Conflicts between tenants can begin with petty squabbles but, unless they are resolved early, cumulative spats can escalate into cancerous disputes. Most of us will have heard of cases, for example, where apartment dwellers have been driven to nervous breakdowns – or even suicide – by the actions of anti-social and inconsiderate neighbors.
Neighbors from hell
Many people will have experience of living next to people who delight in playing loud music outside of normal hours. Or perhaps hooligan tenants who disrupt neighbors’ lives by placing unnecessary obstructions in entrances, or leaving excessive quantities of garbage outside the block. Or maybe they violate the rules about not keeping a dog, for example, which could even be used to intimidate neighbors as part of a campaign of harassment.
Some disputes simply stem from a misunderstanding and can be resolved through quiet diplomacy or the mediation of a third party. In such instances, the resolution can be quick and painless.
Chronicle the abuse
In certain cases, however, particularly those when one party is clearly to blame and behaving totally unreasonably, the misbehavior must be documented. The following steps could be taken by a tenant who feels that he/she is at the mercy of another tenant's irresponsible or malicious behavior:
- Tenants could begin to chronicle misdemeanors in a diary, reporting on flagrant breaches of the peace and privacy violations. Attempts to resolve the dispute via an exchange of letters could also be documented and photocopied. It is advisable to keep in touch with your property manager via a software add-on like Portal Vista Mobile.
- Deliberate or careless actions on the part of irresponsible tenants should be recorded, ideally by photographic evidence. For example, if a tenant has allowed his pet to foul the walkway, or deliberately obstructed an important entrance, then a picture will serve as irrevocable proof.
- The more serious the offence, the more important it becomes to collect proof. Trashing a neighbor's vehicle or property could warrant legal action (as well as eviction) and, as such, should be recorded.
If harassment escalates to the point where violence and/or threats form part of a campaign of intimidation, then all such incidents should be documented. The collection of available evidence can only benefit the tenant who has been wronged. Independent confirmations by other parties not directly involved in the conflict will also be valuable.
The property manager’s role
Once he/she has been entrusted with the responsibility by a landlord, the property manager will need to address all tenants' concerns. Often this could be something relatively straightforward, like registering a complaint from a tenant about faulty equipment and repairing it.
When a dispute is brought to a head, the property manager should be mindful of the following considerations:
- Hopefully, the tenant will already have cataloged a record/report of the incident(s) in question. This is where the tenant portal will come in handy, enabling tenants and managers to liaise constantly about any conflict and its escalation. This will also give the property manager a record of all events in the dispute.
- Serious disputes should always be prioritized. The property manager should not allow such problems to remain unresolved because they can lead to the tenant accusing the property manager of negligence.
- Arguments, if left to simmer, can also lead to the wronged party vacating the property. This, of course, is a totally undesirable income. It is in nobody’s interest – neither the landlord’s nor the management company’s – to have a high turnover of tenants, particularly the responsible ones!
- The property manager can sometimes preempt the possibility of any loss of income by offering to move neighbors who cannot continue to co-exist. This could be one way of avoiding possible defaulting on rent payments by tenants who feel that their concerns have not been addressed.
- Sometimes the "offence" that led to the falling-out between neighbors will not be clear-cut. There could be a longstanding disagreement between neighbors that, for example, has been marked by unacceptable behavior on both sides. Perhaps (for example) one tenant (a member of a racial minority) feels that their alleged "misbehavior" is merely the invention of a racist neighbor determined to cast a slur on their character. As such, the property manager should listen carefully to the versions of both sides before reaching a judgement.
- It could even be that BOTH sides have been behaving unreasonably. Or, alternatively that the sole intervention of a third party – in this case the property manager – was all that was needed to resolve a misunderstanding. The responsible property manager, if he feels he has resolved a dispute between warring parties, could even suggest a communal barbecue to cement the friendship!
Arbitration and eviction
If it becomes clear to a property manager, however, that one particular tenant is disturbing the peace and/or in violation of the law (and again we assume that the offending party's behavior has been documented) then the property manager can write a letter of warning to the tenant concerned.
Such a letter should address causes of concern, preferably in numbered points, and ask the tenant concerned to address their behavior. The good property manager should, of course, have carried out routine checks on the condominium concerned to check that tenants are behaving in a peaceful and law abiding fashion. Remember that tenants are much more likely to report incidents of impropriety if they believe that their accounts will be handled in a professional manner.
Sometimes no amount of responsible intervention will resolve the dispute. When it is clear that one tenant has broken the law and disrupted the lives of fellow tenants – in particular if physical and verbal harassment is also clearly corroborated – then you can move to eviction. But, of course, prevention is always better than cure and a responsible management company will always find ways for landlords to screen tenants in advance and weed out the troublesome ones.