How to Handle Troublesome Tenants

By Judyann Lee
Image Description

A recent tragedy in Las Vegas where an 11-year old girl was shot and killed in her home while eating dinner by suspected gang members raises many questions about a homeowners association’s authority over its residents. Turns out, the shooters targeted the wrong house; they meant to target the one next door. The home was rented to these tenants by its owners. As a result, the mother of the young girl sued the homeowners association, the property management company, and the homeowners. The lawsuit claims the management company and the HOA failed to take action against the people living in the intended target, who were the subject of “numerous complaints” by other residents in the community.

In most jurisdictions, a homeowners association only has authority over its owners and not third parties such as tenants. If a tenant is violating the homeowners association’s covenants, rules, or regulations, the homeowners association can only enforce its governing documents against the owner or landlord. The association’s covenants act as a contract with its owners. A tenant has no contract with the homeowners association. The tenant’s contract is the lease with the owner or landlord. Any violation of the association’s governing documents by the tenant has to be enforced by the association against the owner, who in turn must enforce the lease, assuming a violation of the governing documents is a breach of the lease.

Bad Behavior

What actions should an association take to deal with problem tenants? This can be a difficult issue for associations, especially when an owner or landlord is not accessible, unresponsive, or doesn’t seem to care about the problems their tenants cause. There are several steps an association can take to combat this kind of bad behavior. First, it’s important to require the owner or landlord to include compliance with the association’s governing documents in the lease and require all owners to provide their tenants with a copy of the governing documents. Additionally, the association should require owners to provide the association with a copy of all leases, along with contact information for the absentee landlord.

If the governing documents authorize the association’s board of directors to enact rules regarding leasing, some state laws allow the board to enact a policy that allows the association to collect the rent from the tenant for any amounts owed to the association. That way, if the association is forced to issue fines against the landlord, it will be able to collect the fines. If state law allows and the governing documents do not provide the board the authority to enact such rules, it should consider amending the governing documents to include the authority to collect rent from a tenant. Any rules and regulations or amendments to the governing documents also could require all leases to contain a provision that authorizes the association to evict problem tenants if the landlord refuses to do so.

However, once the association takes these steps, it is then their responsibility to enforce tenant violations against the owner or landlord. The association and its management company must carefully document complaints, notify its owner of tenant’s violations, and demand that the landlord take prompt steps to correct them, conduct hearings, issue fines, and evict problem tenants if it has the authority to do so. Failure to take these steps could lead to a lawsuit against the association and management company. explores questions and comments from community association members living in condominiums, homeowners associations, and housing cooperatives. We then assemble trusted experts to provide practical solutions to your most commonly asked, timely questions. We never use real names, but we always tackle real issues. Have a question or comment about your community association? Submit here for consideration:

Get More Expert Advice

Join CAI’s online community for access to the industry’s most in-demand community association resources.

Thousands of your peers are sharing advice.

Judyann Lee

Judyann Lee is an attorney at McMillan Metro, P.C. in Potomac, Md.