This article was posted on Monday, Apr 30, 2012

There are many different scenarios that can happen during tenancy.  Here are a few with tips on how you may want to consider handling them.

Making Exceptions
If you need to make an exception when implementing the rules, make sure you document exceptions carefully.  For example, if you decide not to charge a late fee for a tenant who has consistently paid rent over three years, you might add a new rule that you will waive the first late fee if someone has been on time with rent for the previous x-number of months.  Bottom line; analyze situations on a case-by-case basis.  Be sure not to make exceptions as a rule, based on someone’s protected class and make sure you document the reasons for the exceptions thoroughly.

Rule Changes
A landlord can change the rules easily if a tenant is renting month-to-month by just giving 30 days advanced written notice of the change.  However, if the tenant and the landlord have a fixed-term tenancy (a lease), the landlord cannot make a substantial change to the rules of a rental agreement during tenancy without the tenant’s consent.

Sofa Surfers are guests of your tenant who don’t leave.  In other words, they come to stay only for a short time, but end up staying long term, often moving in permanently.  These guests could be family members, friends or simple acquaintances of your tenant, who have found an easy place to crash or hangout.  Often, it doesn’t stop there, as these folks then begin to bring their guests into the unit. With no monitoring, these Sofa Surfers turn into permanent residents.  They need to go through the same tenant screening as any other prospective tenant.  They need to fill out an application and pay the screening fee.

Creating Disturbances
Tenants who create a disturbance, whether it be arguing or playing music too loudly are usually a problem for other tenants and neighbors.    Neighbors should be encouraged to call the police as a nuisance is happening “ this way it is documented by a non-biased third party.
In cases of emergency, such as immediate threat of bodily harm, inform your tenants to call 911 and then ask tenants to report the problem to you, the owner/agent.  Be sure your tenant has your contact information.

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Waste, Nuisance, Illegal Use
If a tenant is engaged in any of the above activities, a landlord may choose to issue the tenant proper [7-day legal notice] to terminate tenancy.  Waste is when the tenant’s life style is destroying the unit.  Nuisance and illegal use is when the tenant is engaged in drug activity or threatened the use of a lethal weapon.  Before using this notice, it is wise to seek legal advice.

Personal Property Damage
Most leases state that the landlord is not responsible for loss or damage to the tenant’s personal property and may require renter’s insurance.  Despite this lease language, a court may hold the landlord responsible if the loss or damage was caused by the landlord’s negligence.  A tenant should first seek reimbursement for lost or damaged property by writing to the property manager/owner.  A landlord should be aware if they try to settle with a tenant through an attorney and do not report the event to their insurance, they could be jeopardizing their insurance coverage.  Seek legal advice to understand all of your options.

Damaged Property/Displacement
The landlord has the option of quitting a lease/rental agreement if the property has extensive damage.  In the event the tenant cannot live in the dwelling unit when repairs are being done, the rent is to be abated.  The landlord is not obligated to find shelter for their displaced tenant.

Tenant in Jail or Hospital
When a tenant is hospitalized or incarcerated, personal property should not be released to anyone without a written authorization from the tenant, the police or appropriate court.  If the tenant will not be occupying the unit for an extended period of time, the landlord may ask the tenant if he wants to abandon tenancy and authorize a person to take charge of his person property.

Military Service
Under [some] state laws, a member of the armed forces, including national guard and armed forces reserves (or their spouse or dependent), who is on a month to month tenancy may terminate a rental agreement if the tenant receives reassignment or deployment orders that do not allow a [30] day notice or if they are on a lease, may terminate tenancy for a specified time if the tenant receives reassignment or deployment orders.  Federal law under the Service Members Civil Relief Act gives a clearer explanation of what notice should be given to the landlord and what rent they are obligated for.

Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound.

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