Rich Smeeton from Manage Your Block explains how to handle neighbourly disputes.
As a property manager you may be used to wearing several hats in one day, but the one labelled ‘mediator’ may be one that you’d rather avoid…
Being a property manager means being a people manager. Each unit you take responsibility for represents a person or a family of people from different walks of life; different ages, different cultures, different stress levels, different daily routines… and these people are living in close quarters.
Conflict between neighbours is almost inevitable and you may need to step in to mediate if things can’t be resolved easily.
Neighbours in traditional housing may argue about boundaries, fences, overhanging trees etc, but when it comes to flat living, there are just a few common complaints we see time and time again:
In at number one are noise complaints. With shared walls, floors and ceilings, even the lightest of foot can find themselves unknowingly irritating their neighbours. Normal day-to-day activity for one person may be driving another mad: late night footsteps, noisy pets, music or slamming doors.
These complaints can usually be resolved with a simple conversation and some active consideration between the involved parties, but more serious complaints arise when unacceptable behaviour is involved such as very loud music played late at night, a dog being allowed to bark throughout the day or excessive shouting on a regular basis. This is when a property manager can be reasonably expected to step in.
2. Common Areas and Amenities
Bikes or buggies left in hallways, overflowing bins, intimidation when using shared spaces such as rooftop gardens… the list goes on. People living in close quarters and under a shared set of rules are bound to feel very angry if those rules are broken and their access to amenities (which they pay for in equal measure) is encroached upon.
3. Anti-Social, Violent or Abusive Behaviour
Unfortunately, this is a reality at times. Behaviour in this category could be anything from harassment, verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying to animal nuisance (e.g. dog fouling) or vandalism.
In most cases, mediation can diffuse and resolve the situation if it’s caught early and dealt with appropriately but, if aggressive or violent behaviour is displayed, you feel unsafe, or if there’s an element of discrimination involved, then the police should obviously be called.
Avoiding Issues in the First Place
There are some tactics you can employ to help promote harmony and happiness within your block.
The first and most obvious would be to inform all new leaseholders of the block’s ‘neighbourly best practice’. Anything from acceptable windows of time for music, to the rules around rubbish and recycling collections can be included- anything that may not be explicitly clear, or that may have been missed among the fine print, within the lease. You can include documents like this within a resident welcome pack, and it can be referred to as a first defence if complaints arise.
You can also uphold the rules by placing friendly but clear notices in problem areas as a reminder for all residents. Key spots might include the refuse area, the main entrance way (to display guidance for general ‘quiet enjoyment’ within the block) and hallways where clutter can lead to fire hazards and issues with access.
Having a clear complaints policy that is applied in all situations can be a real help too. It’s your job to make sure all residents are looked after in the same way; having a protocol for complaints ensures a level playing field.
How to Handle Complaints as a Property Manager
You have a duty of care to your tenants and can be held liable if you are informed of issues and are seen to be doing nothing to support those involved or to resolve the situation. Not only that, but your reputation will also be on the line.
Here are some steps you can take to make sure you’re fulfilling your role appropriately when it comes to neighbourly disputes:
1. Your first port of call should always be to engage with all parties, offering a neutral ear and always referring to the stipulations of the lease where you can. Make sure you are visible in the development and easily contactable; the faster you know about bubbling issues, the faster you can intervene to avoid things getting nasty.
2. Be as approachable, receptive and empathetic as possible so your tenants feel comfortable coming to you with issues.
3. Do your research. Your knowledge of the block and its residents will be invaluable- if you’re new to a development, do your research and check historic records that may inform your approach. For example, if a particular tenant has made multiple complaints against multiple neighbours, you are likely to handle the situation differently than if this is their first complaint.
4. Make sure the insurance you secure for your block is suitable and covers you for malicious damage that could be caused by tenants.
5. Inspect the property regularly (within legal limits, of course!) and react to issues as soon as they arise, speaking to all parties involved.
6. Refer tenants to their leases if there has been a breach of contract and explain to them in plain English where they have overstepped the mark. Allow them to make amends before leaping into legal action.
7. If issues continue or if contracts are breached, consider seeking legal advice or contacting your local council. If the issues are severe, discriminatory, or aggressive in nature, call the police.
8. Keep detailed records of all interactions and steps taken so you have some evidence of your involvement should a situation escalate and lead to either police involvement or an eviction.
Being a property manager is an intricate role that pulls from many skillsets. Often those with natural ‘people skills’ find they are most suited to the job because they have a way of diffusing situations and bring a sense of calm. This is definitely a requirement when handling neighbourly disputes.
Manage Your Block aren’t here to tell you how to run your block of flats, but we can provide you with highly specialised software to make the management of your block much easier. Call us for more details on 0333 577 9070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.