Proactively preventing disputes with tenants
As they say, prevention is the best cure, and the most effective way to protect yourself is to be aware of all the laws that impact you as a landlord. Stay abreast on the changes by reading the news, government advisories, and blogs such as this one, and be sure to incorporate any new rules or guidelines into your rental agreements. Keeping your tenants informed and happy can not only prevent disputes but also ensure longer-lasting tenants, preventing gaps in occupancy and losses of revenue.
The big offenders
Unfortunately, in spite of your best efforts at prevention, there’s a good chance disagreements and disputes will occur. The majority of disputes between landlords and tenants occur in one or more of the following categories:
Including late payments, non-payment, and amounts and increases, rent is one of the biggest sources of conflict between landlords and tenants. While your tenancy agreement will describe the consequences of non-payment, immediately calling your solicitor when the rent doesn’t arrive might not be the ideal course of action. Are there ways to communicate with your tenants that don’t involve eviction?
Your tenancy agreement should make it 100 percent clear which bills are the tenant’s responsibility to pay in full. However, a dispute can occur when a tenant might change service providers without offering notice, a tenant moves out without paying, or the splitting of bills among tenants in a multi-occupancy building. One option to consider is creating a rental agreement that has utilities included, where the landlord will incur the cost of payment for a higher agreed rent.
Pets and other lease violations:
If the contract does not explicitly prohibit pets, then you will have trouble enforcing a no-pet policy if your tenant suddenly gets a cat or dog. Written terms in the tenancy agreement are always better than a verbal acknowledgement. But if you do discover a pet or other lease violation on the property, negotiating with the tenant might be a better solution than eviction.
This might include damp, where poor heating and improper ventilation can lead to wetness, peeling and cracking in walls, and mildew and mould. You might also have to deal with property damage, whether caused by the tenant or not, and blocked and clogged drains. The question of which party is responsible for these issues is one of the biggest sources of disputes.
Remember, it is usually the responsibility of the landlord to ensure the prevention of health-related hazards. To protect yourself, know your lease or tenancy agreement inside and out, and make sure you are doing your due diligence in keeping your tenants safe.
Should prevention fail, you might find yourself in the middle of a dispute with one of your tenants. Keep the following strategies in mind.
Don’t let tempers flare.
The worst thing you can do is to let your emotions take control and to let things get personal. Remind yourself that this is a business venture and that sometimes there are issues. Maintaining a civil, calm demeanour even when the tenant is losing their composure will go a long way toward finding a resolution.
Even before a disagreement becomes a dispute, keeping records of all communications with tenants and maintaining a proper paper trail will save you hassle in the end. File or retain all correspondence, including emails, texts and WhatApp messages. Going one step further and having a file for each tenant will provide an extra layer of security should the matter ever be taken to court.
Meet tenants face to face.
Sometimes things like tone and context are lost in written correspondence, especially when it comes to emails and instant messages. Having a face-to-face meeting with your tenant can be a good opportunity for both parties to air grievances in a comfortable, safe location such as a coffee shop or diner. In all instances, be sure to remain calm and professional even if the tenant is heated.
Don’t underestimate the power of compromise.
Stubbornly sticking to your guns and refusing to give in the slightest might not get you anywhere. Is there an area of the dispute where you would not be too hurt if you made some concessions?
If the dispute is still not going away, before you take things to court, consider hiring a professional mediator or using a mediation service. A neutral third party may be able to show both sides that there are ways to resolve the crisis without things escalating further and winding up in court.
When desperate, hire a specialist.
While the majority of landlord and tenant disputes can and should be resolved without the involvement of the courts, a solicitor who specialises in tenancy law can be your secret weapon. Even outside of a matter going to tribunal, the expert advice of a skilled solicitor may convince the tenant they are in the wrong or that they are in over their head. A talented specialist solicitor might be expensive, but hiring someone without the right skills could be downright costly.
While maintaining an open dialogue, being professional and communicative, and having a clear and protective rental agreement all go a long way in preventing a tenant dispute from occurring, it’s important to protect yourself. Handling disagreements and disputes smartly can turn an angry tenant into a happy one that rents for years to come.