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The LandLord Advocate March 2010

Lead Article:

Google-savvy tenants – what they may be learning via the Internet.

One thing the Internet has offered everyone is ready access to lots of information. As property owners and managers, many of you have recognized the potential power easy access to electronic information offers you in your efforts to market your communities and their offerings for potential residents. In fact, most of you have taken advantage of that power and are effectively using a wide variety of Internet-based technologies to increase interest among potential applicants for your communities. Congratulations!

However, that same ready access to information via the Internet also has some drawbacks and presents some challenges. I recently did the following search on Google: “tenant rights Connecticut.” The results were astounding. Here’s what I learned in a matter of 15 minutes.

I learned that there are no less than eleven organizations in Connecticut who focus exclusively on improving, enforcing, or expanding tenant rights. I found publications I could download from the Connecticut Judicial Branch website on foreclosures, evictions, lead poisoning, discrimination, fair rent commissions, lockouts, rent increases, how to use housing code enforcement, and how to handle utility charges with the landlord (this one even talks about having the landlord arrested). I also found opinions from the Office of Legislative Research on unhealthy apartments, evictions and the elderly, evicting disabled residents, and relocation assistance.

I then explored HUD’s website, which came up number two in my search. Under the title of “Tenant Rights, Laws and Protections: Connecticut,” I found the following organizations that HUD identifies as resources for tenant assistance:

Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (aka “CHRO” – the organization responsible for enforcing fair housing laws)

The Connecticut Housing Coalition

Connecticut Fair Housing Center

Office of Protection and Advocacy for Person with Disabilities

Attorney General’s Office

Department of Banking, and

Legal Assistance (which consists of at least Connecticut Legal Services, New Haven Legal Assistance, Connecticut Legal Rights Project, and Greater Hartford Legal Aid).

HUD’s website then invites visitors to contact a housing counseling agency to learn about additional local resources available to tenants.

The third search result was called “Bad Landlord – The Source for Renter’s Rights”. In addition to some of the organizations already mention above, it included the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group and the Fair Housing Association of Connecticut as two additional resources to assist tenants and help them expand their rights.

My point is that in the same amount of time, it takes someone interested in living in one of your communities to learn about who you are, where you are, and what you offer to your residents, that same person can also learn a great deal about your obligations as their landlord and how to enforce those obligations if you fall short. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t suggest you are not otherwise meeting those obligations. But, as I suggested before, many of the organizations listed above have as part of their mission the expansion of tenants’ rights – giving your tenants more privileges on and control over the property you own or manage. So, not only can someone learn how to enforce your already existing obligations, they can also learn how to increase your obligations or push the limits as they exist.

Your tenants are obtaining more information than they ever have before. Some of it is accurate, some of it is not. They will attempt to use that information to influence your relationship with them or your operations in their entirety. Be wary of the position your tenant takes that sounds a little suspicious. It may be true, false, or somewhere in between. When they take such a position, ask them for their source of information and then vet that source with your landlord attorney. They can help you formulate a proper response that addresses the legal rights and responsibilities of the tenant as well as the legal rights and responsibilities you have as the landlord.