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Dealing with Tenant Disputes

3927 views March 4, 2024 Karina Jugo 13

Conflicts between tenants are a common challenge that landlords may face in their rental properties. When disputes arise, it is essential for landlords to handle them promptly and effectively to maintain a harmonious living environment for all tenants involved.

Arguing is a waste of time, energy, and resources.  Most disputes can be avoided by having a solid, signed lease agreement. Furthermore, setting a professional tone from the very first phone call and clearly defining expectations with tenants demonstrates that you mean business.

You may not even be personally involved in a dispute. For example, two neighbors can’t seem to get along.  Yet, as the property owner or manager, it will fall upon you to deal with it.

Let’s split disputes into two main categories: between you and a tenant and between neighbors. Then, we will discuss the best practices for landlords in resolving conflicts in both situations, emphasizing the importance of communication, mediation, and proactive problem-solving.

Skills for Handling Landlord-Tenant Disputes

Many of you reading this will have already developed your own methods of successful communication. One such example is the D-E-A-R-M-A-N mnemonic device that outlines the steps for excellent communication and negotiation skills. D-E-A-R-M-A-N means:

  • Describe
  • Express
  • Assert
  • Reinforce
  • be Mindful
  • Appear confident
  • Negotiate

All of this sounds lovely, right? But like a famous boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.” When it comes time to throw down some verbal judo with a tenant who is late on rent for the third month in a row, staying mindful is the last thing you feel like doing.

A tenant who doesn’t pay rent, and therefore eviction proceedings is a worst-case scenario (You DID do a credit check and thorough background check, right?), but there are other instances that aren’t as black and white. Here’s a tricky one that I had to deal with once.

A long time ago, smoking tobacco in bars and nightclubs was largely still legal. I had rented a unit to a great, hardworking tenant, who paid the rent on time, but was an employee at a popular nightclub in a college town. Although he didn’t smoke, the odor of cigarettes on his clothes and belongings was so strong that it was starting to be noticeable during routine inspections of the unit.

When I eventually confronted him on the issue, I assumed he was smoking inside the unit. This was expressly not allowed in the lease. He denied it, and I leaped to the conclusion he was lying to me. My temper flared, and listening to his side of the story became hard.

tenant disputes

Looking back now, I think I had started to view our relationship less as owner-renter and more as a parent-child (a topic for another blog post). Once we calmed down and he explained the situation, I began to see his point. The leather belt he frequently wore in the bar smelled like an ashtray.

Epilogue: We ended up getting rid of his mesh hamper and replacing it with more of an airtight trashcan to store his soiled clothes. This worked pretty well until he moved out amiably a few years later.

Lesson learned.

Resolving Disagreements Between Neighbors

Even the best property manager will have to mediate conflict between property owners and residents or solve problems that arise between residents of the same community. Knowing how to work through a disagreement effectively is a necessary tool for all property managers. Maintaining open and productive lines of communication can keep minor grievances from blowing up into angry fights and potentially costly court battles.

Establish clear rules and guidelines.

To prevent conflicts between tenants, landlords should establish clear rules and guidelines that address common areas, noise levels, and other potential sources of conflict. By clearly outlining expectations and consequences in the lease agreement, landlords provide tenants with a framework for responsible behavior. Regularly reminding tenants of these rules through notices or newsletters can help minimize conflicts and create a sense of shared responsibility.

Landlords should also establish clear channels of communication, such as a designated email address or a common area notice board, where tenants can express their concerns or grievances. By fostering an atmosphere of open dialogue, landlords can promote understanding and provide an opportunity for tenants to address their issues directly.

Encourage community building.

Promoting a sense of community among tenants can significantly reduce conflicts. Landlords can organize community events, such as social gatherings or holiday celebrations, to foster positive interactions and create opportunities for tenants to get to know each other better.

Additionally, establishing shared spaces or amenities that encourage interaction, such as a community garden or a common room, can contribute to a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect among tenants. Tap into your tenants skills and specialties to create win-win situations for the entire community.

Don’t expect neighbors to work it out themselves.

While fielding the same complaint repeatedly might give even the most patient landlord a headache (noises, you say? cooking smells?), asking tenants to solve their disagreements is a great way to make a small problem worse. When conflicts arise between tenants, it is often helpful for landlords to take on the role of a mediator rather than devolving into petty and useless arguing.

As an impartial third party, landlords can facilitate communication between tenants and encourage them to find mutually agreeable solutions. Mediation allows all parties involved to express their concerns, listen to each other’s perspectives, and work towards a compromise. Landlords can suggest alternative solutions, promote empathy, and guide tenants towards finding common ground.

disputes between tenants

Intervene promptly and keep a record of all communication.

When conflicts escalate or persist, it is crucial for landlords to intervene promptly. By addressing issues in their early stages, landlords can prevent them from escalating into more significant disputes. When intervening, landlords should maintain thorough documentation of all incidents.

Documentation can serve as a reference if further steps are necessary or if legal intervention becomes required. Not only is this handy if you end up in court, 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 face-to-face conversations.

Stay professional

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.

In more complex or severe disputes, landlords may consider engaging professional mediation services. These mediators specialize in conflict resolution and can provide an objective perspective to help resolve conflicts impartially.

Professional mediators often possess the skills necessary to navigate challenging situations, manage emotions, and guide tenants towards mutually beneficial outcomes. Engaging professional mediation services demonstrates a landlord’s commitment to fair and unbiased conflict resolution.

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. Also, renters are entitled to basic tenant rights, which must be respected. Consulting a lease with a complaining tenant can eliminate many of the “he said, she said” gray areas that occur during disputes between landlord and tenant and among neighbors.

Authors

  • Karina Jugo

    Karina Jugo is a content administrator at RentPost who works directly with real estate and property management experts to create resources and guides for property managers. She has more than 15 years of experience in content research and writing for various industries.

  • Jacob Thomason

    Jacob Thomason is the CEO and co-founder of RentPost, software platform providing property managers, landlord or owners with the tools necessary for property management. Jacob is a software entrepreneur with with a vast array of expertise ranging from business concept design to software architecture and development. He is running RentPost for more than 14 years and helping property managers and property owners.

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