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Solving Tenant Disputes: Expert Strategies for Conflict Resolution

Solving Tenant Disputes: Expert Strategies for Conflict Resolution

If you’re going to be a hands-on landlord, you’ll have to be comfortable with conflicts and disputes. They are bound to happen with your tenants, and you’ll need to know how to handle them. 

You may find yourself in the middle of a dispute between neighbors because one person’s dog is a menace or the other neighbor’s music is played too loud late at night. 

Tenant disputes can involve two tenants, one tenant and a neighbor who isn’t a tenant, or even the tenant and yourself. Conflict resolution is an important skill to have, especially if you’re managing your property on your own. 

Whether we’re talking about a dispute with you or with someone else, we’ve found that the best things to do are to listen to your tenant, look for creative solutions, and document everything. 

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. 

Here’s something important to remember as well: Avoiding conflict is often the best way to deal with it. Do what you can to avoid any disputes and always make sure you’re not contributing to an escalation.

Benefits of a Strong Lease Agreement

We’re always talking about the value of a strong lease agreement. Your lease can help you avoid disputes as well as resolve them. It gives both landlords and tenants a consistent starting point for the tenancy, and it’s an easy point of referral when there are questions or problems. An effective lease will set forth expectations for your tenants and outline a process for dealing with tenants who act disrespectfully towards one another. 

The lease you have in place will help you manage conflicts between tenants. It will also protect you against any potential disputes that tenants have with you, as the landlord.

For example, if you and your tenant find yourselves in a dispute over late fees, 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. 

What does your lease need to include in order to cover all of the potential points of contention? Here are some of your best starting points:

  • 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.

We like to think about lease agreements as binding legal documents and also reference materials. When your lease is clear, consistently enforced, and understood by all parties, you can avoid disputes and disagreements with and between tenants. 

Conflict Resolution Requires Active Listening 

Prepare to listen, even if you’ve heard this complaint before. Prepare to listen even if you believe your tenant is being unreasonable. 

This is the most important part of conflict resolution, and usually overlooked. 

When your tenants come to you with a complaint about noise, maintenance that has not been attended to, pet problems from neighbors parking issues, or other problems and nuisances that they’re experiencing, they want to be heard. They want resolution, too, but they especially want an acknowledgement that their feelings are valid. 

As the property owner, 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.

This isn’t always easy, especially if their complaints are directed at you and the things you have not done. But, if you stay quiet and listen to what they have to say, they’ll feel like they’ve made some good progress just by sharing their story. Once they’ve said what they came to say, ask questions. This demonstrates that you’ve heard them and that you’re thinking about potential solutions. 

Prioritize Communication When Dealing with Tenant Disputes and Conflicts

You’ll have fewer disputes and conflicts if strong relationships are intact. Relationships, of course, require communication. As the rental property owner and landlord, you’ll need to facilitate communication that is easy, open, and transparent. Good communication can always help resolve conflicts, and it should be embraced as an effective strategy in at least turning 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. Talk through your problems calmly and without emotion. Remember that your rental property is a business. Your tenant is your customer. This is a great way to approach any dispute you may be having. 

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.   

Document Every Complaint and Conflict

Always document the complaint in great detail in case it needs to be escalated. 

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. 

You’ll want to track all of the correspondence and communication you’ve had regarding the conflict. You’ll want to include pictures and other evidence. For example, if a tenant is complaining that a neighbor continues to use their parking space, get a photo of the car there. 

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.  

How to Avoid Conflicts and Disputes with and between Tenants

What our experience has shown us is this simple fact: Landlord and tenant disputes are often the result of poor communication or one party not understanding their responsibilities. 

Here’s how you can avoid conflicts before they take hold.

  • Screen tenants thoroughly

You have to follow every fair housing law that’s in place when you’re screening tenants, but you can easily identify those tenants who are prone to conflict. Every tenant screening process needs to be consistent and objective. Do thorough financial screenings and investigate prior evictions and criminal backgrounds. More importantly, dig deep into rental history. Talk to current and former landlords. 

  • Share expectations

Tenants need to know 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. 

  • Communicate

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. 

Norfolk Property Management

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. 

We don’t run into disputes and conflicts with tenants 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’re worried about getting too involved in the messy situations that your tenants can often find themselves in and you don’t feel like facing conflicts and disputes head-on, contact us at Doud Realty Services, Inc. We provide expert property management in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton Roads, as well as surrounding areas such as Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Chesapeake, and Newport News.