Resolving Conflicts with Neighbors
The Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington State does not specifically spell out steps for tenants to take to address concerns that arise between neighbors. Some of the most common issues between neighbors are noise complaints, smoking, safety concerns and false reports to management. It is up to individual tenants to choose the steps they will take to resolve problems that arise with neighbors. You may decide to talk with the tenants themselves to resolve the problem you may decide to negotiate with the landlord and ask them to intervene with the neighbors.
Often there are clauses in rental agreements designating quiet hours, parking spaces, and smoking policies. It is up to the landlord to enforce the terms of the rental agreement with other tenants in the building or complex. You can document incidences of noise violation or safety concerns in writing to the landlord and ask them to take action to enforce the terms of the rental agreement with those tenants. You can talk directly to your neighbor or ask them to participate in mediation. You may choose to file a complaint against a neighbor for noise issues or other tenancy violations. You can refer to state statutes, local codes and common law (common law is rules of law that come from the decisions judges make in certain court cases). It is important to proceed with caution in cases like this so as to not to create further problems. If you are too aggressive, another tenant may feel that you are harassing them and take legal action to protect themselves. Contacting the police is another option tenant have if you are immediately concerned for your safety or the safety of someone else. It is up to each individual tenant to decide how best to address the problem. See Negotiation Process for examples of options you can use to try and resolve problems with your neighbors.
If you are concerned about safety in the apartment complex, other tenants may have the same concerns. You might consider joining with other tenants to write a letter or send a petition to the landlord asking for safety patrols or better lighting in common areas. There are laws designed to protect tenants against retaliation; however, tenants all over the state may be targeted by landlords for organizing in their buildings, so proceed with caution. See Right to Organize for more information on Seattle tenants’ right to organize in their units. Tenants outside the city of Seattle who are not on leases may face retaliation in the form of termination of tenancy and many other ways for organizing in their buildings. See Eviction for more information on how to protect yourself against retaliatory eviction.
Your landlord is responsible to provide you with adequate locks in your unit, as stated in RCW 59.18.060. If you believe that your locks are inadequate to address your safety concerns, you can ask your landlord to improve them. Follow the repairs process described in the Repairs section of this website. If you add or change your locks to improve security, provide copies of the keys to the landlord so they can enter the unit in case of an emergency.
In some cases, your neighbor may be filing complaints or making noise reports against you to the landlord. For example, your neighbor may complain to the landlord that there was loud noise coming from your unit on a night that you were out of town. If you believe that the allegations your neighbors are making are false, address it with your landlord in writing, documenting what you can. You may not be able to stop your neighbor from filing complaints, or your landlord from acting on them, but you can make sure that your side of the story is well documented in writing to the landlord. It is best practice to respond to all complaints or notices from the landlord in writing. Try and respond early, before the situation escalates. See Documenting Communication for more information on documenting your communication with the landlord.
It may feel unfair to have to continue to pay full rent when you feel that the landlord is not holding up their end of the rental agreement, but anytime a tenant does not pay their rent they leave themselves vulnerable to eviction or termination of tenancy.
In the case of serious threatening violence from one tenant towards another, there are additional protections in the Landlord-Tenant Act. RCW 59.18.352 states that if a tenant is threatened by a neighbor with a firearm or other deadly weapon, and an arrest is made, and the landlord fails to evict that tenant within 7 days of the incident of violence, the threatened tenant can break their lease and move.