What is Landlord Harassment and How Can Owners Protect Themselves
Sometimes, the landlord-tenant relationship can be challenging. Although many issues are quickly resolved with professional communication and understanding, property owners may be accused of landlord harassment when situations spiral. Unfortunately, a harassment lawsuit can take a toll on your rental business. But what is landlord harassment, and how can it affect property owners? Keep reading as we discuss examples of harassment and what to do if you’re accused.
What Is Landlord Harassment?
Disputes between tenants and landlords can vary depending on the situation. That said, landlord harassment generally consists of ongoing aggressive tactics to intimidate a tenant. For instance, if a landlord threatens a tenant or disrupts their right to quiet enjoyment, it’s harassment. Harassment could also include shutting off utilities or illegally entering a rental property.
Accusations of landlord harassment are very serious matters and are not taken lightly. Regardless of how frustrating the situation may be, as long as a tenant isn’t violating the lease terms, they have the right to live on the property. So now, let’s go over common examples of landlord harassment.
Common Examples of Landlord Harassment
Harassment can come in several different forms. That said, property owners must be aware of actions that could lead to a landlord harassment lawsuit. If you’re unsure of what actions may result in harassment claims, here are some common examples.
- Physical or Verbal Assault
- Sexual Harassment
- Intimidation by Refusing Rent Payments
- Filing False Charges or a False Eviction
- Illegal Entry into the Property
- Unlawfully Changing Property Locks
- Disrupting the Right to Quiet Enjoyment
- Not Providing Proper Notice
- Removing Tenant’s Belongings
- Disrupting Utilities that Affect Habitability
- Refusing Timely Maintenance
- Cutting Off Amenities Listed in the Lease
Physical or Verbal Assault
Although it should go without saying, landlords cannot verbally or physically threaten tenants. If you threaten a tenant physically, verbally, or make physical contact with a tenant, it’s landlord harassment. Remember that verbal threats can occur face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing. So, thinking twice before letting your emotions get the best of you is crucial.
Your relationships with tenants must remain professional at all times. After all, owning rentals is a business, no matter how many properties you own. That said, your tenants are your customers and nothing more. So, it’s important to treat them as such. In other words, no landlord should make crude remarks or sexual advances toward a tenant. This scenario can be highly uncomfortable for a tenant and could lead to a landlord harassment lawsuit.
Intimidation by Refusing Rent Payments
Sometimes, you may be desperate for a tenant to vacate. However, no matter how much you want them gone, you cannot refuse to accept rent payments as means of intimidation. Refusing rent as an attempt to force a tenant out of your property is landlord harassment. As such, instead of taking matters into your own hands, take the legal route to resolve landlord-tenant disagreements.
Filing False Charges or a False Eviction
If you need to evict a tenant, it’s generally a lengthy court battle. In an attempt to avoid this long process, some landlords resort to less legal tactics. However, filing false claims or issuing fake notices to push a tenant to vacate your property will not end well. These tactics are 100% illegal and considered landlord harassment.
Illegal Entry into the Property
You or your property managers in Fairfax may have to enter a rental property to perform maintenance, inspections, or emergency repairs. However, if you’re entering the property often to do an excessive amount of inspections or you’re not giving your tenant proper notice, they can claim landlord harassment. The only exception would include entering the property to complete emergency repairs that threaten the tenant’s health or pose a severe risk of property damage.
Unlawfully Changing Property Locks
If you want to evict a tenant, you can’t just go to the property and change the locks. Instead, eviction is a legal process handled by the court. If a landlord changes the locks before the eviction is settled, it’s illegal and harassment. That said, this can include changing the locks on common areas, the tenant’s unit, or blocking entry points in any way.
Disrupting the Right to Quiet Enjoyment
Although you will have to perform maintenance every once in a while at your rental property, creating excessive noise, prolonged inconveniences, or unnecessarily disrupting a tenant’s use of the property is landlord harassment. Additionally, leaving work supplies behind, starting work early in the morning, or lasting all day into the night is not advised.
