Dealing With Neighbour Complaints and Antisocial Behaviour
While the vast majority of tenants are extremely well behaved, occasionally, you may be on the receiving end of complaints from neighbours about your tenant(s). How should you respond? Do landlords (or their agents) have an obligation to act? What should you do if things go wrong?
So, what are responsibilities of Landlords in Scotland?
Well, firstly, The Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act places a duty on Landlords to take action if an antisocial tenant is causing problems with the surrounding community. This is different to the law in England where landlords do not have any specific legal obligations. I would also argue that landlords have a moral responsibility to address problems when they are being caused by their tenants.
The Local Authority can ask landlords to take action against antisocial tenants. If they do not see evidence of positive action (or no action at all) from the landlord, in extreme cases, they may obtain a court order to prevent the rent being paid to the landlord, recover expenses incurred and even the right to take over management of the tenancy.
If the property in question has a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) licence, the licensing department tends to react quickly (certainly in Edinburgh) to complaints about tenants and will contact landlords or their agents expecting them to address and to stop any further issues. Should the landlord or agent not be seen to be trying to deal with the problem, they may find their HMO licence is not renewed as well as their Landlord Registration being revoked. It should be noted that Local Authorities are usually sympathetic to landlords who are trying to do the right thing but have been unlucky with their choice of tenants.
I've received a complaint, what should I do?
You need to make sure you deal with it quickly and keep in communication with everyone involved. If an agent is dealing with the property on your behalf, ask that they keep you informed of action taken and challenge anything with which you do not agree. In the first instance, it is important to find out what happened. Was it a one off incident (e.g. party which got out of hand) or continued harassment of the neighbours? It is also important to clarify that it is your tenants who have been causing problems as occasionally neighbours blame the wrong flat, take a guess at who is disturbing them or are simply making spurious complaints.
Once a complaint has been verified, it is important to speak to the tenants and follow this up in writing, highlighting their responsibilities of not causing a disturbance or conducting any form of antisocial behaviour. With luck, this should do the trick and you will not have any further problems.
Should there be continuing proven problems with tenants, the council will often help you with advice but if further written warnings and face-to-face meetings do not help, depending on how much longer the tenancy agreement has to run, you may have to evict the tenants which can potentially be a scary and costly experience.
How do I minimise the chances of this ever happening?
Renting to problem tenants, apart from causing hassle and stress, can cause landlords significant financial expense, so a decent reference from the previous landlord or agent is a good start. If tenants have had a history of antisocial behaviour or noise complaints, simply don't allow them to rent your property. For younger tenants, such as students, it is always worth having guarantors who, apart from paying the rent should the tenant default, can be contacted if they are breaking the terms of the lease agreement. It is amazing how often a talking to from a parent is more effective than one from a landlord or agent.
Explain to tenants exactly what their responsibilities are and what is acceptable/unacceptable behaviour while living in your property. This should be done before they move in, preferably when signing the lease agreement, so they know your expectations and there can be no excuses. Asking tenants to sign up to a code of conduct as well as the Tenancy Agreement can help get the point across. If the property in question has a history of complaints due to sensitive neighbours explain this to tenants before they sign up. Make sure any agent you use does do this.
The vast majority of tenancies are conducted without any issues whatsoever but landlords need to be meticulous when taking references, proactive in educating tenants before the start of tenancies and reacting promptly to any problems which may arise. Most complaints can be dealt with speedily, with all parties satisfied that things have been resolved. Very occasionally, a landlord may have to take further action to resolve an issue and at this point, advice from an agent, the Local Authority or a solicitor can be invaluable in helping to make the right decisions.