Tenants Setting Up Property Owners for Lawsuits

2011-07-20

Tenants Setting Up Property Owners for Lawsuits

How do you protect yourself?  This is a great topic property owners need to be aware of!

We ran across a great article recently about protecting yourself from liability when you enter your property for a repair or inspection.

In our sue-happy “civilization”, it seems everyone will sue whoever they perceive to have the money.

One would assume that a tenant behind in rent or one that was just a problem would be most likely to create a false scenario in order to sue.  But, don’t be fooled.  Any tenant could do it.

Keep on reading for more info…

 

Landlords: Are You Protected When You Enter Your Rental Properties?

by Peter Giardini on July 15, 2011

“LANDLORD ACCUSED OF ATTEMPTED RAPE”

This was a recent headline in a local paper here in Maine.  It got my attention for several reasons and got me to thinking about how vulnerable landlords (property managers included) are when entering your rentals properties.

To be sure… this landlord has huge problems, as he was in the tenants bedroom, uninvited, in the middle of the night.  A circumstance for most landlords that would be hard to envision in any normal situation.

But what about situations where you enter your rental and the tenant may be stressed as a result…
Which for many tenants is anytime you show up!  Such as physical rent collections (an action I am strongly against), routine inspections, correcting tenant caused maintenance issues and others.

A recent situation with one of my clients drives this point home.  The tenant had petitioned in court to have their rent placed in escrow (an action taken two days prior to a court approved eviction), due to the tenant claiming there was sewage in the basement.  The court agreed to escrow the rent, stopped the eviction and started an inspection process to verify the tenant claim.  As a landlord in this situation your first action would be to get the plumbers out to the property because the last thing you need is raw sewage cohabitating with your tenants.  Right!

So… the landlord lets the tenant know the plumber is coming out to investigate and fix the issue, and when the plumber arrives the tenants 10 year old daughter, supposedly home alone, answers the door.  The plumber had the presence of mind to not enter the house.

What would you do in this situation?

I hope for every landlord they would be as prudent as that plumber.

But think about situations like those mentioned above.  Your primary goal is to provide a safe and clean living environment and ensure the tenant is paying their rent.  So, when you are confronted with situations where you or your representatives must enter your rental properties are you considering that once you step over that threshold you are in a he-said, she-said scenario?  And if so what actions are you taking to protect yourself… just in case?

Here are few recommendations that have proven effective for myself and my clients… and they should help you to protect yourself as well.

How to Protect Yourself when Entering Your Leased Rental Property

  1. Always communicate with the tenants that you plan to enter the property.  In many locations there are specific laws regarding notifications and hours of entry.  Know what these laws are and follow them.  Because if you don’t, you can be sure your tenants know what your rights to entry are.  Also, make sure your lease gives you generous entry rights (within the laws of your community).
  2. Always, always, always… have the lease package for that tenant/property with you.  If you have to proof your right to entry having this documentation in your possession is critical.
  3. If you think the tenant is going to create problems with your entering the property contact your local police and schedule to have them accompany you when you enter.  I have done on many occasions and I am always amazed at how quickly a problem tenant will become cooperative when you show up with the police.  Make sure you have that lease package with you.
  4. If you find yourself inside a property and the situation starts to escalate for whatever reason… leave!  Go sit in your car, call the police, and wait for their arrival.  Ditto that lease package in item 2 above.
  5. Digital cameras and video recorders are now standard tools for any landlord.  Pictures will tell the best story.  If you have to be in the property by yourself and are concerned about the tone and tenor of your visit tell the tenant right from the start that you will have your video recorder on for the entire visit and then proceed to record.  In some states you must get permission to record someone… so make sure to get their permission… and record it.  If the tenant will not give you permission and you expect a difficult visit… leave!
  6. Always travel in pairs.  This was a standard practice for our team… especially with problem tenants.  Even if the person participating with you is a friend having two people present will help to verify whatever circumstances that might occur and also might keep a tenant in line.

 

2 thoughts on “Tenants Setting Up Property Owners for Lawsuits

  1. I rent rooms out of my home in Florida, Volusia County, and I just discovered that my new tenant of ten days has sued several previous landlords, and she is currently suing a pharmacy for a slip and fall. I am nervous about dealing with this because she appears to have made a career out suing anybody she can. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. A couple thoughts spring to mind: does the city/county where your home is allow leasing out rooms as you are doing or require inspections or licensing to do so? If you’re not complying with local ordinances you may have a harder time protecting yourself.

      Assuming compliance is not an issue, hire a VERY good real estate attorney. Not one familiar with JUST evictions or contracts, but one experienced in handling landlord-tenant cases. Don’t be penny-wise and dollar-foolish and try to handle this serious issue on your own.

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