Addressing tenant disputes is never easy nor is it fun. Whether it's an issue with the rent payment or other behaviors that may be causing a problem for your property or yourself, disputes between landlords and tenants can be difficult to manage. Things can escalate or words can be misunderstood, and before you know it, there’s a lot of anger and emotion and very little room to seek out solutions.
Learning how to effectively solve tenant disputes is an important part of protecting both your investment property and your relationships with tenants.
You cannot be afraid of conflict as a landlord. You will almost certainly be called upon to manage tenant disputes and complaints. Sometimes, these conflicts will be with you. Sometimes, they’ll be with neighbors or other tenants. And sometimes, they’ll simply be complaints about the property itself.
Set some professional boundaries and protect yourself from risk and legal trouble. But, never leave a conflict or a dispute unresolved. You need to make an effort to keep everyone happy.
We’ve found that the best things to do are to listen to your tenant, look for creative solutions, and document everything. We also think that avoiding conflicts and disputes is the best way to deal with them.
Start with a Strong Lease Agreement
Your lease provides a lot of value in your landlord/tenant relationship. It gives everyone a starting point for the tenancy, and place to refer to when there are questions or problems. Your lease must set forth expectations for your tenants and outline a process for dealing with tenants who act disrespectfully towards one another. This will help you manage conflicts between tenants.
The lease must also address where a landlord’s responsibilities are and where a tenant must be held accountable. Many of the disputes that occur between landlords and tenants or tenants and neighbors can be prevented with a careful reading of the lease agreement. The lease is where all expectations and responsibilities are clearly laid out.
If you and your tenant find yourselves in a dispute over late fees, for example, you can point your tenants to the rent collection policy that is surely included in your lease. If there’s a dispute between two of your multi-family tenants about noise late at night, you can refer them to the quiet hours section of the lease agreement.
Your lease will address some of the most common areas of conflict, such as:
- Pets and pet policies; where they can be and not be, whether they must be on leash, and how they have to be cleaned up after.
- Parking, whether it’s assigned or first-come, first-served.
- Guests and how long they’re permitted to stay.
- Smoking and whether it’s ever allowed anywhere.
- Noise/quiet hours; when they begin and when the end and what the consequences are for violating the policy.
Treat the lease agreement as your road map. When your lease is clear, consistently enforced, and understood by all parties, you can avoid disputes and disagreements with and between tenants.
Active Listening when Tenants Want to be Heard
When you place tenants in your property, those tenants expect that you’ll respect their right to the quiet enjoyment of their home. If you start showing up weekly to check on things, you’re disrupting that. If a neighbor is interfering with the way that your tenant enjoys their property, there will almost certainly be a complaint, and as the landlord, you’ll be expected to resolve it or at least acknowledge it.
Prepare to listen.
This is the most important part of conflict resolution, and usually overlooked.
When your tenants come to you with a complaint about noise, pet problems, parking issues, or other problems and nuisances that they’re experiencing, they want to be heard. It’s your responsibility to let them make their complaint. You may not be able to solve it. But, by listening empathetically and with compassion, you’re validating their concerns and demonstrating that you care about their comfort. This is good for your relationship and for your tenant retention.
You don’t necessarily know what it’s like to hear a dog bark in the upstairs apartment all day or for a neighbor’s child to be constantly running through the backyard. But, you can agree that it’s disruptive and unfair. Ask questions when your tenant is sharing their concerns, and talk about what they’ve already done - or tried to do - to remedy the situation.
Communication Counts During Conflict Resolutions
Communication can always help resolve conflicts, and it should be embraced as an effective strategy to at least turn down the heat when people are upset.
If there’s a conflict between you and your tenant, take the lead on communicating and remain available to your resident. Don’t ignore phone calls. Always return messages.
When there’s a conflict between tenants, see what you can do to encourage them to talk things out. If your tenants are comfortable talking to their neighbors, you’ll want to recommend that as a first step. Maybe everything will be resolved with a neighborly discussion about whatever problems there are. It’s possible the offending neighbor doesn’t even realize that their television is so loud or their dogs are so prone to barking during the day.
Investigate and Document Every Complaint
You won’t necessarily be able to solve the problem or resolve the conflict. However, you can still be responsive to your tenant.
After you’ve heard the initial complaint, listened carefully, and offered suggestions and solutions, check in to see if things are better, worse, or the same. Always document the complaint in great detail in case it needs to be escalated.
When your tenant is having a conflict with a neighbor, you may have a bit more leverage if you are renting out a property in an HOA or a condo association. In such a case, you can go to the association board to resolve the issue or ask them to intervene and talk to the neighbor who is causing problems. There are almost certainly rules about noise, quiet hours, and pet clean-up.
Avoiding Conflicts and Disputes with and between Tenants
Landlord and tenant disputes are often the result of poor communication or one party not understanding their responsibilities. The worst disputes can lead to court appearances, and those rarely work out well for landlords.
Try these tips to avoid conflicts and disputes. You’re looking for harmony for both you and your tenants.
- Screen tenants thoroughly
One way to avoid tenant disputes is by placing tenants who are unlikely to cause problems or initiate conflict. Every tenant screening process needs to follow all fair housing laws. It has to be consistent and objective. In addition to your financial screening and your investigation into prior evictions and criminal backgrounds, take a look at rental history. Talk to current and former landlords.
- Discuss expectations
Make sure your tenant knows what you expect from the tenancy. You’ll want rent to be paid on time, you’ll want your property to be cared for, and you’ll want any problems or repair needs to be brought to your attention immediately. Discuss the elements of the lease with your tenant before the move-in date so everyone understands their responsibilities and a tenant’s questions can be answered.
- Prioritize communication
Communication is critical to maintaining a good relationship with your tenant. Make sure they know how to reach you, and let them feel comfortable talking to you about things that might be of concern. Be fair and consistent so they know what to expect. You’ll be much better off if your tenants feel like they can come to you when rent is going to be late or damage has occurred at the home.
- Don’t defer maintenance
Be responsive when it comes to repairs. Tenants want to live in a home that’s well-maintained and in good condition. Even if you cannot repair something right away, let your tenants know that you’re aware of the problem and you have a plan to take care of it. Educate your tenants on how to care for your property. If they know how to reset a garbage disposal and change the air filters, they won’t bother you for these small things. A good maintenance plan will eliminate a lot of conflict.
- East Valley property management
The best way to avoid tenant disputes is by working with a local property management company. Your property manager acts as a buffer between you and the tenants. Property managers are also more knowledgeable about landlord and tenant law, and they have experience dealing with tenant disputes. You can save yourself a lot of time, and potentially a lot of money and liability by working with a management company.
This is how we manage any conflicts and disputes most effectively. Luckily, we don’t run into this very often. We place great residents, we provide all of the information and resources they need, and we maintain excellent relationships. This creates a pleasant rental experience for everyone involved.
If you have any questions about dealing with conflicts and disputes, please contact us at TCT Property Management Services. We manage homes in the East Valley, including Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Scottsdale, and Phoenix.