Once you have decided to become a landlord, you’ll need to be prepared for disputes that will inevitably arise with your new tenants. Being prepared will help you avoid being caught unaware by a dispute.
Instead of immediately going to court, there are many other options in resolving property disputes. It’s a good idea to state in your rental agreement what steps you will take to remedy a dispute.
Here are 10 tips for handling disputes between landlords and tenants.
1. Avoid disputes by knowing the law. The best way to resolve disputes is by avoiding them before they even begin. Many problems arise because one party does not know that they have broken the lease agreement, or they’re unaware of their rights under the law. Taking the time to learn the law — and staying up to date on changes to housing laws — will help you avoid disputes and make you a better landlord.
2. Keep your cool. When a situation arises, never lose your temper, even if your tenant does. Try to stay as calm as possible, and do your best to take care of the situation on your own. If you’re having difficulty, or if your tenant is not cooperating, you may need to seek assistance in court. However, by keeping your cool, you are representing yourself in the best possible light.
3. Talk it out. Many problems with tenants can be solved if the issue is discussed thoroughly on both sides. Do not let your temper flare, even if you are justifiably angry. There may be an honest answer to a problem, and both of you may be blowing it out of proportion. Working it out between the two parties is almost always cheaper and easier in the long term.
4. Meet face to face. If you have only traded angry words with your tenant over the phone or by e-mail, a face-to-face meeting may help. Hold the meeting in neutral territory, where both of you will feel safe.
5. Get a professional mediator. If you have tried without success to resolve the dispute, a professional mediator may be able to assist you. Many states now provide property-dispute mediators who are trained to deal with situations that can arise with rental properties.
6. Submit to arbitration. Arbitration is similar to mediation, but arbitration is binding. An arbitrator will hear both sides of the case and issue a binding ruling to which you must adhere. If you are worried that you’re in the wrong, you probably won’t want to take this step. Instead, own up to the problem and try to settle with your tenant.
7. Document everything. A paper trail is your best defense. If your tenant has repeatedly broken the rules of your building or lease agreement, or if they have made unreasonable demands, your documentation can help prove your case. Keep a file on each tenant, and record all that transpires. Presenting this documentation to your tenant may even dissuade him or her from taking you to court.
8. Let the lawyers decide. Many cases can be resolved before they go to court, once lawyers are involved. If you and you tenant are currently represented by lawyers, they may be able to help you settle the case out of court.
9. Small claims court. In most cases, disputes arising from rental property fall under the jurisdiction of small claims court. This option is usually cheaper than going to civil or criminal court, and may lead to a quicker resolution.
10. Take it to litigation. If you have exhausted all other avenues, you may have to take your tenant to civil or criminal court. The actions of your tenant will dictate the manner in which the case should be tried. Make sure that your lawyer is well-versed in landlord/tenant law, and capable of prosecuting the case successfully. Be prepared to supply all necessary documentation of what has transpired.