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What Can Property Managers Do When Roommates Fight?

Tenants in different rental units don’t always get along, and sometimes tenant roommates have conflicts as well. Disputes can lead to noise complaints, destruction of property, and physical violence. What’s a property manager to do? 

Are Property Managers Their Tenants’ Keeper?

Recently, a CRES client called the CRES ClaimPrevent® Hotline, wondering what he should do about roommate tenants who had engaged in a physical fight. The fight got so out of hand that the police had been called. 

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Our legal team had this advice: Don’t intervene.

While property managers or landlords may feel like they should do something in the case of a physical fight, they should not intervene. Landlords and property managers are not paid to keep the peace between roommates. As our legal team put it, you’re not residential advisors in a dorm. 

What About Other Effects of a Tenant Fight?

You’re not going to intervene in a physical fight between tenant roommates. But what about other problems that the fight could have caused?

A lot of it comes down to your lease agreement. Provisions for noise (loudness), decorum (disruptiveness) and cleanliness may come into play if there are problems between roommate tenants (or with tenants in general). Failure to meet such provisions could lead to fines or eviction, but that assumes you have such provisions in your agreement (and they’re well defined), and they meet state and local legal standards. You may also want to consider your practices to help choose good tenants for your landlord client.

So what if other tenants were disturbed by the fighting? Tenants have a reasonable right to a peaceful environment (and many written rental agreements contain a clause that addresses “the covenant of quiet enjoyment.”). When a tenant causes a disturbance that bothers other tenants, you and the landlord might get complaints from those other tenants. What can you do? Most communities have regulations about what landlords can do to address noisy or disruptive tenants. And be sure the landlord’s written lease agreement specifies definitions and standards for “noisy” or “disruptive” behavior.

Your first action is to suggest to the landlord that he or she consult with a licensed attorney to communicate in writing with the tenants that caused the problem, to let them know their actions violated the standards of their written lease agreement (if they did), and to advise the tenants that continued behavior like the incident in question could be cause for eviction. And advise the tenants who complained that you did warn the disruptive tenants. (If you do not take action advising the landlord in writing to consult with a licensed attorney, the landlord’s other tenants could have a legal grievance against the landlord for failing to enforce the disruptive tenant’s lease.)

It is very important for you as the landlord’s property manager to understand that you are retained to manage the property. Managing the rented property does not include analyzing the legal effect of a written lease between and landlord and the tenants. That is the job for a licensed attorney to do.

What if somebody got injured? If there happens to be an injury to one r both of the roommates, that is an issue between the roommates. If the fight occurred in public areas and injured another tenant, you should advise the landlord of the injuries as soon as possible in writing and that the landlord should consult with a licensed attorney. Landlords can be responsible for injuries that occurred on the property as a result of negligence. If the disruptive tenants have been disruptive before, and the landlord did not take appropriate action, the landlord could be sued. This is why it is so important to have advise your landlord client to consult with a licensed attorney when there is a tenant dispute and/or injury on the leased premises.

What if property is damaged? If you have reason to believe the fight caused damage to the rental unit (due to information from other tenants, perhaps), as the property manager, you can give the disruptive tenants a 24-hour notice of an inspection under the laws of most states in this country. Post a notice on their door and call/email the tenants to advise them of the visit and save the email in your transaction file while forwarding a thread to your landlord client. Document any damage by taking photos and video footage that is time-stamped.

If the fight caused damage to public areas, document that damage as well with photographs, video, and saved emails. Obtain written bids for any needed repairs to the rental unit or public areas. The cost of the repairs will need to be billed to the offending tenants. It is very important to keep your landlord client advised of the situation in written documents as a matter of course as a property manager.

When in Doubt, Call Your CRES Legal Team 

If you have a question about tenant issues, wouldn’t it be a relief to know you had access to legal advice? CRES clients can call the CRES ClaimPrevent® Hotline 7 days a week. You’re guaranteed to receive a response within 4 hours or the next business day—and all recommendations are confirmed in writing.

What’s the trickiest roommate tenant situation you’ve handled?

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