Landlord Tenant Disputes, How Can You Avoid Them?
Becoming a landlord can be both a wonderful and frustrating adventure at the same time. No matter how much you study, prepare and learn about the business, you are bound to run into landlord tenant disputes at one point or another. The best practice is to try to avoid them at all costs. This part takes some time to master by learning from your own and other landlord’s mistakes. After a while, you’ll learn how to handle landlord tenant disputes with experience.
We’ll first go over some of the more common landlord tenant disputes and how you can try to avoid them. Then, we’ll go over a few tips on how you can avoid disputes with your tenants in the first place. Lastly, we’ll cover some ideas you can try to resolve landlord tenant disputes, hopefully without getting a lawyer involved.
Most common Landlord Tenant Disputes
- Who’s responsible for what? – Not understanding responsibilities can become a huge problem whether you are a landlord or a tenant. There are many things landlords must keep in mind during all aspects of the tenancy. From advertising, screening, during the tenancy and post tenancy. There are legal responsibilities landlords and tenants are bound by federal, state and local laws. For example: in California, landlords are responsible for maintaining the rental property and common areas in “habitable” conditions. Tenants are responsible for notifying their landlord of any repairs needed.
- Property damage. – Property damage vs wear & tear is another very common landlord tenant dispute. Most of the time, it is a matter of opinion. The fact is, there are also guidelines that help mediate whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for, say, painting a rental unit.
- Privacy. – Landlords not respecting the privacy of their tenants is another common issue. Tenants have the right to enjoy their living space. This can quickly become an issue when the landlord serves notices to inspect their rental unit 6 times a month. FYI, landlords cannot serve a 24 hour notice to enter dwelling to “inspect a rental unit”.
- Security deposit disputes. – The most common when it comes to landlord tenant disagreements; how much the landlord should or shouldn’t retain from the tenant’s security deposit. This is why there are specific California laws on how a landlord may use a security deposit. The best way to avoid having disputes is to complete a move in inspection with both parties physically present and for the landlord to explicitly provide the tenant with a clear idea on what is expected when the tenant moves out.
- Rent increases. – There are many tricky sides to rent increases. Some properties are under restrictive rent control ordinances, such as LARSO. Some properties qualify for not having to comply with any rent control at all. It’s important for the tenant to ask the landlord upfront on how they handle rent increases so that there are no surprises later. That’s to say, if the landlord doesn’t mention them in the lease, which he or she should.
Avoid Landlord Tenant Disputes Through Rental Agreements
It’s just as important to have a rock solid lease as it is to have a fair lease for you and your tenants. It has to be a win-win otherwise you can potentially run into more rental disputes than you’d like to. A fair lease covers not only how the landlord and his/her property will be protected but also covers tenant rights when it comes to maintenance requests, privacy and their right to enjoyment of their home.
It’s imperative the tenant understand your lease in its entirety. Taking the time to perfect your lease by either using your favorite apartment association or your landlord attorney is always a good start.
There are many laws landlords in California must follow. Failing to familiarize yourself with them can create a lot of unnecessary tension between you and your tenant leading to landlord tenant disputes. As we’ve already mentioned, one of the biggest ones is having to maintain your rental unit in habitable conditions. But what does this mean?
California law make this very clear:
“A rental unit may be considered uninhabitable (unlivable) if it contains a lead hazard that endangers the occupants or the public, or is a substandard building because, for example, a structural hazard, inadequate sanitation, or a nuisance endangers the health, life, safety, property, or welfare of the occupants or the public.”
Tenants have responsibilities too. Legally, they must reasonably take care of your rental units and common areas. Tenants are also responsible for repairs caused by damages to the property due to neglect or abuse by the tenant, guests or pets.
By taking the time to fully understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a landlord, the less disputes you’re bound to see.
An important step in avoiding landlord and tenant disputes is to advertise your property in such a way that you only attract the types of tenants you want in your property. The more time and money you invest in your property and your advertising process, the better results your search will yield. If your property is in a high rent market area, make sure you take professional photos, take time to describe all of your amenities, use keywords in your ads and use the correct channels to attract the tenants you want to rent to.
Avoiding landlord tenant disputes starts before a prospective tenant even calls you. Make sure you specifically state on your ad what your tenant can expect during the screening process, your rental requirements and so on. The stricter you “seem” while you advertise may affect your vacancy length, but it usually attracts higher tenants who also have high standards.
Move in/Move out Walkthroughs
To avoid any potential landlord tenant dispute once the tenant has finished occupying your rental unit, make it a habit to create a move-in inspection checklist. This checklist should include items such as number of keys provided to the tenant at move-in, furniture if furniture is provided and mention areas that commonly create disputes such as mold in the bathroom and garbage disposals. Make sure you date and sign the checklist and provide a copy to the tenant. It’s also a great idea to take photos. Print them and store them in a folder that can be easily accessible later.
Once the tenant is ready to move out, schedule a move-out walkthrough inspection as soon as possible to ensure the tenant has plenty of time to fix any issues you may point out. Bring along your move-in inspection so that you and your tenant can compare in real time. This drastically reduces landlord tenant disputes since there is no guesswork on what the rental unit looked like when the tenant moved in.
Screen your Tenants
As you become a more experienced landlord, you’ll eventually learn how important it is to never skip a thorough screening of any potential tenant. Background checks, credit reports, references, work history, etc. You want to find out as much as you legally can about your tenant before handing them the keys. Interviewing the second to last landlord works best. If you can get their contact information, they will generally give you a more accurate picture of your possible tenant. The last landlord may want them out ASAP and paint a pretty picture.
Landlord Tenant Dispute Resolution
Going to court isn’t much fun for anyone. You have to pay court fees, sometimes attorney fees, you have to bury yourself in paperwork, pay more fees, dress up and show up to court because your tenant placed a planter on their porch.
Most of the time, these issues arise from a misunderstanding. Take some time to sit down with your tenant and talk openly and honestly about the dispute at hand. Make sure you have a copy of your lease and any notices served to your tenant. Most of the time, you’ll see that discussing the situation will lead to good results in finding a mutual compromise.
If the first approach doesn’t work, you can try to get a neutral person involved or hire a mediator or arbitrator to help. They’re not that expensive and are fairly quick to resolve issues.
Avoid Landlord Tenant Disputes
Lastly, we’ll list some tips that can help improve your relationship with your tenants.
- Be professional. You don’t have to be best friends. As long as you and your tenant can agree on the items on your rental agreement, you’re half way home!
- Take care of maintenance requests quickly. Don’t forget to provide your tenant with a 24 hour request to enter dwelling to make repairs or to assess the requests.
- Be extra good to good tenants. Provide feedback or even go as far as rewarding good tenants who constantly pay rent on time.
- Be flexible. If your tenant makes a reasonable request, give them the green light. A good example would be to let them paint one of the living room walls. These small gestures go a long way.
At Fast Eviction Service, help on any of the issues discussed in this article is simply a click or phone call away. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at (800) 686-8686 to discuss your questions for a free evaluation of your case.
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