Landlord’s guide to solving disputes with tenants
By Sadiya Anjum
Remember the old adage – prevention is better than cure? Well it applies practically in every area of your life including problems with tenants. When you first rent out a property make sure you screen your prospective tenants carefully before you let them in. (For more information regarding this refer to the article - Screen prospective tenants thoroughly to find the right tenant) However, sometimes disputes do arise no matter how hard you try to prevent it.
But if your dispute is about something minor like increase in rent or responsibility for repairs, then it isn’t time yet to go drag it to the courts. Here are some simple tips that you can keep in mind to prevent as well as solve problems with your tenants.
Awareness – First and foremost understand that problems may arise from a simple case of ignorance. The tenant may be unaware of actually breaking any agreement. So make sure that both you and your tenant are fully aware of the various clauses in the tenant agreement. Also make sure that you and your tenant are aware of the law in your state regarding renting, this could save a lot of time and effort.
Tenant Agreement – The tenant agreement should be as detailed as possible covering the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord. From issues like the date for payment of rent to the behavior and responsibility of the tenant and landlord must all be clearly specified. As long as you have this kind of information in writing, it will always be easy to settle disputes.
Talking it out – In every relationship, it is mandatory to have open lines of communication; the same applies for landlord-tenant relations. Let yourself be one of those people termed “approachable”. This will allow for tenants to voice their concerns more openly and disputes can be chopped off at the bud itself. Even if a dispute has risen, be ready to talk it out. And when you do confront your tenants, remember to keep your cool even if you are shaking with rage. If not anything else, at least this will prove later that your behavior has not been outrageous or unacceptable. Another point to keep in mind is that if you have only been communicating through telephone, make the effort to meet your tenant on neutral grounds. This will provide a safe environment to sort things out.
Documentation – Always keep a written record of all that has taken place between you and your tenant. If at any point a repair needs to be made, get a request letter from the tenant for the same. After completion of the work, fill in details of the repair made. Keep record of any other prior disputes and how these were solved. Get the tenants signature on these documents. As long as you have something on paper, providing this as proof to your tenants during a dispute might prevent them from blowing it out of proportion. Furthermore, this documentation will provide proof if the dispute is taken to court.
Mediation and Arbitration – If you feel like you and your tenant cannot solve the problem on your own, then perhaps its time to bring in a mediator. Many states today provide mediators who are qualified to resolve property disputes. Obtain the services of one of these for one of your “talks”. This is a quick and economical option to have a neutral party take a decision on your dispute. If this doesn’t quite work, get an arbitrator. The role of the arbitrator is similar to that of a mediator but the decision an arbitrator takes is final by law and has to be abided by. So if you know it’s your mistake, then it isn’t the smartest thing to call in an arbitrator. The actual smart thing to do is to own up to your mistake, make any required compensation and move on.
Lawyers and Courts – If nothing has worked bring in an attorney. Keep this as your absolute last option and even after obtaining a lawyer, you may consider settling out of court for a quicker and simpler solution. If you do visit the court, in most cases it will be the small claims court. This is again an economical option where disputes can be settled relatively quickly. Finally if absolutely necessary, you may have to take your tenant to a civil or criminal court depending on the actions of your tenant. But at this point, make sure that your attorney is well-versed with the subject of rental laws and is fully aware of your predicament.
Hopefully you will never have to reach the last stage. Most problems that arise between landlords and tenants can be resolved with a bit of patience and common sense. But mostly this can be achieved with the wish to want to clear problems for a peaceful tenancy. But the golden rule is to make yourself approachable and always-always keep your cool.
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