A Landlord's Guide to Conflict Resolution with Tenants

Dominique Swanson

By Dominique Swanson

Mar 19, 2024

Dealing with difficult tenants is an inevitable part of owning or managing a rental property — whether your resident is upset with a maintenance issue, is late on rent payments, or has a complaint about other residents living on the property. When complaints come up, it’s important that you resolve them fairly and professionally, maintaining a positive tenant-landlord relationship.

In this article, we present a landlord’s guide for resolving conflicts to help you through your next resident complaint.

Understand the Resident’s Perspective

The first step to resolving tenant disputes is understanding the tenant’s side of the story as well as your own. Financial difficulties, miscommunication, personal problems, and dissatisfaction with their living environment can all escalate a resident's frustration. Approaching each situation with empathy and a willingness to address issues is crucial to de-escalating a situation.

If a renter comes to you with a history of being unhappy in their home, it may aggravate the issue further, since the negative experience expectation has already been set. Think of the three-to-one positivity ratio, which says it takes three positive interactions to overcome one negative. Say a tenant had issues with their keys moving in, were unhappy with the condition of their home, and felt that you or your employees were rude in an interaction. To overcome these three negative interactions, you’d need to then have nine positive ones. When you fail to overcome those negatives, a tenant may expect every interaction to be negative, which may make them more likely to escalate a potential conflict from the beginning.

Now that you understand the factors that play a role in a resident’s behavior, let’s review conflict resolution strategies you can implement to help maintain positive landlord-tenant relationships.

Practice Effective Communication

Being proactive with communication by reaching out and responding to tenants in a timely and professional manner is a crucial step in the resolution process. Nobody wants to feel as if you are ignoring them or tiptoeing around their complaint. If you are honest and prioritize open communication, even if just to inform a tenant that you do not yet have a resolution but are seeking to find one, you are much more likely to foster trust and cooperation. There are two major areas where communication breakdowns occur: lack of communication and rude communication.

  1. All property owners know that not every resident complaint can be resolved in a business day. In fact, some issues can take several days or even weeks, especially if they relate to property maintenance. However, residents typically do not know what to expect in terms of timeline unless they are specifically made aware. For example, if a resident’s appliance stops working and you have to order a new part that will take several weeks to arrive, then frustration may occur after a few days with no resolution. Simply informing the tenant that the part has been ordered and then setting clear expectations around the repair can help deflate any tension before it starts to bubble up.
  2. Often, it isn’t what we say, but how we say it that can escalate a tenant conflict. Maintaining a respectful and professional tone is important for all interactions. In fact, a study shows that more residents find that landlords who are rude, especially about maintenance issues, are bad landlords.

Escalation can easily be avoided just by ensuring you are maintaining appropriate, open lines of communication with your tenant regarding their complaint. Remain calm, polite, and to the point. Remember to treat everyone with the same level of courtesy to uphold fair housing laws, which protect tenants from landlord discrimination. 

Get Complaints in Writing

Keeping thorough documentation of tenant interactions, especially concerning complaints, helps serve as a factual basis for future reference and legal issues. Our memories are not perfect, and oftentimes tenants and landlords or property managers experience interactions differently — especially if tensions are high. If a resident comes to you with a complaint, take notes or ask that the resident follow up with an email. Make sure you follow up all phone or in-person communication with an email. Once a resolution has been reached, document that in writing so there is no disputing the timeline of events or what was communicated. This is especially important in case a tenant pursues legal action. Documentation on landlord-tenant disputes can be invaluable in court cases, especially if the case is dependent on a claim that is exaggerated or not true. 

Enforce the Lease

While your lease does not supersede local, state, or federal laws about tenant’s rights, it is a contractual agreement that you and a tenant go into that both parties must adhere to. If there are rules clearly stated in your lease that refer to the complaint, like fees for late rent, then you should refer your tenant to the obligations and responsibilities in their lease agreement. Clearly outline the lease terms related to rent, maintenance, noise, pets, security deposits and property damage, use of common areas, and other addendums or provisions. Renters should know going into an agreement that lease violations during a tenancy can be grounds for extra fees or evictions.

Offer Resolutions 

Finding ways to compromise with tenants without breaching the lease agreement or fair housing laws can help maintain a positive relationship between you and your resident. Present all options available to the resident and allow them to decide which works best for them. For example, if a tenant is experiencing a roommate conflict, you may want to offer them multiple avenues such as transferring the lease, subleasing their room, or offering to be a neutral third party while mediating between them and their roommate. If a tenant communicates that they may be late on rent and you are unable to waive their late fees, consider entering into a payment agreement with them before filing for eviction. Finding mutually beneficial solutions will be worth it in the long run; at the end of the day, no one wants to find new tenants when they don’t have to.

The Bottom Line 

Dispute resolution with difficult tenants requires a combination of effective communication, documentation, and adherence to legal obligations. When you approach each situation with professionalism, fairness, and empathy, it is easier to maintain positive relationships and come to resolutions. Successful conflict resolution is mutually beneficial for you and your residents, contributing to the overall success of your rental community.

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