Are warning notices effective?

A warning notice, oral or written, may be appropriate for a tenant’s first time violation of a lease term or condition that is not a material default of the lease or a potential threat to neighbors or property. A tenant whose previous behaviors have never been a problem may be responsive to an oral request by a landlord to remedy the situation. A landlord should document in writing the details of the landlord-tenant conversation regarding the lease violation and what the tenant must do to correct the violation. A copy of the writing should be placed in the tenant’s file.

A landlord could instead send a written warning letter to the tenant that provides details of the problem behavior including date and time of the violation; the expected corrective action to be taken by the tenant to remedy the problem; citation of the specific lease term or condition that has been violated; and the consequences if the tenant fails to take corrective action for compliance.

A warning letter can be effective in some problem situations but in many other situations, it only serves to delay serving the inevitable notice of termination of tenancy. A warning letter as an informal writing does not qualify as a formal termination notice. Property management experience may serve to guide the landlord toward the most appropriate and/or effective type of notice for the tenant problem behavior.

If a tenant has repeatedly violated terms and conditions of the lease, it is very likely a warning letter will not produce the desired change in the tenant’s behavior. If the problem situation involves dangerous behaviors such as criminal activity, drugs, or threats of violence, a landlord should immediately begin the termination process to end the tenancy.

Tenants who choose to ignore a warning letter or refuse to comply with lease terms and conditions will need to be served with a formal notice for termination of tenancy.

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