(This post is part of our “Landlord Basics” series, which seeks to help the new landlord / investor understand some of the basics of tenant relations and property management. Click here to view the entire Landlord Basics archive.)
Update: You can now get a sample Letter of Violation [here].
It should come as no surprise that occasionally, a tenant won’t do what they are supposed to. It could be something as simple as not moving the garbage bins back from the curb (which is a $55 fine in Buffalo, last I checked), to not mowing their lawn (also a fine in Buffalo, but I can’t recall the amount.) If these are things that the tenant is responsible for in the lease, you should write and serve a Letter of Violation.
A Letter of Violation outlines to your tenant that they failed to hold up their end of the lease, in some form. This isn’t necessarily something you will want to void their lease over, but having a permanent record of the violation will help you determine how you want to handle a tenant when their lease expires. Based on their conduct, you could let them stay at their current rate, go for a rent increase because they are a “problem”, or just tell them that it’s time to move on.
Writing your letter should become easy after the first one or two. Put the letter on your letterhead, and form it similar to how you would form a business letter. After you list both the tenants address, your address, and the date, you will want to make it obvious that this is a Letter of Violation. Use a bold print a size or two larger than the rest of the text, in the center of the page, and print “LETTER OF VIOLATION”.
Address the tenants by name as listed on the lease, and state the section and subsection of the lease that was violated, and how. If you are applying (or passing on) a fine for the violation, that should be clearly outlined in the letter as well. Give the date that the fine is due to be paid, so that there is no confusion. Using language such as “within 7 days” or “within 7 business days” can become confusing because of holidays and weekends, so you are better off saving yourself the hassle and just issuing a date.
Under the text of the violation letter, you should document how the letter was served. For instance, if you are mailing the letter, state that the notice was served in the mail. If you send the letter certified, include the article number. Since you and the tenant will both have a copy, there is no argument that can be made.
Serving the letter should be done the day the notice is issued. If you served the letter personally to the tenant, document the date and time the letter was served, and to whom. Keep in mind that in most states you must be 18 to accept service of a notice. Your best bet is to serve it directly to the tenant and not a child in the household. Since you and the tenant will both have a copy, there is no argument that can be made.
If you post the notice on the property, document the date and time the letter was posted, and where. You may want to take a photo of the posted letter so there is no wiggle room. Since you and the tenant will both have a copy, there is no argument that can be made.
Make sure you keep a copy of the letter in your records! If you need to show cause at a legal hearing (eviction, small claims, etc.) the documentation that you have will be your proof!
Keeping your records in line will help you in the long run. If you missed our article on keeping property records, read up on that here.