Last time I lived in an apartment complex, my landlord asked me to do something weird. He called out of the blue and said “Hey I know this is kind of a weird request but I’ve had some noise complaints about your unit and I think this is the best way to handle it.” My confusion was immediate and I started to sweat from the anxiety of worrying how I could possibly be making enough noise to bother anyone. Was my yoga mat not thick enough? Were my 8am breakfast smoothies waking up a light-sleeping neighbor? Did my ancient, arthritic cat turn into a wild, meowing beast when I went to class? He told me that my upstairs neighbor had made four noise complaints in the past week. My landlord said “I know this is a little strange, but do you think you could go and talk to him? I get the sense that speaking to you might help more than anything I can tell him, I haven’t had any other complaints about your unit and this tenant seems a little tense, so maybe you could speak to him?”
I was caught off guard by my landlord’s unorthodox request, but I walked upstairs the next day and spoke to my neighbor for half an hour. We walked each other through the specific times of day we were sharing a wall between us and we realized that our schedules were mostly opposite, and that the noises that so disturbed him were not coming from my apartment. It was an easy fix to a problem that could have dragged out for months, and I was happy to help, but later I felt like my landlord took the easy way out of a situation that he ought to have handled differently. Looking back, there seem like much more professional ways to mediate a disagreement between neighbors.
Don’t expect neighbors to work it out themselves
While my own neighbor disagreement worked out fine after we spoke to each other, if we were less agreeable people it could have escalated very quickly. While fielding the same complaint over and over again might give even the most patient landlord a headache (noises you say? cooking smells?), asking tenants to solve their own disagreements is a great way to make a small problem worse. Property managers should be a neutral mediator between residents, whose effective communication skills will solve complaints and keep everyone focused on working toward a solution, rather than devolving into petty and useless arguing.
My landlord’s tone was all wrong when he called me. He was apologetic and almost embarrassed about asking me to approach a tenant on my own, a clear signal that he knew the conflict should be handled differently. He also called after business hours. Adopting professional standards when interacting with tenants promotes an atmosphere of respect, and respect makes getting to a resolution much easier. When emailing or phoning tenants with a problem, keep the tone polite but to the point. Make all phone calls during regular business hours, except during an emergency.
Keep a written record of all communication
Always keep careful documentation of each step taken to solve a problem. Not only is this handy if you end up in court (not likely, thanks to your incredible mediation skills), but good records also show a tenant that their complaint is being taken seriously and followed up. Document dates and times of phone calls, keep copies of emails, and keep written records of any conversations that happen face to face.
When in doubt, consult the lease agreement
If a recurring complaint continues to cause headaches for tenants and property management alike, never be afraid to sit down and consult the lease with each neighbor individually. Many leases have a section outlining behavior requirements for tenants, restrictions against smoking, noise levels, pets, illegal activities, and more. Consulting a lease with a complaining tenant can eliminate many of the he said, she said gray areas that occur during disputes between neighbors.