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The LandLord Advocate September 2014

Lead Article:

Threats to landlord are serious matter.

This month, we have chosen to re-publish the content from our article “Threat to Kill Means License to Vacate” as it originally appeared in our April of 2009 edition. Since we first ran this article, we’ve had lots of calls from landlords facing confrontational tenants in their office. Often those calls come from landlords who feel as though there is nothing they can do when the scene escalates. Our hope is that after you re-read the article (and some afterthoughts included at the end), that perhaps it might change the way you handle the next tenant who steps over the line in your office…

Threats against the landlord made during an angry tirade are a serious nuisance for which a tenant will lose their apartment. According to a recent Superior Court ruling, a tenant who drove up to the landlord’s office and started screaming expletives, stating that she was going to “blow someone’s f…ing head off,” committed a serious nuisance under Connecticut landlord-tenant laws and was ordered to vacate the unit she occupied.

The court, after hearing testimony, concluded that the tenant arrived at the manager’s office irate because the landlord’s maintenance technician failed to adequately fix her toilet. She threatened to blow the owner’s head off, informed the manager to tell the owner she was coming to his office, and jumped into her car and sped away. The property manager contacted police to let them know the situation. Shortly thereafter, the tenant arrived at the owner’s East Hartford office, but was refused access into the office until police arrived. Upon their arrival, the police arrested the tenant.

Connecticut statutes provide that someone “inflicting bodily harm upon another tenant or the landlord or threatening to inflict such harm with the present ability to affect that harm and under circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to believe that such threat will be carried out” has committed a serious nuisance. Landlords may immediately take legal action to evict such a tenant and regain possession of the unit they occupy. The court in this recent case upheld this statute concluding that “it is reasonable to conclude that the defendant’s threat to inflict bodily harm, when uttered in a state of anger or rage by a person with no obvious limitation on the ability to carry out the threat, would lead a reasonable person to believe the threat was serious and would be carried out.” Even though the threat was not made face-to-face, this judge concluded that the defendant’s conduct set in motion a series of events requiring police intervention that the landlord reasonably feared would be carried out.

There are a number of important points to be raised here:

  • First, and foremost, if a tenant threatens you or someone on your staff, you are not required to just accept that sort of treatment. You may take aggressive legal action to remove such a tenant from your property.
  • Second, if you are faced with this situation, don’t take matters into your own hands. Contact local law enforcement and get them on the scene as fast as possible. Prompt police involvement will not only diffuse the immediate situation, it will also provide valuable documentation and possible witnesses when you proceed to regain possession of the threatening tenant’s apartment.
  • Lastly, if a tenant displays the same threatening conduct toward another resident, the same rules apply. While the recent case reviewed above dealt directly with threat to the owner of the property, the exact situation directed at another tenant should conclude with the same results. The Connecticut Legislature has determined that inflicting bodily harm or even just the threat of doing so is unacceptable conduct and has provided landlords an excellent array of tools to address the situation aggressively and swiftly. You have the right to use those tools at your discretion. So, take advantage of them and stop worrying about whether that “problem tenant” will show up in your office today.

Some afterthoughts…

We often hear that police are not willing to get involved in the situation or refuse to take any action because the violence has subsided by the time they arrive. Make sure you capture all of the circumstances of the situation in as much detail as you can in writing. This will serve you later if you must attempt for force police involvement or must proceed against the tenant without the police. For those situations where the officers are not helpful, getting the patrol sergeant involved will likely get some movement out of the department. And, having all of the circumstances captured on paper will assist with all of the details when another officer is required to assist.

Keep calm. Everything above will hold true unless you lose your cool and engage in the scuffle. You must retain your morally superior position in the altercation or everything step you take to address the tenant’s conduct will be answered with an equally negative portrayal of your own actions. Handling this situation effectively takes incredible self-control and lots of courage. But, handled correctly, you should enjoy the same results your peer did in his case above.

Quick Tip:

Increase in “shared households” raises risk of unauthorized occupancy.

As the financial news continues to report on tepid economic recovery and wage stagnation for many workers, the housing dynamic of shared households continues as a trend about which landlords must be aware of and, possibly, take action. In December 2012, we shared with you the U.S. Census Bureau report titled “Poverty and Shared Households by State: 2011,” which evaluates data gathered by the American Community Survey (“ACS”) from 2007-2011. This month, we would like to re-address these numbers.

Now, shared households are nothing new, but they can become problematic for landlords, particularly when it leads to unauthorized occupants.
At residential properties, unauthorized occupants create numerous problems for landlords, including the lack of an authorized, open connection between the landlord and the occupants. Without that connection, the unauthorized occupants may not be concerned about complying with the lease or rules and regulations – remember, they never signed either document. Moreover, unauthorized occupancy also undermines (consciously or unconsciously) the authorized tenant’s commitment to lease compliance, because unauthorized occupancy is a lease violation, if the landlord has a well-crafted lease. In other words, once the authorized tenant violates the lease on one subject, it often means the tenant will be less concerned about violating the lease in other, additional ways.

Moreover, unauthorized occupants can be a burden on the property physically, such as wear and tear on the unit and things like parking, particularly if the number of occupants exceeds the landlord’s occupancy standards (see our December 2012 newsletter Quick Tip for a cautionary tale about occupancy standards). At subsidized properties, unauthorized occupancy can lead to fraud claims if the authorized tenant does not report the income of the unauthorized occupants, which often occurs because tenants generally do not voluntarily report their lease violations to the landlord.

Anecdotally, our clients have reported over the last decade that most of their systemic problems arise from (or are created or exacerbated by) unauthorized occupants. With that in mind, here are the highlights from the U.S. Census Bureau report:

  • In 2011, almost 20{b3839be935df112798d4ec5997aa1a27aa9a9725854b075bcbd0000f0c7f06fc} of all households included an “additional adult,” defined as someone who was not the householder or the householder’s spouse (or cohabiting partner).
  • From 2007 to 2011, the number and percentage of all adults who were “additional adults” increased for the nation and in 40 states.
  • There is some evidence that these statistics reflected an economic dimension, meaning that the additional adult moved-in for economic reasons (i.e. loss of, or no, income to support himself/herself).

This subject is not going away any time soon. As noted above, U.S. and Connecticut economic conditions will likely cause this trend of increasing shared households to continue, and therefore so will the potential for increased problems with unauthorized occupancy. However, this does not mean that landlords are powerless to address the subject. If you have a well-crafted lease, unauthorized occupancy is a lease violation and fully enforceable in state court, regardless of whether the occupants exceed any applicable occupancy standards. Just as landlords can (and do) consistently deal with nonpayment of rent cases in court, so too can they address unauthorized occupant matters.


The reading of this newsletter does not form an attorney-client relationship. The contents of this newsletter are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Nothing in this newsletter is intended to imply or predict the outcome of any legal matter that you may be considering or be involved in. The Landlord Law Firm makes no warranties of any kind regarding the information contained in this newsletter.