Arguing is a waste of time, energy, and resources. However, tenant disputes will inevitably arise 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 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 neighbors. Then, we will take a look at how to deal effectively with both situations.
Skills for Handling 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:
- be Mindful
- Appear confident
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.
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.
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 minor grievances from blowing up into angry fights and potentially costly court battles.
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. Property managers should be neutral mediators between residents, whose practical 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 face-to-face conversations.
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 neighbors.