Take Five Steps to Curb Behavior of Abusive Residents
Have you ever had a resident complain to you about another resident’s harassing or abusive behavior? Maybe the other resident is loudly insulting him or, worse, using racial epithets. You might be tempted to ignore the problem. But your decision could be costly. The resident who’s the target of the harassment might move out of your tax credit site and then sue you for violating your lease obligations or fair housing law.
The law gives every resident a right to “quiet enjoyment” of his or her unit. This legal term means that a resident has the right to live in and enjoy his unit without being disturbed, harassed, or threatened by an owner, manager, or employee—or by other residents. This makes it your responsibility to protect residents who you know are being harassed by other residents. You should try to stop the harassment and, if necessary, evict the harassing resident who won’t stop. Otherwise, you could face a lawsuit for “constructively evicting” the harassed resident.
In addition, if neighbors harass and intimidate other residents on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin, ignoring the complaints could also be a fair housing violation. In a recent decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that an owner could be liable under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for intentionally discriminating against a tenant by choosing not to take any reasonable steps within its control to address racially based tenant-on-tenant harassment. In this case, a next-door neighbor began a relentless months-long campaign of racial harassment, abuse, and threats against a resident. After being notified of the neighbor’s actions, the owner took no action.
The neighbor’s escalating racial threats to the resident finally prodded police to arrest the neighbor for aggravated harassment. And the resident informed the owner that the neighbor continued to direct racial slurs at him. The resident sued the owner for failing to investigate or attempt to resolve his complaints of racial abuse and allowing the neighbor to live at the site without reprisal. The neighbor had pleaded guilty to harassment in violation of state penal law, and the state court entered an order of protection prohibiting him from contacting the resident. A lower court had dismissed the resident’s discrimination claim, and this court sent the case back for a trial [Francis v. Kings Park Manor, Inc., December 2019]
Don’t be like the owner who ignored the resident’s complaints of harassment. We’ll tell you the steps to take if you hear a report or receive a complaint about harassment or abusive behavior. And we’ll give you a Model Lease Clause to help you crack down on the behavior.
Step #1: Ban Abusive, Harassing, Threatening Behavior
Most leases ban residents from making excessive noise and engaging in behavior that disrupts the “quiet enjoyment” of others. But it helps to have a clause to fall back on that specifically deals with abusive behavior. You can’t eliminate all prejudices from your residents. But if residents cross a line and harass or intimidate others, you can stop them.
Our lease clause makes it clear that residents may not engage in any harassing or abusive behavior or any intimidation or aggression—either verbal or physical—directed at any resident. It’s also smart to ban abusive behavior directed toward guests, occupants, management, employees, and vendors. It’s important to spell this out. After all, you want a civil community living at your site. Talk to your attorney about adapting the following language for your lease:
Model Lease Clause
Resident shall not engage in any abusive or harassing behavior, either verbal or physical, or any form of intimidation or aggression directed at other residents, occupants, guests, invitees, or directed at management, its agents, its employees, or vendors.
Step #2: Verify Complaints
When you first learn of any harassment, verify it before acting. Make sure the reports are credible. To do so, have your staff try to observe the behavior. For example, if the resident reports that another resident yells at him each night, have a staff member be on call to hear it. Also, talk to other residents who live nearby to see if they’ve heard or seen anything. The staff member should bring a witness along. Document the conversations with residents and keep a copy of the reports in the abusive resident’s file.
Step #3: Meet with Abusive Resident
In most situations, you should meet with the abusive resident and speak to him about his behavior. The exception is if the abusive resident has threatened violence—then go right to step #5, below. Also, call the police.
In most cases, you can discuss the incidents with the abusive resident. Tell him you’ve received complaints about his behavior. Give him the specifics about the complaints, such as the dates and times they occurred. Also point out that your lease bans abusive, threatening behavior. Write down the date and time of your meeting with the abusive resident.
What if the abusive resident claims that the other resident started a fight? If the abusive resident has crossed a line and acted in a way he shouldn’t have, it doesn’t matter who started the dispute. Engaging in threatening, abusive behavior crosses the line.
Step #4: Write Warning Letter
If the informal approach doesn’t work, send the abusive resident a strongly worded letter. Mention the specific incidents. Tell the abusive resident that his conduct violates the lease and that you’ll take steps to terminate the lease and evict if the conduct continues. We’ve provided a Model Letter: Send Abusive Resident Warning Letter, to warn abusive residents that their behavior must stop.
Step #5: Seek Eviction
If the problem continues, you’ll need to evict the abusive resident. Gather your written records of complaints and violations, prepare other residents to testify, and go to court to evict. You owe it to harassed residents to evict abusive ones; it’s not enough to write letters and make idle threats.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Send Abusive Resident Warning Letter|