Arguing is a waste of time, energy and resources. However, inevitably a dispute will arise at some point during your time as a rental property owner. 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 with a dispute, for example two neighbors can’t seem to get along. Yet, as the property owner and/or manager it will fall to you to deal with it. Let’s split disputes into two main categories; disputes between you and a tenant and between neighbors, and take a look at how to deal effectively with both situations.
Skills for Handling Resident 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. That would be describe, express, assert, reinforce, stay mindful, appear confident, and negotiate. All of this sounds wonderful right? But like a famous boxer once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit 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 therefor 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 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 leapt to the conclusion he was lying to me. My temper flared and it became hard to listen to his side of the story. 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 that he frequently wore in the bar literally smelled like an ashtray. Epilouge: 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.
Mediating 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 small grievances from blowing up into angry fights and potential costly court battles.
Don’t expect neighbors to work it out themselves
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.
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, 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.