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Landlord Tenant Q&A with LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B)

Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I own an apartment building. All the tenants are complaining about one unit. They complain about suspected marijuana smoking, loud noises, fighting at all hours and possible graffiti to the building. The tenants are on a fixed lease ending November 30. Can I evict them without the people reporting the incidents testifying in court? No one wants to appear in court to testify. What else can I do???

A. All tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment of their unit. It only takes that one tenant to cause grief for the entire building and the neighbors. If they are causing that much disruption, you probably have complaints from neighbors as well as tenants.

Most tenants are afraid to testify in court, fearing retribution. You have to let these tenants know that, without some sort of proof, your hands are tied. Have them at least write you a letter so that you have documentation.

You could also have some of your tenants take a video documenting the noise and fighting using the TV channel guide or cellular phone display in the background as proof of the dates and times. The tenants should also call the police when these events occur so that you have further documentation. Since you are not there all the time, one way to prove that these violations are occurring is to have numerous police reports.

Once you hear of these violations, send the tenant a written notice of the violations, giving them 10 days to remedy the situation. Let the tenant know that, if they continue to violate the rules after the 10 days, you will terminate the rental agreement and sue for possession of the unit. If you must sue to regain possession, the tenant will also be liable for all court costs and reasonable attorney fees. Also include a statement that if the problem is corrected but recurs, eviction proceedings will begin immediately without further notice.

Of course, all this may take some time and, since the tenants only have 3 months remaining on their lease, you could just write them a letter letting them know that you will not be renewing their fixed lease after November 30. You could also allow them to move at any time before that date, and only charge them the prorated rent for the period they remain in the unit and not obligate them until the end of the lease. Try to maintain a good rapport between you and the offending tenants. Your relationship with these tenants will determine if they try to correct the situation, leave willingly if asked, or cause further problems for you.

Note that the landlord can immediately move to evict a tenant without notice if (1) the tenant violates state or county laws relating to health and safety, (2) the tenant or any of the tenant’s guests purposely destroys or extensively damages the rental unit or any part of the premises, or (3) the breaking of a house rule causes or threatens to cause injury to a person. If the tenants are putting graffiti on the building, that seems to me to be grounds for immediate termination. Getting proof could be a problem, but maybe you get lucky and someone has pictures of the tenant or their guests committing this offense. Also, if the tenant threatens another tenant because of the complaints, you also have grounds for immediate termination of the lease.

With the cooperation of some of the tenants and neighbors, I hope that you will be able to return the neighborhood back to the quiet, pleasant area it once was.

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