Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society—and chances are, at one point or another, you might find yourself in a situation where tenant threatens landlord.
A tenant can threaten to sue a landlord for a number of reasons (like a disagreement over rent collection, repairs, or a security deposit), but even if the lawsuit is completely unfounded, it’s no fun to deal with.
So, what should you do if a tenant threatens landlord? How do you deal with potential lawsuits? And, most importantly, how can you make sure you don’t have to deal with any litigious tenants and avoid lawsuits altogether?
Take the Right Safety Precautions
When it comes to tenant lawsuits, there are a few different areas of safety you need to consider: your physical safety, the safety of your property, and safety measures you can take to keep lawsuits to a minimum.
First, let’s talk about physical safety. Whether they’re in the right or not, most tenants who threaten to sue their landlords are probably pretty angry—so you want to keep face-to-face interactions (and any potential physical threats) to an absolute minimum,
To keep yourself physically safe, make sure you:
Next up is the safety of your property. If a tenant is angry and thinking about bringing forth a lawsuit, they could potentially do damage to your property. Make sure you have the proper insurance to cover any damages and have your property manager keep an extra eye on tenant activity at your properties.
If a tenant is causing damage, you may have to take steps to evict them from your property.
Finally, let’s talk about the most important safety measures—the measures you can take to avoid lawsuits altogether. And what that boils down to? Tenant screening.
With the right tenant screening process, you can get high-quality tenants into your properties—the ones that aren’t likely to bring forth frivolous lawsuits. By streamlining your screening process, you can avoid renting to tenants likely to threaten you with unfounded claims—and save yourself a huge amount of time, energy, and hassle down the road.
So, safety precautions are important. But what do you do when those safety precautions don’t work—and a tenant threatens to sue?
Make Sure You’re in the Right
If a tenant threatens a lawsuit, the first thing you need to do is check out their claim and make sure you’re actually in the right. So, for example, let’s say a tenant claims you overcharged them rent. You need to go back to your records and make sure there’s no substance to that claim—and that the amount of rent you charged them was in line with their lease agreement.
Most landlords don’t have the systems and contracts in place to handle these kinds of issues when they come up—and it can end up costing them in the long-run.
This is where keeping impeccable records comes in. If you have a tenant who threatens to sue, you need to have a paper trail proving their claim is incorrect. If you don’t, it’s your word against there’s—which won’t hold up in a court.
Always, always, ALWAYS keep records of all interactions with your tenants. That way, if one threatens to sue over an issue, you have proof showing what happened. You should also have your lawyer go through any of your contracts or documents if there’s a dispute to make sure you’re legally in the right.
And if there was a mistake and you’re actually in the wrong? It’s up to you to make it right. Apologize to the tenant and work to solve the issue.
This sounds pretty straightforward, but the truth is, most landlords don’t have the systems and contracts in place to handle these kinds of issues when they come up—and it can end up costing them in the long-run.
For example, let’s say you have a tenant who threatens to sue over improper withholding from their security deposit. If you don’t have the proper documentation in place—and if you can’t prove in court that you didn’t improperly withhold funds—you could be on the line for 3x the amount.
If you’re not sure if you have the right systems and processes in place to protect yourself from a lawsuit, talk to your property manager to get the right protections in place.
When a tenant threatens a lawsuit, your first instinct may be to go on the defensive—but if you want things to go smoothly, the best thing you can do is be fair and try to see their side of the story.
Give your tenants the benefit of the doubt. Most tenants only threaten a lawsuit if they think they’ve been wronged in some way. Even if they’re incorrect, always do your best to be fair. The more you’re willing to work with them, the easier the process will be—and the less likely you’ll find yourself in court.
Keep Records of Everything
If you find yourself dealing with a threatening tenant, it’s important to keep records of all of your conversations and interactions. That way, if a tenant is threatening, you have proof to share with the court.
Keep any emails between you and your tenant discussing the lawsuit or corresponding issues. If you can, record any phone calls or conversations. That being said, it’s important to check your state’s recording laws to understand the ins-and-outs of what’s allowed when it comes to recording your conversations with tenants (for example, in many states you’re required to tell your tenant you’re recording the conversation in order for it to be admissible in court).
The more documentation you have of your interactions with your tenant, the better off you’ll be if their lawsuit makes it to court—and, if they become overly threatening, you have means to take them to court as well.
What NOT to Do When a Tenant Threatens Landlord
If you find yourself dealing with a tenant threatening to sue, there are few things you definitely DON’T want to do.
First off, don’t take it personally. When a tenant brings up an issue or threatens to sue, it’s not about you as a person—and taking it personally can cloud your judgement and needlessly escalate the situation.
It’s not a “fight” about who is right and who is wrong; it’s a legal issue that needs to be handled accordingly.
Next, don’t lose your temper. When a tenant threatens a lawsuit, you might feel personally attacked—but getting angry, losing your temper, and arguing with the tenant isn’t going to make anything better. It’s not a “fight” about who is right and who is wrong; it’s a legal issue that needs to be handled accordingly. Keep your cool and keep your distance.
Harassment: What the Law Says
When a tenant threatens to sue, it can quickly escalate to a harassing situation—and, in that case, it’s important to understand what the law says on both sides.
Most states (including Texas) have laws in place to protect both landlords and tenants from harassment. So, if your tenant is harassing you with threatening phone calls or bombarding you with litigious emails, there are legal steps you can take to stop the harassment and protect yourself—and, on the flip side, if your tenant feels like you’re harassing them over money or a potential lawsuit, there are legal steps for them to do the same.
Understanding your state’s harassment laws are crucial to ensure you don’t deal with tenant harassment—and to ensure you don’t unintentionally harass your tenant during the lawsuit process (for example, in many states making a threat like “I’m going to kick you out of if you don’t pay your rent” is considered harassment—even though it’s true).
Prevent Lawsuits With the Right Tenant Screening Process
Dealing with a tenant lawsuit is costly, time-consuming, and a huge hassle—which is why it’s so important to avoid them in the first place.
As we mentioned earlier, having an extensive vetting process and getting the right tenants into your properties is crucial in avoiding lawsuits. At LEAP, we’ve spent years perfecting our tenant screening process to ensure we get the highest quality tenants into our client’s properties—and help them avoid any unwarranted lawsuits in the process.
Want to find out more? Get in touch with LEAP today and learn how we can help you get the best tenants into your properties (and help you avoid frivolous lawsuits).