Most rental properties have a nearby neighbor, which presents potential conflicts with a tenant and his neighbors. Inevitably, property managers will receive complaints from neighbors that a tenant is disturbing the peace or committing some kind of criminal offense or lease violation, such as theft, assault or criminal mischief. These complaints are always alarming, but property managers must be cautious when responding because believing the wrong person can be problematic for the property manager and landlord and pose liability issues.
If a property manager receives a complaint from neighbor that the tenant has committed a lease or law violation, the property manager must use due diligence to investigate the complaint and not simply take the neighbor’s complaint as indisputable proof of a violation. The reasons are several, including, the neighbor may:
- not be credible;
- have a bias or prejudice against the tenant;
- have a history of giving false complaints against others;
- may be overly sensitive to other neighbors’ actions; or
- may be exaggerating the facts.
If the property manager relies on a neighbor’s word alone that the tenant has violated the law or lease and consequently delivers the tenant a 7 day notice, whether to cure or terminate (non-curable violation), the tenant could have a potential claim against the property manager and landlord for wrongful eviction where there is no credible evidence to support the property manager’s action against the tenant.
To avoid potential liabilities in this regard, the property manager needs objective evidence on which to proceed and deliver any cure or non-curable notices to the tenant or to take no action against the tenant. The following are examples of the kind of evidence the property manager should seek where there is a neighbor complaint of a lease or law violation:
- request and obtain all audio-video recordings;
- request and obtain any police or government reports regarding the complaint;
- inquire from other neighbors about the complaint;
- learn of the credibility of the complainant;
- learn if the police or prosecutor’s office intends to charge the tenant with a crime;
- talk to the tenant (and occupants) and get his side of the story;
- if allegations of physical damage or intrusion are alleged, inspect the property for evidence and support of the complaint or defense;
- if noise allegations are alleged, try to conduct a simulated scenario to replicate the allegation and see how credible the allegation is;
- investigate whether tenant has made false reports in the past or has a criminal history, including convictions for “crimes of dishonesty”;
- compare the stories of witnesses (tenant, complainant, other neighbors) and assess believability of the stories;
- talk to police about the complaint and get their take (if they will cooperate);
- search any public record about the complaint;
- consult with your property management law attorney regarding the situation and give the attorney all of the evidence, not just the version you would prefer to believe.
By conducting this kind of investigation, the property manager will stand on much firmer ground when making a decision one way or the other. After the property manager has made his determination of the allegation, he should follow up with a letter to the tenant and complainant explaining his determination. There may be requirements of reporting to the Home Owner’s Association as well about the complaint and findings, so the property manager should check with the HOA president in this regard.
In sum, property managers must use due diligence to investigate and determine the credibility of a neighbor’s complaint and not just knee-jerk-react.