“ASK KARI”: Professional Know-How for Landlords: Empowering You to Handle Karen Tenants

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

By Kari Negri, Chief Executive Officer, SKY Properties, Inc.

  • Dear Kari, in one of your previous “Ask Kari” articles, you shed light on the challenging dynamics of “Karen” tenants. Well, it seems I’ve got one of those in my building who has a liking for threatening legal action at every turn. Now, I’m left wondering: What’s my best course of action here?

[Editor’s Note: In case you missed the previous article, a “Karen” is a pejorative term used as slang typically for someone who is perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal.]

In the world of property management, having a firm grasp of both tenant rights and landlord responsibilities is absolutely essential. When you’re well-informed and diligently follow the legal framework, you can face your “Karen” tenant’s threats with confidence. Here are just some things you need to do to empower you to confidently handle your interactions with your difficult tenant.

Be informed on Tenant Laws

Over time, tenant laws have really changed a lot, leaning more and more towards looking out for renters. Lately, many have been talking a lot about things like keeping rent reasonable, making sure people don’t get kicked out of their homes too easily, and keeping tenants’ personal stuff private. So, it’s super important to keep up with what’s new with the ever-changing landlord and tenant laws. You can do this by going to webinars, joining landlord groups, reading local trade magazines or talking to legal experts when you’ve got tricky questions. After all, in the face of challenging tenants like Karen, knowledge is your most formidable ally.

If you’re finding yourself at a loss about where to start to get a good understanding of tenant laws, the best place to start is by joining your local apartment association like the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA). Also, consider reviewing the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) and The Code Enforcement regulations and requirements for the jurisdictions your property is in as solid starting points. The RSO operates with the objective of maintaining control over rent increases while pretending to ensure property owners can achieve a reasonable return on their investment. Think of it as a delicate equilibrium between a rock and a hard place.

Regularly Take Fair Housing Courses

Fair housing laws stand as protectors against housing discrimination. It bars discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status. Flouting these laws carries serious repercussions, ranging from lawsuits and fines to enduring damage to one’s professional reputation. There are many organizations such as AAGLA that offers training on Fair Housing. My advice? Consider taking the course every year to keep those rules fresh in your mind. Fair Housing can be a bit of a puzzle, with what’s discrimination for one person not necessarily being the same for another. So, pay close attention – it’s worth it because this is a trap where a landlord can easily be caught by surprise with what they think is an innocent remark or observation.

Know Your Obligations as a Landlord

Being a landlord comes with a lot of responsibilities, and one of the big ones is guaranteeing habitable living conditions, characterized by essential amenities like adequate heating, plumbing, and sanitation. Moreover, landlords are accountable for promptly addressing a range of maintenance issues, including but not limited to water leaks, plumbing malfunctions, gas and heating system problems, and electrical issues. When a tenant submits a repair request, you are expected to respond in a reasonable and timely manner. Remember that taking care of these things quickly and timely can save you time and money in the future.

Furthermore, be proactive and create a move-in and move-out checklist to record your rental unit’s condition at the start and end of tenancy, issue a proper notice if you plan to increase the rent or terminate the lease, making sure it complies with relevant laws, and give your tenant a heads-up with a notice of entry at least 24 hours in advance if you need to access their rental unit for inspections, repairs, or other legal reasons, unless it’s an emergency or your tenant agrees to a shorter notice.

Check Your Lease Agreement

Your lease isn’t just a bunch of legal jargon – it’s the key to keeping things smooth between you and your tenants.  You want to always be able to refer “Karen” to her lease as it should spell all obligations out.   In California, your lease agreements should cover all the important bases such as a list of the parties involved in the agreement, a thorough description of the property, specifics about the rent amount, its due date, and accepted payment methods. Additionally, your lease should outline policies regarding late fees, procedures for lease termination and eviction, as well as guidelines pertaining to security deposits. On top of all that, the five mandatory disclosures in line with state rules – lead-based paint notice for homes built before 1978, bed bug infestations, mold, past pest control measures and use of utilities – should be included as well. Getting a lawyer to give your lease agreement the once-over before putting it into action would be a smart move.

Document Everything

And, I mean EVERYTHING…As I mentioned in my previous article, the golden rule here is to document everything! It’s a frequently overlooked part of property management, but it’s a big deal. Remember, maintaining thorough records of all your dealings with tenants isn’t just about being transparent; it’s also a critical shield for legal defense. So, make sure you’re keeping track of communication by logging absolutley everything, maintenance requests, lease agreements, any official notices sent out, and especially photographs when appropriate. These records can be a lifesaver if, for some reason, your “Karen” tenant decides to take legal action against you.

If you’ve already covered all the bases, there’s no reason to stress about your Karen tenant’s threats. Just stay committed to your role as their landlord, maintain professionalism, and steer clear of negativity. By consistently fulfilling your obligations and staying within the boundaries of the law, you can confidently navigate any potential legal challenges that your Karen tenant might throw your way.

SKY Properties are not carbon monoxide experts; and this article is based on their experience and research to provide readers with important information. Kari Negri is the Chief Executive Officer of Sky Property Management and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.  Do you have a question for me?  Please send your questions and comments to me at Kari@SKYprop.LA.