Credit checks and landlord references can help prevent renting to some bad tenants, but these don’t cover all aspects of a person’s behaviour. They can’t predict whether a tenant will cause excessive noise or other problems that might cause neighbours to complain about their behaviour. As a landlord, you obviously want to keep tenants happy, but you don’t want to alienate your neighbours either.
According to a survey by consumer group Which?, one in four people have suffered problems with nuisance neighbours, but around two thirds did not know who to complain to. Typically, neighbours will complain to the tenants first before potentially complaining to letting agents or landlords. If nothing is done during these stages, it is possible that the problem ends up in court. Even if you are not responsible for the noise yourself, this could mean irreparable damage done to the relationship between you and the neighbours of your property.
With that said, it is very rare, in England and Wales, for a landlord to be accountable for their tenants’ actions. There are some disputes where you, as landlord, might need to get involved to help remedy the dispute.
There are steps that you can take to try and eliminate the likelihood of complaints, and to minimise the fallout if these complaints do occur.
Common Complaints About Neighbours
There are a number of ways in which a person might be deemed to be a nuisance neighbour, including:
By far the most common type of complaint about neighbours is that of noisy neighbours. This might mean that your tenant has late night parties, have nuisance dogs that bark all day while the tenant is at work, or that they start loud DIY projects at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning. A little bit of noise is generally acceptable, and there are occasions when a person might have to undertake that building job early on a Sunday. However, if your tenant is regularly accused of being loud, it could be considered noise pollution and the complainant may be able to take legal action.
As with any complaint, the first thing you should do is to hear both sides. While it is possible that your tenant is a noisy neighbour, it is also possible that they’re a victim of an incessant complainer – somebody that complains about the slightest thing. Try to determine the noise levels for yourself before providing guidance to your tenants, and always start with a friendly chat before you consider taking any other action.
Boundary disputes are another common complaint. These typically occur where neighbours disagree over exactly where one property ends and the next begins.
Boundaries are usually strictly set in title deeds, so this is the first place to check before any further action is taken. Boundary disputes are one of the few complaints that you may be liable for, rather than your tenant, unless they have erected a new fence or have prevented neighbours from accessing all of their land in some other way.
There are many other ways in which a person could be considered a nuisance neighbour. For example, parking disputes are fairly common, while abusive behaviour is more common than most of us care to admit and can arise as an escalation of other disputes. Poorly maintained shared facilities, such as a communal garden, can also prove to be a bone of contention between two neighbours.
In the majority of the cases above, the landlord’s responsibility is to their own tenant, but there are some instances where you might be held legally accountable. Unless it can be shown that the landlord was aware they were letting to a nuisance neighbour, for example letting the property despite knowing that it would be used for parties or as a music venue, the dispute is usually a private one between the tenant and their neighbour.
However, as owner of the property, you really don’t want to alienate your neighbours, and unless you can resolve the dispute, there is also a good chance that your tenant will look for new property. If the landlord does not take any action against their tenants following numerous complaints of repeat nuisance behaviour, then they may become liable.
Where possible, you should look to resolve the problem. Future tenants could find that they are unwelcome when they move into your property, and keeping the neighbours onside is always a good idea.
Before you let a property, consider adding a nuisance clause to your tenancy agreement. A nuisance clause is designed to protect the landlord against complaints from neighbours, while making it easier to evict the tenant if there action becomes too unreasonable.
The nuisance clause protects the landlord and it can include actions that increase or even invalidate insurance policies. The clause can also be used to reclaim money from the tenant, if their actions do cause an increase in insurance premiums.
What Else Can Landlords Do?
Before you consider taking any kind of action against your tenant, you should first determine that they are causing a nuisance, and that they are the ones that are responsible for the nuisance that is being caused. Speak to the complainant to determine their issue. In the case of noisy neighbours, ask for times and dates, and ask them to inform you the next time the problem occurs.
With this information, approach your tenant. Be friendly and amicable, and suggest ways in which they can reduce noise, or minimise other actions that are considered to be causing a nuisance. For example, if the noise is being caused by loud music, you can suggest that they move speakers and music equipment away from shared walls and, obviously, turn the volume down. It is quite possible that the tenant is unaware that their actions are impacting anybody else.
It is important that you listen to your tenant’s side of the story. They may not be responsible for the problem. The neighbour might be overreacting or exaggerating the problem, or the problem may have been a one off and caused by difficult circumstances. Open dialogue with your tenant, ask for their opinion, and don’t just assume that they were indeed responsible for the problem.
You can consider arranging a meeting between the tenant and the neighbour. Act as mediator and try to encourage the two to work together to come to a solution.
You can also arrange for regular visits to the property to conduct checks. This might encourage your tenants to act more reasonably, and neighbours will see you visiting the property and trying to fix the problem.
Unfortunately, there may be some instances where these actions are not enough, and you may need to take further action. If you can’t resolve the issues, contact your solicitor to seek legal advice. You may have to serve a Section 21 eviction notice or potentially even take legal action against your tenants, but this should be deemed as a very last resort.
It is important to consider things from your tenant’s point of view, as well as from your neighbours, even though it is disruptive to receive complaints against your tenants.
Not all noise complaints are reasonable. For example, your tenant might have guests around for a barbecue in the afternoon. Unless the noise goes on until the early hours of the morning, this is unlikely to be a genuine noise complaint.
If you assume that the complaint is genuine and start taking action against your tenant straight away, your relationship will deteriorate, and you could lose an otherwise excellent tenant. In these cases, you will need to speak to the neighbour and explain that your tenant’s actions are not unreasonable. This can help maintain a positive relationship with your tenant, shows your neighbours that you have considered their complaint, and it could prevent future problems.
The key to all of these potential problems is communication. Communicate with your neighbours, keep them informed of progress. Communicate with your tenants and explain the problems. Even if their action isn’t unreasonable, they may be willing to compromise on aspects like the time of day that they have visitors round, and they will appreciate you considering their side of the story, rather than assume they are in the wrong.
Do Landlords Have A Duty Of Care To Neighbours?
Being a landlord means maintaining a positive relationship with your tenant, but you also need to consider the relationship with your neighbours. It can feel like a fine balancing act when you try to mediate between two parties, but by having a nuisance clause in your agreement, listening to both sides of the dispute, and taking appropriate action, you can maintain a positive and long lasting relationship with all parties.