Conflict is inevitable in the best of times and the easiest of circumstances. Human beings interacting with other human beings are going to run up against misunderstandings, differing needs, and clashing expectations. Now consider that we’re living in a time of incredible disruptions—job losses, financial insecurity, climate change impacts on our environment, and Covid to name a few. You can count on increased conflict in times and situations of heightened stress.
It is no surprise then that property disputes, including between tenants and landlords, are way up. Shelter is a fundamental human need and renting out shelter happens to be your livelihood, making open disagreements over some aspect of your tenant’s home especially nerve-wracking.
Take a deep breath and read on. There are proven ways to work through such problems, whether you’re in the hot seat (your tenant thinks you owe them something), your tenant broke a deal, you’re both a bit to blame, or it’s not an issue of anyone “at fault.”
Top Ways to Resolve Your Property Dispute with a Tenant
Know what you want. Before you can solve your problem, you have to know what it is! Get clear and specific in your mind about your concern and what you want from your tenant. What will it look like to have this issue resolved? As you sort this out, know everything that matters to you and make sure your facts are straight. Leave out the rest.
Review your documents. Read and know exactly what’s in any relevant documents and prior written exchanges (emails, letters). The lease. Posted building regulations. Anything you and/or your tenant have put in writing. Your landlord’s insurance policy. What have you agreed to? What have they agreed to? What portions are relevant to the conflict at hand?
Do a reality check. Consider two things as you move forward with this process: 1) Your tenant’s perspective—what does this dispute look like from their vantage point? and 2) What are the financial and emotional costs of various outcomes? An amicable compromise? Legal involvement? Having an apartment vacant for an indefinite period?
Generate some options. Is there more than one solution that can get you what you want or close? Do some brainstorming alone or with allies. Say that your tenant is late—again—with the rent, but they are otherwise a good tenant. You have a little bit of a financial cushion and flexibility, but not much. Possible solutions in this situation, for example, could be letting your tenant out of the lease without penalty, allowing them to pay late just one more time, deferring payment, negotiating a temporary rent reduction, agreeing to use the security deposit for this month’s rent, having them work off part of the rent doing site maintenance and repairs, or permitting them to find another renter to take over their lease.
Mind your mindset. Start with the belief that you can work out your dispute and grant the other side the benefit of the doubt. Remember that we are all living through crazy times. Trust in your joint ability to stay calm, talk it through, collaborate on a mutually satisfying resolution, and maintain a friendly or friendly enough relationship. It won’t always work, but the positive approach can go far and often does help patch things up.
Talk to your tenant. Speak to your tenant about the matter, human to human, whether on the phone or in person. Plan what you want to say in advance; put yourself in a calm, solution-oriented state of mind; and prepare to stay strong about what you want and flexible in how that may come about.
Contact your tenant in writing. You communicate better in writing. Your tenant is a hard person to talk to or get ahold of. There are a lot of details you want to share, including documents. You want to start a paper trail. There are lots of good reasons to put your requests and concerns in writing to initiate the problem-solving process.
File a suit in small claims court. If a tenant owes you money and you’ve tried unsuccessfully to collect it from them, consider taking them to small claims court if the amount in question is under $10,000. Filing a small claims complaint typically costs $30–$150, depending on your state and the amount in question. Keep in mind that taking a tenant to court will likely end your relationship, and a unit may sit empty for weeks or months while you go through the process of finding another occupant.
Connect with your local mediation center. Find your local mediation center or association through an internet search. They’ll be able to put you in touch with a professional mediator, someone trained to facilitate conversations that aim to resolve conflicts to both sides’ satisfaction. This is almost always cheaper than hiring a lawyer, which can run you $200–$400/hour. Learn more about mediation at Mediate.com, the world’s leading mediation website.
Take your dispute virtual with MediationExpress. This new mediation service specializes in quick, easy, affordable resolutions of property disputes. An expert mediator meets with you individually and confidentially for 30 minutes to hear your side of the story, then meets with your tenant individually for 30 minutes to hear their side (if they agree to mediation), and then jointly with both of you for 30 minutes to discuss ways of solving your disagreement. Learn more at MediationExpress.com.
Sharon Woodhouse is an M.A. student in the Communication Department of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, also finishing a graduate certificate in Mediation and Negotiation. She has been studying mediation and peacemaking off and on since the late 1980s. In between, she founded a book publishing company (Everything Goes Media, LLC)… MORE >
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