Dealing with Domestic Violence in a Rental

Domestic ViolenceThis article will likely offend a few people, but since I have never been one to limit my posts to only the non-offensive topics, here goes.  If you have rentals, you will likely have a problem with domestic violence at one time or another.  Especially if you take in low credit score tenants.  Here is how to deal with domestic violence effectively as a landlord.

Domestic Violence Takes Two

I am not talking about emotional abuse in this article, I am referring to physical abuse in this post.  Punches with a closed fist kind of abuse.  Emotional abuse is a definite two-way street.

Although domestic violence is typically a male being the aggressor against a female, it is very likely a 50/50 proposition.  Both males and females can be at fault.  I have seen too many females slap or punch a male in the arm and everyone thinks it’s funny.  It is not.  Physical abuse is a two-way street, but likely more one-sided with the stronger person being the abuser.  The stronger person does more damage, and can take a hit better.  No different than a boxing ring.

I know the court system is against males in a domestic violence situation, and that is because they are typically the abuser.  It makes no difference.  I do not wait for a guilty verdict.  Get rid of the abuser as soon as possible, preferably that day.  I often tell my renters, “if you want to fight, drive a mile away and beat the snot out of each other, then come back home”.  I do not care.  When you are in my rental, no domestic violence will occur, or you will be moving.  Your warning is at lease signing.  You are already on your second chance, even before you have had a first chance.

In my rentals, I have only had females or neighbors call the cops.  If you only have a single-family home, you may never even hear about the police calls.  I get a report every morning from the cops about all the incidents from all the multi-family housing in my rental area.  I know what goes in in my multi-family properties.  Everything related to a police incident I am informed.

The Victim Has Rights

There should never be a penalty for your tenant to call the police for help, or to report their neighbor.  I encourage calling the cops for anything the tenant needs.  I pay taxes for the cops to answer the phone, the tenants can call as much as they want.  No one will penalize a landlord when their tenant calls for help.

When you have a domestic violence incident in your rental, the victim typically has the right to move out.  They can move out immediately, without notice.  In Minnesota, you can keep the tenants deposit to help cover the expenses of moving out early.

A small tip.  If a tenant knows they do not get anything from their deposit back, they may not care how it looks when they move out.  You may want to offer some money back if they return the unit in great condition.

When A Domestic Violence Incident Occurs

When someone is arrested at my apartments and taken to jail, I never want to see the abuser at the apartment again.  I want that person out.  Now.  Permanently.  If they have to come back to get their belongings, they can get a police escort.

A cop knows that a domestic violence call is the most dangerous call they have.  If it is dangerous for a cop, think about how much danger your other tenants may be in.  Or you, if you happen to be in the hallway at that same instant.  Losing a neighboring tenant will cost you a bunch.  Get rid of the problem tenants, and do not let the problem tenants drive away your good tenants.

Once the abuser is out of the apartment, if the victim cannot afford the apartment by themselves, they need to move too.  Get both of them out as quickly as possible.  Let them break the lease, or have them sign a mutual agreement lease termination.

Unless the victim has filed an Order for Protection (OFP), or somehow legally prevented the abuser from coming back, you can be assured the abuser will be back.

If the ‘victim’ still wants the abuser back, rest assured you will have more trouble in the future.  When that happens, you need to end the lease as soon as legally possible.  A lease non-renewal is generally legal in most states, and you do not need a reason to do it.

When the Neighbors Call the Police

If the neighbors call the police on your tenants because they hear violence, and someone gets taken away, terminate the lease.  Right away.  There are no victim rights here, you and your neighboring tenant that called the cops are the victims.  Let the fighters have a 30-day notice and move them out.

The last thing you need are tenants that fight and disturb other tenants.  When a neighbor calls the cops, they are at their wits end.  Neighbors will tolerate a lot from each other.  It’s likely they have heard the abuse many times, and got sick of it. Or it was much worse this time.  If you do not stop the violence, it’s likely the good neighbor will leave.

Change the Locks

When the victim wants to stay, they may want to change the rental door lock(s).  In my one incident where the victim really wanted the abuser gone, I changed the locks.  The rest of the victims moved out willingly to stay with the abuser.

