Neighbourhood disputes are never good for a landlord’s reputation - even if they are totally out of a landlord’s control. You might not want to get involved, but it could reflect badly on you if you don’t. After all, as a landlord one of your most important responsibilities is your duty of care to your tenants. When a tenant is experiencing issues with a neighbour, a good landlord should help but not inflame the situation. So, what’s the protocol? When should a landlord get involved in harassment claims and what are their responsibilities when trying to solve the issue?
Harassment actually covers more than you might think. Technically, it is described as ‘causing alarm or distress’ and as ‘putting people in fear of violence’ - neither of which is something anybody wants to experience when at home in their safe place. Harassment can include threats of violence or an actual act of violence, abusive and/or insulting behaviour or words, threats of damage to a property and possessions or actual damage and finally, any written form of abuse or threat.
In basic terms, harassment can be any type of behaviour or action taken towards a person that threatens their own sense of security and peace. If a tenant comes to you because they are experiencing this, it’s so important that it’s taken seriously by both you and, depending on the frequency and severity of the harassment, by the police.
If your tenant is being harassed by a neighbour, as landlord you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s within your best interests to stay friendly with the neighbours of your rental property - you never know when you might need their help, and being on bad terms with them could potentially work against you with any tenants you house in your rental. That being said, you also don’t want to alienate your tenant and not take their ‘side’ so to speak - particularly if you’d like them to stick around in a long-term tenancy. You want them to know that they can rely on you to help them and most of all, you want them to be happy where they are living. Communication should always be the first port of call. If your tenant hasn’t already tried speaking to the neighbour about the harassment, then this is a good place for them to start. If that hasn’t worked, it might be time for you to step in - especially if you already have some kind of a relationship with them. You should get both sides of the story and consider that your tenant could potentially be playing the victim and not giving you the full picture. Approach it pragmatically and without bias.
Even if you cannot solve the feud, there’s plenty of things that you can proactively do to ensure that your tenant feels safe within your property. Perhaps you could install CCTV cameras to make tenants feel more safe. This doesn’t have to be expensive - Nest provides plenty of affordable domestic options and they also monitor sound, which would serve as good evidence in any altercations. You could also think about adding extra locks to the house, vandal-proof letter boxes and additional outdoor lighting. Encourage the tenant to keep a written record of any interaction with the neighbour; when it happened, where it happened and exactly what happened. This will be required by the council if it goes that far. With enough evidence, the council can serve an anti-social behaviour to the alleged perpetrator. And if it goes as far as the police, they will also need as much information as possible about all the goings-on.
Let’s flip the situation on it’s head. Perhaps after some digging, you find out that it is in fact your tenant causing the issues - or perhaps a neighbour or a neighbour’s landlord has approached you about your tenant’s behaviour. You might feel like you’re in the firing line when it’s your tenant who is acting up, but remember - it’s difficult to proceed against landlords for the actions of their tenants, so try not to get too emotionally involved. That being said, your tenants acting badly can reflect negatively on you and affect your relationships with neighbours, so it’s important to do what you reasonably can to resolve the issue to avoid this aggravation. If the neighbour has already spoken to your tenant about their issues, it’s time for you to sit down and speak to your tenant too.
When you explain the complaint to them, it’s probably wise to avoid mentioning which neighbour specifically you spoke to. Offer a solution to prevent anything from happening again in the future; whether this is a mediation between the two neighbours, warning them of the possible serious consequences that can come of harassing a neighbour or simply trying to make them see the other side of the story. If this doesn’t work, then speak to the neighbour experiencing the issues and ask them to record the dates and times of the harassment, just as you would if it was your tenant. It may be that it will have to be escalated to the council or the police. Although this will be far from a good situation for you, it would be much worse if you were found to know about the situation, but never took any actions to help rectify it. As it’s not a situation that a landlord can control or put many measures against, neighbour harassment and disputes can be one of the most stressful things to try and deal with. Gov UK offers great advice for people experiencing neighbour harassment, so it’s a good idea to share this link with any tenant who is going through it.