Not Providing Proper Notice
Local laws and most lease agreements will dictate the amount of notice landlords must provide to tenants for specific scenarios. For instance, landlords must provide notice before raising rent prices, entering the property for maintenance, and evicting tenants. That said, not providing proper notice can result in a landlord harassment claim.
Removing Tenant’s Belongings
Landlords cannot physically remove the tenant’s property from a rental unit. However, if a tenant abandons the property, landlords have a right to remove it. Remember that each state has different rules for handling personal belongings left behind in a rental unit. So, check up on the laws in your area to ensure compliance.
Disrupting Utilities that Effect Habitability
Property owners must keep their rentals in livable condition. In other words, tenants have the right to essential utility services, like water, sewer, and heating, during cold months. If landlords intentionally turn off utilities to push tenants out of their property, it’s a clear example of landlord harassment. On the other hand, if the utilities are turned off because a tenant didn’t pay for them, it’s not landlord harassment–it’s the tenant’s responsibility.
Refusing Timely Maintenance
Landlords cannot refuse maintenance or intentionally delay maintenance needs. If they do, it could lead to possible tenant litigation and landlord harassment compensation. Additionally, not completing repairs not only makes a tenant uncomfortable but can also affect the value of your investment property. So, performing requested or necessary maintenance is crucial to avoid landlord harassment accusations.
Cutting Off Amenities Listed in the Lease
When you list certain services or amenities in the lease agreement, your tenant has the right to them for the duration of their lease. For instance, landlords cannot cut off access to any common areas like a gym or laundry facility. Property owners must realize that this is landlord harassment and could be considered landlord retaliation.
Actions That Are Not Landlord Harassment
Tenants may attempt to claim a variety of landlord harassment scenarios. However, there are also legal actions that landlords may take that aren’t landlord harassment. Read along to learn which actions are within a landlord’s legal rights.
- Raising the Rent- Rent increases are fine as long as landlords provide proper notice to tenants and the increase is within state guidelines.
- Issuing a Notice to Quit- If a tenant violates the lease agreement, landlords have the right to take action. Sending a notice to quit isn’t landlord harassment–it lets the tenant know how much time they have to correct the issue or face eviction.
- Entering During an Emergency- If there’s an emergency, such as a fire, gas leak, or flood, landlords don’t need to provide notice to enter the property.
- Changing Locks for Certain Circumstances- Random lock changes aren’t allowed. However, landlords can change the locks at the request of a tenant who is a domestic violence victim. It’s crucial to check your local laws to see what actions you can take.
- Filing for a Legal Eviction- Landlords can file to evict tenants with proper notice. For instance, if a tenant refuses to pay rent, violates the lease, or refuses to vacate at the end of their lease term, landlords can evict them.
- Offering a Cash for Keys Incentive- If a landlord doesn’t want to proceed with a formal eviction, they can offer a tenant cash for the keys to the property. However, you have to be careful during this process to avoid landlord harassment claims.
What To Do If You’re Accused of Landlord Harassment
If you’re a property owner, you probably have a goal to keep positive landlord-tenant relationships. However, disputes can start and escalate without warning. When that happens, landlords must protect themselves from getting caught up in a landlord harassment lawsuit. Here are a few tips for what to do to avoid an unwanted situation.
- Maintain a communication log to keep a record of conversations with your tenants.
- Make sure you have a witness or neutral party observe landlord-tenant interactions to diffuse disputes.
- Maintain easy access to copies of rental agreements, renewals, notices, inspections, and other communications.
- Understand your local laws and landlord responsibilities to ensure compliance with all tenant communications.
- Reach out to a qualified attorney that has experience with landlord harassment claims.
How to Avoid Landlord Harassment Claims
One of the best ways to avoid a landlord harassment claim is by hiring a trusted property management team. Your property managers will ensure a professional landlord-tenant relationship and compliance throughout all of your rentals. Bay Property Management Group specializes in full-service rental management to help you with all of your business needs.
BMG offers tenant screening, rental registration, move-in/move-out reports, maintenance, rent collection, eviction services, and more. Contact Bay Property Management Group today if you need management services in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, or Washington DC.