Working with Residents During Tenancy:
What You May Not Have Considered
By Julie Johnson
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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  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
Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing
Association of Puget Sound.