Do landlords have a duty of care to neighbours?
As a landlord, you do everything you can to choose the right tenants. But even the most experienced landlords can get it wrong — and choosing the wrong tenants can affect more than just you and your property.
Disputes between neighbours are a part of life, and we’ve probably all experienced them at one time or another. However, what happens when your tenants’ neighbours claim that the tenants are causing a nuisance to them? Do landlords have a duty of care to neighbours — or should they be firmly on the side of their tenants?
It’s a complicated issue: in normal circumstances, it’s difficult to hold a landlord legally responsible for their tenants’ behaviour, unless they have actually encouraged or authorised it (more on this later).
However, neighbourly disputes can still put you in a difficult situation as a landlord, particularly if you’ve lived in the property in the past and know the neighbours well. It could also affect your reputation — and, if it turns out your tenants are in the right and having to deal with difficult neighbours themselves, they may terminate their lease early and leave you with an empty property.
In this article, we’ll share some common problems between neighbours and talk about the situations when landlords could be held legally liable for something their tenant does. We’ll also share some tips for mitigating disputes — or, better yet, avoiding them in the first place.
Common disputes between neighbours
When people live in close proximity to each other, it’s natural that they’ll affect each other’s lives in some way. Legally speaking, there’s not much anyone can do about what their neighbours get up to on their own property (whether they own or rent it), unless it’s illegal or interferes with the neighbours’ ability to enjoy their own property.
Here are some of the more common complaints that come up between neighbours:
One of the most common complaints made is that the neighbours are making too much noise. What constitutes a reasonable amount of noise depends on a lot of factors — most notably the time of day. Unless it’s persistent, unreasonable or really extremely loud, most neighbours won’t complain about noise during the day. For example, most neighbours will put up with a child’s music practice for half an hour in the late afternoon (annoyign though they may find it). However, if it was happening for several hours a day or in the middle of the night, they may well decide to complain.
As a landlord, it’s important to consider whether your tenant is using their property in a reasonable way. For example, it’s perfectly natural for your tenants to receive guests and for there to be a reasonable level of noise during those visits. However, if your tenants are having frequent parties that go on into the night and are noisy enough to disturb the neighbours, they might have a legitimate cause for complaint.
Behaving inconsiderately includes any situation in which your tenant fails to consider how their actions might affect their neighbours. Examples might include:
- Parking across other properties’ drives
- Refusing to empty bins or remove waste
- Leaving on bright lights that disturb other people
- Letting children play in common areas such as hallways or shared gardens
Aggressive or abusive behaviour
In extreme circumstances, the neighbours might complain about your tenants displaying aggressive or even abusive behaviour towards them, perhaps in response to a complaint they have made.
Situations such as these might be out of your wheelhouse as a landlord — we’ll talk about some further actions that can be taken in extreme cases below.
When is a landlord legally liable for their tenants’ behaviour?
Although landlords often find themselves in the firing line when there are problems between tenants and neighbours, in most cases it’s very difficult for neighbours to take legal action against you as a landlord.
The exception is when a landlord has authorised or encouraged the tenant’s behaviour, despite knowing it would be disruptive. An example would be a landlord letting a property as a music venue knowing that noise levels would be a nuisance to neighbours.
However, even in these cases, the landlord’s participation has to be ‘active’ or ‘direct’ — it’s not usually enough that they were simply aware of the potential problem and did nothing about it.
What can landlords do to avoid trouble?
Even if landlords are not usually legally liable for their tenants’ behaviour, it’s still good practice to act as a mediator and ensure that all parties are happy. Not doing so could result in your tenants ending their lease early, and lead to fraught relations with the neighbours.
Here are a few steps you can take as a landlord to mitigate any problems between your tenants and their neighbours:
Give the neighbours your contact details
Letting the neighbours have your details means that they can contact you immediately if they’re having problems with your tenants. Often, a simple chat with your tenants or a meeting between them and the neighbour is enough to solve the problem — but you can only do that if you know about it.
Communicate with your tenants
At the beginning of the tenancy, you should make it clear to your tenants exactly what you expect of them. Normally, it goes without saying that tenants should be considerate to their neighbours, but problems can often arise through simple misunderstandings rather than any nefarious intentions on your tenants’ part. For example, letting your tenants know that the immediate neighbours have young children might help them to be more considerate in terms of making noise late at night.
It’s also important to talk to your tenants and hear their side of the story if you do receive a complaint. It’s easier to decide what action to take next if you understand whether the neighbour has a legitimate complaint or is being unreasonable. Showing your tenants that you’re interested in what they have to say can also help you to maintain a good landlord-tenant relationship with them.
Be clear in your tenancy agreement
The tenancy agreement should lay out your expectations of your tenants, including any specific requirements concerning noise or other activities which could affect the neighbours. Having this information in your rental agreement — and making sure the tenants are aware of it — could help you if you need to take further action down the line if they have violated this agreement.
Regularly inspect the rental property
Naturally, your tenants are likely to be on their best behaviour while you’re visiting the property, but it’s still important to conduct regular inspections, particularly if you have received complaints about noise or other issues from the neighbours. Doing this will show both your tenants and the neighbours that you take the issue seriously.
Take further action if needed
If you have exhausted all other options, you might have to take more serious action to resolve the problem. You should normally only resort to the below options in serious cases when there seems to be no prospect of resolution between the parties. If the dispute reaches this point, you could try:
- Contacting your local council
- Seeking legal advice
- Serving your tenants with a Section 21 notice to begin eviction proceedings
- Enlisting a professional civil mediator
- Calling the police (in extreme circumstances)
How to avoid bad tenants
Dealing with disputes between tenants and neighbours can be difficult and time-consuming, and could end up hurting your relationship with the neighbours in the long run. It’s much better to avoid the issues arising at all.
Though you can never be sure which tenants might cause a nuisance in the future, you can minimise the chances by doing your due diligence and performing the proper checks to make sure you avoid bad tenants. Here are a few tips:
- Use a professional referencing agency to conduct a thorough check of your prospective tenants’ landlord and employer references.
- Be wary of tenants offering cash payments, who could be trying to avoid more stringent reference checks or hide the fact their income comes from crime or is undeclared.
- Trust your instincts, and ask questions if something doesn’t feel right.
For more information on how to avoid bad tenants as a landlord, check out our in-depth guide.
Resolving disputes between tenants and neighbours is a difficult part of renting out your property — and could end up costing you time and money. You might want to consider using a property management service to look after your property — and your tenants — for you.
At Home Made, we offer hassle-free property management including everything from rent collection and emergency works management to marketing your property and finding you great tenants — head to our landlord page to find out more.
Article by Annie Caley-Renn
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