Landlord Do’s and Don’ts: Resident Rights - dummies

Landlord Do’s and Don’ts: Resident Rights

By Robert S. Griswold, Laurence Harmon

As a landlord, it’s good for you to realize that resident rights extend beyond the doors of their dwellings and beyond the confines of the rental property. You also need to respect and protect any personal data you collect about residents, avoid the temptation to contact your resident at work, and be very careful not to spread negative rumors about a resident.

Do ease up on overnight guest restrictions

Landlords frequently limit overnight guests, such as allowing a guest for no more than ten days in any six-month period and requiring written approval for longer stays for no more than 14 days. Landlords do this to keep long-term guests from gaining the status of full-fledged residents who haven’t been approved, who haven’t signed the lease or rental agreement, and consequently aren’t legally responsible for complying with the lease terms.

Some landlords can be overly suspicious about residents’ guests, even going to the extreme of requiring residents to register guests who may be staying for a day or two. Remember that your goal as a landlord is to be aware of the need for resident retention. Placing undue scrutiny upon your residents and their guests can not only impede your retention goals but also be considered an invasion of privacy.

Don’t release information about a resident

As landlord, you collect sensitive personal data about residents. Because you have so much information about residents, people who need that information are likely to ask you for it. And if you’re a people pleaser, you may be tempted to share that information. Resist the temptation. Don’t release information about a resident unless one of the following is true:

  • The resident has given you permission, in writing, to release specific types of information. Keep in mind that this situation is exceptional. Renters — and therefore, landlords — consider a resident’s personal and business matters to be confidential. On occasion, a resident will direct the landlord, typically in the resident’s absence, to release information to a third party, such as a forwarding address.

  • Another landlord asks you to share the resident’s rental payment history or market rent.

  • The request is from a law enforcement officer or public safety agent who needs the information for official purposes. For this type of request, you may decide that your policy is to require a subpoena.

  • The information requested is already publicly available.

  • The information is needed in the event of an emergency.

If you choose to release information about a resident, stick to the facts and make sure the facts are accurate. Communicating information that is incorrect or based on guesswork, if discovered to be wrong, is likely to result in legal action by the resident.

The most common situation is a request from a tenant’s prospective landlord about timely rent payments and performance of other rental obligations, such as unit upkeep, interactions with other residents, or legal actions. The safest course is not to release such information. A relatively safe course is to make sure your communication is entirely factual and specifically limited to the tenant’s rental history, including any eviction proceedings.

If you have employees, establish a policy and communicate it clearly to your staff that you, as landlord, are solely responsible for providing information to outsiders about your residents. Actions that may be invasions of privacy are likely to result in unfavorable legal action; your duty as a landlord is to prevent them.

Don’t call or visit a resident at work

Your residents’ rights to privacy extend to their workplace. Use your common sense about contacting them during their workday. If, for example, you need to schedule a time to make repairs to a unit, make the necessary contact when the resident isn’t at work. Consider using emails or texts for quick contact. If you’re unsuccessful, consider the most appropriate time to call the resident at work.

Never make a personal visit to your resident at work. Such visits are deemed harassment and can get you into legal trouble unless you’re serving a notice pursuant to state law requirements. If you can’t get in touch with a resident by calling his personal phone number, then call the work number and leave a brief message. Omit any details about the reason(s) for your call.

Don’t be snoopy

Like most people, landlords are naturally curious. You may wonder what your residents are up to and who their guests are. Being curious is okay, and monitoring what’s going on is part of your job securing the safety of all your residents, but don’t go overboard. Grilling guests, peeking in windows, and conducting surveillance are likely a violation of a resident’s right to privacy and expose you to potential lawsuits.

A resident’s dwelling is his home and his castle. As long as he pays his rent, gets along with his neighbors, and takes relatively good care of your property, honor his privacy. Imagine how you would feel if someone were snooping on you.

Don’t ostracize a resident you don’t like

If you’ve had a terrible experience with a resident, you may feel obligated to warn your friends and colleagues. Don’t do it. Going out of your way to tarnish someone’s reputation, even if what you say is true, is likely to trigger a lawsuit accusing you of libel.

Lay the terrible experience to rest and be grateful that the person has moved on. If another landlord or property manager calls to ask about your former resident and you feel compelled to share what you know, limit the scope of your answers to verifiable facts, such as rent payment history, verified complaints filed by other residents, law enforcement reports, and any eviction actions taken against the resident.

Of course, if an eviction has occurred, making sure that a money judgment is filed and recorded in the public records can help future landlords to discover that your former resident was a problem.