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Got Needy Tenants? Be Sure YOU Set Boundaries

By Ari Chazanas, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lotus West Properties

Landlords have a great deal on their “plate” such as managing their property, handling accounting, and responding to the plethora of maintenance and repair requests.  Accordingly, it comes to no surprise that landlords are often stressed and short on time. One of the most time-demanding scenarios involves tenant relations. When work with their tenants, property managers and landlords must first and foremost be educated about the respective landlord and tenant responsibilities per local jurisdictional regulations. 

Outlined below are some common landlord / tenant scenarios with guidance on how to address these issues and how to save on time and expense while as a property management professional.  Remember that your role as a landlord or property manager is to provide safe and affordable housing, not to appease tenants for every whim.

Scenario – Tenant Repair Requests.  Tenants have a right to request repairs. These requests may range from changing lightbulbs to replacing a smoke detector’s batteries.  Questions often arise about who is responsible for the cost and execution of a requested repair.  To determine responsibility, consult and become familiar with local housing laws, and ensure that your lease contract contains information addressing maintenance and repairs.  The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles’ form lease agreement contains many provisions that address repair requests and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant.

Under most jurisdictional regulations, the landlord is responsible for building maintenance and permanent fixtures such as plumbing, heaters and large appliances. On the other hand, tenants are responsible for non-permanent maintenance issues such as lightbulb replacements. However, a landlord is responsible for changing (or ensuring operation of) lightbulbs on move-in day, and thereafter, the tenant becomes responsible.  

Landlords may; nevertheless, charge tenants for repairs that are under the tenant’s responsibility, which may prevent the neediest tenants from contacting you unnecessarily.  When the tenants are made aware of their responsibilities, they are often less likely to ask the property manager or landlord to address maintenance and repair issues that are under the list of tenant responsibilities. Open communication between tenant and property managers / landlord benefits both parties so that small problems that are under the owner’s responsibility, such as a leaking pipe, do not go unreported and grow into larger, more expensive problems.  You should setup an email address or designated voicemail number so that tenant calls do not constantly interrupt your schedule and monopolize your time.  Remember, be upfront, communicate and set defined boundaries.  Always act professionally and never disparagingly, and always stay balanced in your communications with your tenants, and always be firm. 

Scenario – Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors.  Another type of a repair or maintenance involves inspecting smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and changing their batteries.  Health and safety laws require that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors function properly at all times.  It is always a landlord’s responsibility of to install, test and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  Tenants are responsible; however, to ensure that these devices have functioning batteries and to inform a property owner or manager in the event they have a malfunctioning detector.  

Because these detectors also protect the property owner by limiting their liability in case of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, it is illegal for tenants to remove batteries or remove detectors.  Tenants may often remove smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to stop the warning signal when the detectors have low batteries.  To prevent issues associated with malfunctioning devices or low batteries, you can “hit two birds with one stone” by scheduling a routine maintenance alongside the replacement of these devices or their batteries.  

An added benefit of entering rental units at regularly scheduled intervals is that this inspection also enables a landlord to review the condition of the rental unit and to identify other potential safety concerns.  Prior to inspection, be sure to give give reasonable, prior notice to the tenant or to enter the rental unit for the following reasons: to show the unit to mortgagees, to allow workers or contractors address repair or maintenance, or to show unit to prospective renters or purchasers.  Sometimes needy tenants can expose you to legal liabilities or monopolize your valuable time; however, making the most out of every situation can prove to be beneficial in the long run.

Scenario – Tenants Complaining About Other Residents.  Repairs are not the only time-consuming matter that are often addressed by property managers.  People do not always get along, and sometimes you can end up with a needy tenant who makes frequent complaints about their neighbors. First, determine whether the tenant being complained about is aware of their noise levels or other issues , and is sensitive about the issue.  A friendly warning may often suffice when dealing a noisy tenant or other behavior.  

However, if the tenant at issue disagrees or refuses to abide by the building’s rules, ask other neighboring tenants about the noise or other issue and be sure to document your conversations.  Acknowledgement by other tenants of the noise issue is critical.  If there is written or video evidence of the tenant disturbing the peace, for example, it will be easy to prove to local police or in court that the tenant has violated local ordinances or their lease agreement.  

The best way to prevent situations such as this in the first place is to screen your prospective tenants effectively. Call not only one previous landlord, but the other previous ones as well to inquire about behavior issues.  If there is no way to stop the tenant from creating noise or causing some other type of disturbance, you may want to start the eviction process.  Eviction may be a last resort, but the neighbors will welcome the move.

As you can see, needy tenants often arise from situations where landlords do not uphold boundaries and do not communicate directly with tenants.  As a property manager or landlord, be sure to say up to date and become knowledgeable about your roles and responsibilities , and do not allow tenants to overstep their boundaries. Each party has responsibility to keep the peace.  Needy tenants are often merely a sign of improper screening who may require eviction as a last resort if they violate the law or a lease agreement, and then fail to take a corrective course of action.

Ari Chazanas is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lotus West Properties.  Lotus West Properties is a property management firm based in West Los Angeles and was recently voted the “Southland’s Best New Property Management Firm” by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. You can reach them at (323) 380-2783 or contact Byron at byron@lotusproperties.com. 

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