How property owners should handle tenant-to-tenant harassment
We all want to get along with our neighbors, especially in an apartment building, where we live in closer proximity than in other types of residential properties. But when tenants begin harassing one another, rental property owners or property managers must step in to help de-escalate, if not resolve, the situation.
There are legal consequences for ignoring such incidents within rental properties. According to the US Department of Housing and Development (HUD), owners and management companies are liable for sexual and other types of harassment in their residential buildings if they knew or should have known about the harassment and they failed to take action to address it.
There are a range of actions that can qualify as harassment, including pestering the disabled, pressuring others to commit illegal acts, or stalking.
Don’t ignore instances of harassment happening in your property. Here’s a quick guide to deal with these issues.
Investigate allegations of tenant harassment
It’s essential to uncover the key circumstances surrounding the alleged harassment before taking action. As you discover more information, confirm if any of the following are applicable:
- A tenant repeatedly bothering or pestering another tenant
- A lone incident that poses a grave threat to the complainant’s well-being and safety (including affected family members)
- A tenant’s persistent lewd and unwelcome comments about another tenant’s body or attire
- A tenant demanding sexual favors or lewd photos from another tenant
- A tenant violating lease contract terms or property rules against harassment, discrimination, or bullying
Take the next steps after finding grounds for harassment
Acting swiftly and decisively is crucial. It sets an example to other tenants that harassment will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly. When it’s fairly certain that some form of harassment has taken place, property owners and managers have several actions at their disposal:
- Offer plenty of avenues for tenants (victims and witnesses) to report incidents of harassment without fear of retaliation from the harassing tenant.
- Hear out what the accused party has to say. This allows you to glean more details that can inform whatever action you’re planning.
- For incidents involving physical and sexual assault, contact the police.
- Offer lease bifurcation as a remedy for cases wherein both the complainant and the offending tenant reside in the same unit. In cases of domestic harassment and violence, the victim can stay within the unit while the perpetrator is removed from the property.
- In special cases involving multiple complaints, designating a complaint coordinator can help verify allegations and create the necessary reports.
Navigate gray areas that don’t necessarily fall under harassment
Many conflicts between tenants don’t pertain to harassment. There are minor squabbles that can be easily resolved without management getting involved. Then there are recurring issues that eventually lead to serious fights and disagreements. It’s important for property owners and managers to help find solutions early on before the conflict starts affecting other tenants.
In such cases, the property owner or manager should act as the mediator and allow the conflicting parties to air their grievances in a private meeting. Encouraging tenants to talk allows them to sort out their misunderstandings without further intervention.
When mediating, ensure each side has sufficient speaking time without undue interruptions from their counterparts. Remember to document conversations during these private meetings. Send a copy of the minutes to each of the tenants involved to ensure everyone is on the same page as to what transpired.
Focus on prevention
It’s worth stating the obvious: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preventing tenant conflict (resulting from harassment or other issues) before it occurs can save you a lot of trouble.
HUD encourages property owners and managers to establish and enforce rules related to harassment. Ensure that each tenant is fully aware of these policies before they sign the lease contract. Rules should also be crafted for other types of conflicts and troublemaking in general.
There’s no guarantee that harassment or conflicts won’t happen despite your best efforts, but clear-cut regulations can help facilitate swift and decisive action.
In addition, seriously consider upgrading your CCTV cameras or installing more of them. Regular monitoring in public areas can document serious incidents – or act as a deterrent – when no witnesses are nearby.
Hire experienced property managers in College Station, TX
If you require top-tier property management services in College Station, Texas, get in touch with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Caliber Realty. BHHS Caliber is a full-service real estate firm specializing in both residential and commercial real estate in Central Texas.
Experienced agents and property managers will advise you on the best approaches to dealing with tenant-to-tenant harassment and other issues involving rental property.