How to handle tenants with mental health issues
Managers of residential properties deal with tenants of all backgrounds. This means they occasionally need to handle issues they may not be prepared for. One of those issues is mental health.
One in five Americans have a diagnosed mental health illness, so it’s fairly likely property managers already house an individual, or multiple, who are afflicted. Oftentimes those with a diagnosis have things under control and it’s unnecessary for a property manager to know about the illness, much less get involved. But occasionally, mental illness results in dangerous behavior that threatens the safety of the tenant themself, along with others in the building. In this case, the landlord may have to intervene to assist the individual and prevent violence and damage.
It’s imperative that a landlord understands how to approach a point of conflict or concern with a tenant struggling with mental health. If handled poorly, the situation can be exacerbated, resulting in even more of an issue that may require intervention from the police. Managers will want to confront the situation properly, both to maintain the wellness of their tenants and to avoid violating the Fair Housing Act.
There are many things a manager can do to best handle a tenant with mental health issues that have become worrisome. Firstly, the manager should be willing to reasonably accommodate the individual and work with them to remedy the problem, not immediately jump to threats of eviction or other consequences. This may require leniency on policies that are strictly enforced with tenants not suffering from mental illness.
The U.S. Department of Housing writes in its explanation of reasonable accommodations, “Since rules, policies, practices, and service may have a different effect on persons with disabilities than on other persons, treating persons with disabilities exactly the same as others will sometimes deny persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling or participate in the program. Not all persons with disabilities will have a need to request a reasonable accommodation. However, all persons with disabilities have a right to request or be provided a reasonable accommodation at any time.”
If the property manager is not willing to work with the tenant and goes straight for eviction, they are almost certainly in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The manager should try to arrange a sit-down with the tenant to address all problems and give the tenant a space to speak and to improve their actions. Leniency is crucial, but it’s also important to keep documentation of each interaction—just in case legal action becomes necessary in the future.
Of course, if a tenant poses a clear threat to others in the building, managers are well within their right to evict them. 42 U.S.C Section 3604 (f)(9) states, “Nothing in this subsection requires that a dwelling be made available to any tenant whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health and safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.”
If a situation escalates and becomes violent, it’s time to seek assistance from local law enforcement. This ensures minimal damage is done to the building or tenants, and it also gives property managers the opportunity to learn more about handling crises—something they should already be acquainted with.
It would serve managers well to invest some time in familiarizing themselves with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI offers extensive information on handling mental health, provides Crises Intervention Training (CIT) and can assist with getting in contact with someone if needed.
While traversing the murky waters of mental illness can be daunting, it doesn’t mean all can’t run smoothly when given the proper care. To an extent, managers need to use their best judgment when deciding whether or not to get involved and what actions must be taken to best deal with the situation. But there are many resources available to aid anyone in need of help, so long as they are willing to work toward change with attentiveness and patience.
If you are in need of assistance, call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or text NAMI to 741-741.