9 Most Common Landlord Tenant Disputes: What Causes Them?

Updated 7/22/21

What causes the most common landlord tenant disputes?

For landlords, renting out your property is a lucrative way to earn extra cash. Due to common landlord tenant disputes, however, tension can be created and issues can arise. A tenant could feel their landlord is too strict or bossy, while a landlord may find out that the tenant isn’t what he or she thought they would be as tenants.

There are many factors that could contribute to landlord tenant disputes. They range from disagreements on the terms of the lease to how each interprets the proper maintenance of the rental property. Disagreements are bound to happen. The only way to truly avoid them or at least minimize the risk of running into the most common landlord tenant disputes is communication.

For example, when going over the lease before signing, this is a good opportunity to see how flexible you or your tenant can be. If the tenant makes a request to change something on the lease that won’t bother you at all, this is a good start to a great relationship where the tenant feels they can easily communicate with you.

It’s important the tenant feels like they can ask questions about the terms of the lease and that you will care enough to answer their questions honestly. It shouldn’t stop there, though. The tenant should feel comfortable enough to ask questions and communicate with you, the landlord, through all 5 stages of tenancy.

Taking care of your tenant properly will surely help avoid the 9 most common landlord tenant disputes which are:

Nonpayment of rent

Easily the most common landlord tenant dispute is nonpayment of rent issues. There is an array of factors that can cause tension for nonpayment of rent.

  • The tenant starts falling behind on rent and doesn’t pay it in full or at all. When the rent is paid late, it can become a big issue for landlords too.
  • Tenants start sending bad checks or start lying to the landlord that they “made the payment via credit card and it hasn’t gone through.”
  • The landlord fails to make proper repairs or regular maintenance so the tenant stops paying rent or only pays partial rent.

To help prevent disputes for payment of rent issues, you can make sure the tenant understands when rent is due and what date it is considered late. You can set up an official system to allow tenants to report maintenance and habitability issues and address them quickly to avoid the tenant having any leverage.

Landlords should also understand that if a tenant has an emergency or an unexpected financial issue, it’s ok to be “human.” It’s not ok however to allow your tenants to take advantage of your generosity.

Security deposits

Another very common landlord tenant dispute: security deposits. All of the disputes concern a tenant disagreeing with what the landlord considers “damages.”

The landlord has every right to deduct the costs and expenses of unpaid rent owed, repaired items due to damage by the tenant, cleaning the unit or storing tenants belongings from the security deposit. In California, the landlord has 21 days to either

  • Return the security deposit in its entirety.
  • A detailed itemized list of any deductions as well as a letter explaining why the landlord is retaining part or all of the security deposit along with any remaining balance.

Pet deposits

A landlord has the right to hold a “pet deposit” during a tenancy. Pet deposits in California can be a little tricky though, since California law sees any type of “deposits” as a regular security deposit. This means that the landlord is limited to how much they can hold as a security deposit.

Example: In California, a landlord can only legally hold 2 months rent as a security deposit. 3 months for furnished rental property. If your rent is $1,000 for an unfurnished apartment, you cannot hold $2,000 as a security deposit PLUS $500 as a pet deposit. The maximum you can hold is $2,000. Period.

It’s advised to never stipulate a “Pet Deposit” amount in your lease, since you can get the short end of the stick at the end of a lease.

Let’s say you stipulate $1,500 as a regular security deposit plus $500 pet deposit. Your tenant skips out on the last month’s rent and leaves extensive damages behind but they weren’t caused by their pet. You are legally required to return the $500 held as “pet deposit” since their pet didn’t actually cause the damages.

Any “pet deposit” held must adhere to regular security deposit rules and cannot be held as a “non refundable” deposit.

Plus, the landlord has every legal right to pet restrictions. Landlords can restrict a dog breed, size and weight. They can allow any dog and not allow cats altogether.

As you can see, there are many ins and outs to holding “pet deposits” or any other type of specific deposits. Things can get even trickier when it comes to emotional animals. They can quickly become a common landlord tenant dispute since there is a lot of gray area there.

Property damages

It’s a good idea to specifically outline what is considered normal wear vs damages caused by the tenant or their guests. Provide an itemized list of tenant responsibilities such as:

  • Keeping the rental in sanitary conditions.
  • Frequently removing trash and waste from the rental unit.
  • Helping maintain common areas clean and free of dangerous debris.

To avoid potential issues when a tenant moves out, it’s a good idea to implement move in and move out inspection checklists. You can have the tenant physically walk with you and check off common problematic areas such as bathroom bath areas, kitchens and heavy traffic areas.

Once the tenant is ready to move out, you can do your inspection again but this time pointing out areas that need attention and what you could potentially consider as “damage”.

Habitability issues

By law, the tenant has a right to habitable premises. This means that the landlord is required to provide clean and sanitary premises, along with making timely repairs, correct defective conditions, and comply with safety and health codes for rental units.

Habitability issues is a common landlord tenant dispute because landlords think their rental unit is in habitable conditions while tenants believe it’s not. Believe it or not, HUD has a fairly easy to follow guide on what they consider habitable.

Safety disclosures

California requires landlords to make specific disclosures if the rental property warrants them. There are Federal, State and Local disclosures landlords have to consider. Some of the more common disclosures that must be made to California tenants include:

  • Mold
  • Lead based paints
  • Certain death in units
  • Methamphetamine contaminations
  • Flooding and much more

Failing to disclose the proper notice to your tenants can cause not only legal issues but it can also lead to a lot of tension between you and your tenant and cause disputes. It is important that you consider the safety of your tenants and their family.

Right to repairs

Tenants often make the mistake of thinking their landlords want to pry in and encroach on their privacy. Landlords should make it a business policy to inspect their rental property at least once a month to make sure tenants aren’t doing anything that violates the lease and or illegal. This also provides a perfect opportunity to take care of any repairs and maintenance that your rental may need.

Sometimes, however, there are tenants who will not allow a landlord in to make the repairs or make it extremely difficult. A landlord has a right to enter their rental property and make repairs to ensure the habitability of their rental.

Tenants breaking the lease

Another common landlord tenant dispute is when the tenant breaks the lease. This can cause a number of issues for the landlord such as having to turn over a rental when not expected, having to find new tenants, pay overdue bills and more.

Abandoning a lease has serious consequences that a lot of tenants don’t fully understand that can cause common landlord tenant disputes. Depending on the verbiage on the lease, the landlord can use the deposit to cover the costs of replacing the tenant who abandoned or broke their lease.

Communication is the easiest way to avoid the most common landlord tenant disputes. If you make it a habit of making sure you properly communicate with your tenant, you can avoid potential stress on your relationship with your tenant. Happy tenants equal happy landlords which equals longer and stress free tenancies. Landlords should view their tenants as their customers and put them first to make sure your business is successful.