November 20th, 2018

What to do if your tenant threatens legal action

Every landlord should strive for a working and positive relationship with their tenants. Some tenants think their landlord hasn’t done their job despite their best efforts and might lean on threatening legal action to get whatever it is that they want. 

Though these threats can be hollow and may be just a way for a disgruntled tenant to vent, landlords should handle legal threats seriously and know how to act in a professional manner should they ever happen.

Today, we’ll explain some of the steps to take should one of your tenants say they’re going to take legal action.

Stay calm

In other words, don’t blow up and lose your temper during a face-to-face exchange. Remember, being a landlord requires a professional attitude, not an emotional one. If the conversation or phone call is heated, try to remain calm and resist arguing with them.

Collect as much information you can about the situation from the tenant, look into your own records for any matching or contradictory facts and tell the tenant you’ll be in touch with them at a later time.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep

If your tenant is disappointed with maintenance issues, get as much information as you can about it and let them know you’ll begin working on it. Disclose if you will be repairing the problem or if you’ll be hiring outside help.

Do not say you’ll be reducing their rent or that you can fix a big problem immediately on the spot. If they’re irate, walk away.

Report any harassment immediately

The heat of the moment is famous for making people do some irrational things that would never occur in a calm situation. Sometimes a tenant is only threatening the legal action during an intense exchange and won’t actually press the charges after a couple days of cooling off.

If the threats continue, you should think about getting the police involved.

Feeling physically threatened by your tenant should always be documented, along with any harassing phone calls or text messages. Getting a police report for this behaviour will be beneficial to your defense; safeguard all documents in your tenant's file should you need it later.

Contact their legal representative

If the tenant has stated that they’ve already contacted their attorney, ask for their contact information so you can follow up with them as soon as possible.

This is you calling the tenant’s bluff, as many who say “you’ll hear from my lawyer” don’t actually have lawyers.

Attorneys will only take on a case if the complaint warrants legal action and cannot be resolved outside of a courtroom.

Get it in writing

If your tenant has withheld rent due to ongoing maintenance problems, certain provinces require that the tenant provides you with advanced written notice explaining the reason for the withheld rent.

In Ontario, tenants can still get evicted for withholding rent if they haven't gotten approval from the Landlord and Tenant Board first. 

Get your own legal help

If you have an irate, threatening tenant who is refusing to pay rent, it’s recommended that you don’t panic and seek your own legal help. Don’t feel the need to contact your tenant beforehand; go directly to your legal representative and seek their advice for handling the situation.

Tenants might file suit in order to keep their housing or stall an eviction if, for example, they’ve fallen very behind on rent or if they’ve broken the lease.

Getting legal counsel as early as possible is important so you can avoid costly mistakes.

Property management teams are experienced in handling tenant complaints and dealing with legal threats.