The local police told me that if the abuser asks for the new keys, I have to give them a set.  They are on the lease, and by law I need to give them keys.  That is why the victim needs to get an order for protection.  Once that is issued, there should never be a time when the abuser should be back without a police escort and notification.  You can open the door for them, and re-lock after they leave.

The abuser should be able to get all their belonging out in within a few trips.

Victim or Enabler of Domestic Violence?

When a victim gets hit the first time, that should be a clue to move out or legally protect themselves.  I see so called victims living with an abuser all the time.  When you see a background that shows a pattern of abuse, and the same woman is living with the same guy, she is no longer a victim.  She is an enabler.  At some point, she needs to use the countless programs that are available and get out.

It may not be easy, but at some point, you have to be independent enough to stand on your own two feet and get a life.

If you rent to tenants in this type of relationship, it will be a problem.  Avoid them.

Low Credit Scores have More Violence

This is not my scientific fact, but my own experience.  Virtually 100% of my four domestic violence incidents were committed by low credit score tenants.  Well under a 600 score.  Most had decent income, well enough to afford the rent with 4x+ the rent in income.

I harp on credit score all the time on this blog.  There is a reason.  Most of my rental drama comes from my low credit score tenants.  Domestic violence is another piece of drama I do not need.


Have you ever had a domestic violence incident in your rental?  Have you ever known someone that would not break out of a physically abusive relationship?






11 Replies to “Dealing with Domestic Violence in a Rental”

  1. I’m sorry to hear this happens – no, I haven’t had to deal with it in any of my rentals. Although my properties are more B+ than C, there is always a chance it can happen. Thanks for sharing how to handle it.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      My properties are all B properties, in an A area. They are lower in price than some places with many amenities. By keeping a decent credit score requirement, it eliminates much of the problem. Section 8 properties are MUCH worse.

  2. I went to a rental to make a repair, and the wife met me at the door. She had a black eye. Husband wasn’t home. I asked what happened. She said she bumped into a low-hanging tree limb. Before I left, I asked her again and got the same answer. But the look on her face told me something different.

    My next stop was the police department. They said they’d send an officer over, but they couldn’t do anything more unless she filed a complaint.

    Not long afterwards they bought the property from me. I often wonder what happened to her.

    George Lambert
    Author, What You Must Know BEFORE Becoming a Greedy Landlord

    1. Thank you for reading!

      It is not a pretty site to see, but it does take two to tangle. Often though, even when it is one-sided, the victim refuses to get help and distance themselves from the situation. You cannot help everyone as a landlord, but you can provide a safe place for your other tenants in a multifamily.

  3. Well you have to be careful. If the battered spouse (male or female) is really messed up in the head then you might become a channel of both the batterer’s and the battered’s rage. A mutual enemy to both parties.

    Found this out when I challenged a wife beating pos to a refereed fight in a ring. He declined of course. His 95 pound wife was a better target.

    Stockholm’s syndrome is a heck of a thing. Best to let the battered person think you are letting the police handle everything and not say anything to the victim. Just observe and report.

    When the victim gets tired of getting beaten he or she will leave. If not then that is on the victim.

    Personally when I get into landlording I wouldn’t put up with it though…and would evict if I found out that was going on and the victim refused to press charges and get an order of protection and stuff.

    This article is excellent btw. Gold. Valuable wisdom and what not.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear that you have to go through all this. You mentioned a couple of incidents in this post, but I’m sure it has caused much more trouble and headache than any words can describe.

    I understand why you said you might offend some people. But everything you said is fair and reasonable. I’m glad you wrote this great post!

  5. Sorry to hear about the problems you have had. But from a business perspective I completely understand your stance. Guess the screening and sticking to your tenant selection criteria is really vital in proper management of your RE portfolio.

    Most of our units have singles living in them, so no (abuse) problems (yet). Like to keep it this way too!

    By the way, you are on a role with the last two posts on the (potential) darker sides of real estate investing. Hope that the next time you have more upbeat news 😉 That being said, a reality check is good.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      All landlords have problems, especially if they have mid-range priced units. It is knowing how to deal with the problems that separates the successful landlords from the ones who get out of the business.

      I will write a more financially upbeat piece soon, maybe this week. There is a lot of money in the business, if you can deal with the issues.

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