7 Steps to Handle a Dispute With Your Tenant
From disagreements over needed repairs or property damage to rent that's paid late or not at all, landlord-tenant disputes are unfortunately quite common. When this happens, the goal is to come to a clear agreement that you and your tenant both adhere to without spending much time getting there.
Although taking your tenant to court can sometimes be an option, don't make it your first choice. Other methods of conflict resolution are quicker and less expensive.
Try the following seven methods for resolving a landlord-tenant dispute:
1. Make rental documents clear and specific
Resolving a dispute is easier when you have clear documentation on your side. That starts with making your lease agreements as specific as possible. For example, if you've decided to allow your renters to have pets on the premises, spell out how many they can have and what size you'll permit. Add in specifics about a pet deposit, including whether it's refundable or not, as well as information about what happens if there's damage to the rental unit or if neighbors complain about the tenant's pet.
You should also keep detailed maintenance records and photos of your rental units before the tenant moves in, as well as any correspondence between you and your renter.
2. Talk to your tenant
If you have an issue with a tenant, talk to them openly and honestly. Remain calm. Becoming angry will only make the situation worse. Show empathy, and go into the meeting with a resolution in mind.
Discuss the issue thoroughly, and you may find that a misunderstanding caused the problem. This gives the opportunity to come to a quick solution. If it's possible to do so, working it out among yourselves is the fastest, least stressful and least expensive solution.
3. Outline the next steps
After you talk with your tenant, outline the steps you both agreed to take. For example, they may agree to pay their rent by a certain date each month or face a specified late fee after that date. Or, if the issue is over a repair, you may agree to perform an inspection and find a service person to perform the work by a certain date if it's within the scope of your responsibilities.
You can then follow up with a date to ensure the work is done in a satisfactory manner. Take photos and notes to document all the work.
4. Consider a mediator
If you can't resolve a landlord-tenant dispute by communication between the two parties, a mediator can help. His or her job is to help facilitate communication between you and the tenant rather than to reach a binding decision. Often, a mediator can help both parties take emotion out of the equation and allow them to reach an agreement that satisfies both parties.
In most cases, mediators' services are available for little or no cost.
5. Use an arbitrator
An arbitrator hears both sides of an issue and then makes a decision. Unlike a mediator, however, an arbitrator issues a binding decision that both parties agree to adhere to in advance. This is a good option, but only if you're certain you're not in the wrong and have the evidence to back it up.
6. Go to small claims court
Small claims courts handle cases over relatively small amounts of money. You'll save the expense of having a lawyer since you can represent yourself, and in some states, you're not allowed to bring a lawyer with you even if you'd like to.
In most cases, filing fees are low, and the amount in dispute doesn't exceed a certain dollar amount — typically ranging from $3,000 to $10,000.
7. Hire a lawyer and go to court
As a last resort, particularly if your damages exceed those allowed in small claims court, you can hire a lawyer and take your tenant to civil or criminal court. An experienced lawyer in landlord-tenant disputes can best serve your needs.
Landlord-tenant disputes are common, and fortunately, you can resolve many rather easily. By keeping good records and trying to resolve the situation without escalating it, you can probably avoid a costly court case.