to try and encourage the tenants to sort out the problem.  Before getting involved, you probably need to verify the claims.  If they involve noise at 3am,  it may be outside of reasonable to verify the complaints yourself.  If the complaint involves illegal activity, we often ask the tenant to get a police report.  Don’t jump to conclusions based on what a tenant suspects.  What a tenant may believe is illegal activity may be nothing more than the accused having a co-worker over for a beer after they get off the midnight shift.  That has happened and the request for a police report resolved the complaining.
Often tenants do not want to have conflict with their neighbors.  One option that has worked well for us is to issue a letter to all parties in the building reminding them of the lease rules.  If possible, use an example of the reported areas of concern as a specific violation of a lease clause.  On a good day that may end the problem immediately.
In this tenant communication it is recommended to remind all parties that everyone has the right to enjoy their property.   They do not have the right to do so in a way that stops their neighbors from having the same privilege.

Give The Offending Tenant A Warning of A Lease Violation

Depending on your lease and its obligations of a tenant you may be able to cite various lease clauses.

  • Tenant will comply with all laws, rules, ordinances, statutes and orders regarding the use of the Premises.
  • No smoking and no offensive odors.

What can be seen as a nuisance varies in each situation.  Each case needs to be examined to see if the accused’s  actions are reasonable.  Remember the example above of the tenant who worked the graveyard shift.  Also, a party that ends at 11pm one night is a lot different than weekly parties with loud music that can be heard blocks away at 3am.  Those cases are a great place where a police report can give the landlord the ability to warn a tenant of a lease violation.

Issue A Lease Violation With An Order To Cease Behavior Under One Of the Above Clauses

After a warning has been issued, your lease should be specific about the punishment of a lease violation.  Usually it includes a fine with a reminder that without correction the tenant will face eviction.

Worst Case- Evict The Accused Or Release the Accuser

Which do you prefer?  The accused who pays their rent on time every month but is single and plays music that bothers the next door neighbor.  Or the accuser who sleeps during the day and is two months behind on their rent?
Yes, often in these situations the decision comes down to the lesser of two evils.  Sometimes releasing the accuser may be the better plan.  Of course, that depends on the offense.  Under no circumstance will criminal activity be tolerated.
Unfortunately, a landlord’s choices are often not so clear and obvious.  Just keep in mind that there are alternatives if all of the steps above failed.
One word of experience.  Most of the time the best choice is to evict or release the accused and end their tenancy.

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WILMOTH Group is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. We focus on providing creative local solutions for a variety of residential real estate needs including, properties for sale, property management services in Central Indiana.