As a landlord, it’s easy to think that the hardest part of your job is finding people who will live in your rental properties. That is a big part of it, but don’t overlook the issues that can come up with established tenants. As a landlord, sometimes you also have to try and mediate conflicts that arise between tenants who live in close proximity to one another. Some of these conflicts will be fairly easy, while others will be more complex. Be careful to avoid doing anything that makes the problem worse or gets you into legal hot water.
Get to Know Your Tenants
The best thing you can do to resolve a conflict is to develop a relationship with your tenants that predates any conflicts. You should take a genuine interest in the people you’re renting to, and that means talking to them occasionally and seeing how their life is going. That doesn’t mean you have to invite them to Thanksgiving dinner, since that might be a little too much closeness, but you can try to forge a genuine connection with your tenants from the moment they fill out a rental application. Don’t invade their privacy by, for instance, asking about something that came up on the free tenant screening that they had to pass before getting cleared to rent from you. If it’s not an eviction or criminal record or something else that disqualifies them, it’s not worth bringing up. Don’t say, “Oh, I went to the same high school as you!” if they’ve never brought up their alma mater. That just risks creeping them out and making them wonder what else you know about them, and you also risk violating privacy laws if you misuse certain data.
But, if they list a pet on their rental application, it’s fair to ask a few general questions about the pet. “How long have you had Baxter?” is fair game, since most people love to talk about their pets. Heck, people even love to talk to their pets. Build a foundation of knowledge that you can call on later when you need it. For instance, when they call to schedule repairs to their kitchen, you can call back to their pets by saying. “Will Baxter have any problems with the repairman coming in?” Your tenant will be happy that you remembered the name of their dog, and you can get critical information about whether or not you should ask your tenant to put their dog in another room while the repairman works. Similarly, if you stop by their apartment and notice canvas prints of your tenants on their wedding day, it’s more than OK to say something like, “That’s a great photo. When did you get married?” If someone puts up a photo of something, they’re usually signaling that they don’t mind talking about it.
A warm, or at least cordial, personal relationship helps even more when something has gone wrong. It can’t fix everything, but it can help de-escalate a stressful situation. Let’s say that Sue in Apartment B is upset because Dan in Apartment D keeps playing loud polka music late at night. Sue has a right to be upset, as tenants generally have a right to something called quiet enjoyment. That generally means the landlord can’t do things like knock on the door at midnight and demand to inspect the apartment, and it also means that a landlord has to address disruptive conduct by other tenants.
People who live in apartments also need to have reasonable expectations. Getting mad because your upstairs neighbors are walking around the living room at 5 p.m. isn’t reasonable, but if they’re blasting loud music during posted quiet hours, that’s an issue that has to be addressed. Make sure you know plenty about state and local laws that affect renters and landlords. If you don’t, consult a local attorney who does. Consider what kind of solution will be most effective. You may have the right to call the cops on polka-playing Dan, but in many cases, a simple conversation with Dan about keeping it down will be more effective.
Photo by Francesca Saraco
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