I received an email from a reader regarding my last post about the Wetzel case. The reader essentially asked me what a landlord could do to make sure that they do not become liable for the discriminatory acts of their tenants like what happened to the landlord in the Wetzel case.
While I cannot give legal advice (i.e. applying the law to a certain set of facts) via this blog, I can certainly provide general guidelines, so here goes:
- Don’t do anything that the landlord in Wetzel did. Read the facts of the case – they are egregious. Do the exact opposite of what the landlord did.
- If a tenant complains of abuse or harassment by other tenants, investigate the complaints to see if they are valid. Wetzel advised the landlord that she was called a “fucking faggot” and “homosexual bitch” by other tenants. Wetzel complained to the landlord that a tenant threatened to “rip her tits off.” Another tenant reveled in his memory of the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub and Wetzel reported this to the landlord. Wetzel was hit in the back of her head while alone in the mail room sitting on her scooter which resulted in her being knocked from her scooter. Following the hit on the head, tenants taunted Wetzel openly by rubbing their heads and saying “ouch” when they passed her. Another tenant spat on Wetzel while in the elevator. Another tenant hit Wetzel’s scooter with his walker. It was alleged that Wetzel reported all of this to the landlord and that the landlord did not do anything to investigate the incidents or protect her. Instead the landlord chalked everything up to the ordinary squabbling and bickering that occurs among tenants residing in a facility for seniors.
- If your tenant is being harassed or abused by other tenants do not call him or her a liar.
- Do not dismiss abusive conduct as accidental if your investigation proves otherwise.
- Do not deny a tenant’s allegations of abuse and call her a liar.
- Don’t restrict the tenant that is allegedly being abused from accessing portions of the rental property. The landlord in Wetzel told her that she could no longer eat in the main dinging room and barred her from using the lobby area except to get coffee. The landlord also stopped providing Wetzel with cleaning service to which she was entitled under her lease.
- If a tenant complains of being abused by another tenant, do not retaliate against her for making the complaint, by starting the process to evict him/her.
- Don’t physically hit a tenant. It was alleged that two of the landlord’s employees woke Wetzel up from sleeping in the early morning hours, accused her of smoking in her room, and then one of the employees slapped her across the face.
- If after your investigation, you believe the allegations occurred – respond appropriately as allowed under landlord-tenant law. The landlord in Wetzel had the ability to contact the police to report what was going on. The landlord also could have served the abusive tenant/s with the proper notice (5 day, 14 day, 28 day, or 30 day) depending on the situation.
- If the abusive tenants behavior has not been corrected then proceed to evict them, if necessary.
It is quite clear that if the landlord in this case had made any attempt, no matter how little, to protect Wetzel from the abuse that the Court’s holding would have not been as far-reaching. In fact, the Court even wrote in their opinion that “had the management done nothing but listen [to Wetzel] we might have a more limited case.”
I hope that this answers your question.