Take Five Steps When Dealing with Difficult Households
Your site may have a few households that occupy a disproportionate amount of your time. These households may make trouble or may invite troublesome guests onto the site. As a result, tensions could escalate between residents or noisy arguments may erupt or other harassing behavior such as loud music may disrupt the site’s peace and quiet. If you, as the site manager or owner, don’t take action to deal with difficult households or their guests, your site could drive away other households and you could be violating responsibilities to your residents imposed by their lease.
HUD rules and the lease your residents sign assure them of the right to “quiet enjoyment” of their unit. Furthermore, you’re obligated to deal appropriately with any resident who disrupts “the livability” of your site or who adversely affects the health or safety of others who live there. The following steps are escalating actions you may undertake to help you get difficult households under control. And if residents and their guests don’t change their ways, our suggestions will help position you to win an eviction lawsuit against the resident.
Step #1: Create House Rule
Paragraph 14 of HUD’s Model Lease for subsidized programs lets you add house rules to leases where there’s a threat to “the safety, comfort and convenience of other residents.” It also lets owners consider a violation of a house rule to be a lease violation. Therefore, you can add a house rule prohibiting residents and their guests from disturbing other residents at the site. Broadly speaking, it’s a good idea to ban abusive or harassing behavior directed at all parties connected with your site, including occupants, guests, management, employees, and contractors. You’ll give the impression that you want your site to be a civil and welcoming environment for all.
For your residents, your house rule should tell them that they’ll be held accountable for making trouble and are responsible for the disruptive behavior of their guests. And your house rule should state that a violation is also considered a violation of the lease, as permitted by HUD under paragraph 14 of its Model Lease. For example, your house rule might state the following:
Residents are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that does not disturb other residents. Resident agrees not to create or allow to be created by Resident, members of Resident’s household, relatives, guests, invitees, or agents any disruptive, noisy, or otherwise offensive use of the premises, and not to commit any disturbance or nuisance, private or public. Residents will be held responsible for the disruptive conduct of their guests. A violation of this rule constitutes a violation of lease paragraph 14.
Step #2: Talk to Resident
If you discover that residents or their guests have been causing trouble at your site, you should meet with the household. If household members didn’t realize how serious the problem had become, or if they were unaware that a guest was misbehaving, an informal approach may work.
Tell the household that you’ve received complaints about them or their guests from other residents. Or if your staff has caught residents or their guests causing trouble at the site, inform the residents of the incidents. Remind them that you won’t tolerate disruptive conduct from anyone at the site.
If a guest caused the problem, here’s an example of what you can tell the resident: “You might not know it, but your guest caused a problem for us at the site recently. Another resident complained that on [specify date] she heard loud noises in the hallway and found your guest engaging in a loud argument. When she asked him to quiet down, your guest became verbally abusive to her. She became afraid and shut her door. Later, the argument must have turned violent, because it sounded to her as if a fight had started. We will not tolerate this type of behavior from anyone at our site, including guests.”
Also, ask the resident for the name of the troublemaking guest. This way, you’ll be able to identify the guest by name in future communications with the resident.
Step #3: Send Polite Letter
If a resident or guest continues to make trouble at the site, send a polite—but firm—warning letter to the resident. Your letter should:
- Tell the resident that the troublemaking behavior has continued;
- Specify the date when the most recent disruptive incident occurred; and
- Remind the resident that under the house rule a resident is responsible for all activity in a unit, including guests’ behavior.
Step #4: Use Get-Tough Letter to Get Action
Troublemaking behavior may persist despite all your previous steps. In that case, it’s time to take a stronger approach. Send the resident a get-tough letter in which you:
- State that the troublemaking conduct of the resident or guest violates the lease and house rule;
- Specify the lease clause and house rule that the resident is violating;
- List the dates when you gave the resident an oral warning and sent a warning letter;
- Spell out the dates and the details of all the troublemaking incidents that you’re aware of, including those that occurred after the prior warning letter. If you’ve had to call the police because of these disturbances, state in your letter that the police were called, describe the disruptive behavior based on the police report, and indicate whether any household members or guests were arrested;
- Specify the lease paragraph and house rule that the conduct of household members or guests violated; and
- Threaten eviction if household members can’t control their own or their guests’ conduct. Make it clear that if the incidents continue, you’ll turn the matter over to an attorney for legal action against the resident, including starting an eviction claim.
Step #5: Seek Resident’s Eviction
If, despite your efforts, household members or their guests continue to make trouble, you may have to decide to seek eviction. Some may consider this drastic. But if sites become dangerous as a result of troublemaking guests, other households will move out. Usually, just the threat of eviction will be enough to get households to improve their own conduct as well as that of their guests.
If a guest’s disruptive behavior poses a danger to other residents or to your staff, you may decide to take more immediate action instead of waiting for a court to rule that you can evict the resident. You may want to post a “No Trespassing” sign at the site. It’s legal notice to the public that the site is private property. If you post the sign, you then can issue a “No Trespassing” notice to the troublemaking guest.
If the guest has already left the site, but the resident has given you the guest’s name and address, you can mail the notice to the guest. Or if you can’t identify the guest by name, but happen to see him returning to the site, you can hand the notice to the guest.
The notice should tell the guest that he isn’t welcome at the site and that if he comes back, you will file a trespassing complaint against him with the local police department. You can also state that you will seek to have the offense prosecuted. Also, give a copy of the “No Trespassing” notice to the resident. This way, the resident will be on notice that the guest isn’t wanted at the site.