Problem tenants and Section 8

Questioning landlord policies in 'unsubsidized' communities

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Apr. 8, 2010

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Questioning landlord policies in 'unsubsidized' communities

Robert Griswold
Inman News

Q: In a past article you discussed a landlord's responsibility with regard to handling nuisance tenants at a Section 8 community. I have a similar problem, but this is at a conventional apartment community without Section 8 tenants.

The police have been called to our complex and have even arrested tenants, but they simply get released the next day. Our landlord denies the problem completely, and refuses to take any action. So I am not sure I understand why a Section 8 landlord can address these serious problem tenant issues but my landlord can't. Can you offer any suggestions as well as any feedback so I understand the difference?

A: The obligations of a landlord and/or the property manager to provide tenants with decent and reasonably safe housing are the same whether the property has Section 8 tenants or not. Your landlord or property manager should have policies and guidelines (or some use the less-friendly term "rules and regulations") that encourage and promote a quality living experience for all tenants.

Of course, living in any multifamily community in close proximity to others will always require patience and understanding, but a good landlord or property manager will be fair, firm and friendly and enforce the rules uniformly with all tenants.

Some tenants may inadvertently create noise or a disturbance, and they should be warned by the landlord or property manager. If the problem tenants are decent people but just rude and unaware of their impact on others in the community, simply asking them to be more thoughtful and courteous may be successful.

So at the first indication of an issue, a verbal warning would be appropriate. But further violations should be documented in writing and detailed notes kept in the tenant's file in case the problems continue unabated.

Repeat offenders or any tenant (or their family or guests) who are a danger to the community should be dealt with quickly and firmly, including eviction if necessary. Some landlords and property managers are facing much lower occupancies and are reluctant to reprimand or evict problem tenants.

This is not a good management decision and almost guarantees that the best tenants will soon get fed up and leave -- and then all that will be left in the community are problem tenants who have no respect or regard for the rights of their neighbors to live quietly.

Once a building gets a bad reputation it can be a serious challenge for any owner or property manager to regain control and get the quality tenants to move back in. This sounds like what you are experiencing.

But it is not always just the lenient or short-sighted landlords and property managers who are to blame. Many landlords and property managers know that evicting a problem tenant has never been that easy, as the offending tenant will often come to court and be on their best behavior and deny causing any problems.

The courts then have to decide who is telling the truth, unless the landlord or property managers are able to bring witnesses who will verify the problems with the tenant.

As the economy has become more challenging and unemployment has risen dramatically in so many parts of the country, it is even more difficult to evict tenants without proof to the court that the tenant is a real nuisance.

Some courts have even implemented blanket moratoriums primarily on grounds that they want to give tenants more time to pay the rent -- but a nuisance or problem tenant who is disrupting the community can also buy extra time based on the current mood of tolerance and forbearance found in many courts.

This is especially true around the holidays or when a tenant can show the court that his or her children may be negatively impacted at school by being forced to move suddenly. These are all legitimate concerns of the court, but the court also needs to consider the rights of all the other tenants to a calm and quiet living environment.

That is why letters or even petitions can help the court understand that a balancing of all parties' interests needs to be considered and the interests of the problem tenant should have the least weight.

Another option that has been used successfully by tenants is to take their own legal action and sue the problem tenant in small claims court for breaching the rules and creating a nuisance. There have been many well-publicized cases around the country where this has been successful.

However, personally I see some serious concerns with this approach, as often the problem tenants are a threat and it can certainly create a hostile environment.

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