If you are a Baltimore County landlord, you understand that sometimes the hardest part of owning rentals is dealing with tenants.
Your tenants may be renting your property, but they have made your property their home.
It’s understandable that from time-to-time conflicts will arise.
The biggest mistake in dealing with tenant issues is to not have a plan.
7 Ways to Resolve Common Tenant Conflicts
Let Your Property Management Company be the Bad Guy
One of the reasons tenant conflicts can be so intense and stressful is that they are so personal. W
hen you take yourself out of the equation, it is easier to solve the problem. A solid Baltimore County property management company will have experience dealing with a range of tenant issues.
Instead of you telling your tenant that they cannot do something, your property management company can be the one to communicate the bad news. The tenant may still be frustrated, but their frustration will not be targeted at you.
When bad news comes from the property management company, it will also seem more official – more like a long-standing policy – and tenants will be less inclined to take the bad news personally. They will also be more likely to accept the decision without any further conflict.
A third way your property management company can be made the bad guy is that you can tell the tenant that you can’t accommodate a particular request because it is against the property management company policy. Most tenants understand being bound by policies.
Solid property management companies provide landlords with many benefits, but one of the biggest emotional benefits they provide is dealing with tenant conflicts.
Keep a Written Record
The human memory is notoriously unreliable. You may think you will never forget what and when a tenant made a ridiculous request, but most likely within just a few days the details of the encounter will fade.
If a tenant conflict ever goes to court or you have to evict a tenant, you will fare much better if you have an accurate set of facts to back up your case.
Keep a written record of tenant conflicts. The record doesn’t have to be fancy. Think of the record as more like a log. Record the date of an incident and a one to two sentence description of what happened. Make sure to record any promises either you or the tenant made.
This record will make it easy to see the evolution of an issue. You can monitor to see if the tenants are keeping their promises, or if you need to do a better job fulfilling your commitments.
If the relationship doesn’t get better and you have to evict a tenant or take other action, having a written record will make it easier to prove your case.
Know Your Rights Under the Lease
The lease contains all of your responsibilities and rights as the landlord.
When dealing with difficult tenants, you need to have a clear understanding of what you can do to protect yourself.
Often landlords only think about their right to evict a tenant who fails to pay their rent, but your lease probably gives you many other rights that can be used to correct tenant behavior and resolve disputes.
The best way to make sure you understand the lease is to consult with an experienced lawyer knowledgeable about landlord issues.
The city of Baltimore and Baltimore County have some specific regulations for rentals that differ from the rest of Maryland. Your property management company should be able to recommend an excellent local lawyer.
Show Empathy, But Stick to Your Guns
People get angry for many different reasons, and not all of them directly relate to the issue at hand. Sometimes tenants just want to know you are listening to them.
Being a successful landlord requires having great customer service skills. This doesn’t mean your tenant is always right, but it does mean you need to show empathy for them.
When dealing with a tenant who is upset about something, you need to listen to their entire story and refrain from interrupting. You need to show them you listened to them and understand they are upset, however, you shouldn’t apologize or back down from your policy or rights under the lease.
You can use phrases like:
- “I understand why you are frustrated. Unfortunately, the policy says ___”
- “I know this is a difficult problem. Here is what I can do.”
Sometimes just acknowledging the situation will help diffuse it.
Give Tenants Choices
Nobody likes to be forced to do something. Sometimes tenant conflicts can be avoided by simply giving the tenant two or three choices. The key is in making sure no matter what the tenant chooses, you can live with the consequences.
This allows the tenant to feel like they got a win and that you respect them. When you control the choices you also get what you want without looking like the enemy. You get to help the tenant solve his or her own problem.
This approach may not work with every issue, but with a little creativity, you will be surprised by how often it can resolve tenant conflicts.
Sometimes no matter what you try, you and your tenants cannot resolve your issues.
If you want to try and save the relationship with your tenant it may be worth involving a mediator.
Baltimore County has many mediators willing to help resolve disputes. A mediator isn’t like a judge. They don’t make decisions. Instead they help the parties come up with solutions to their problems that both sides can live with.
They may also explain how the law impacts the issues in dispute. Each mediator works differently, but all of them are committed to remaining neutral and helping people resolve disputes. When looking for a mediator, try and find one with experience in tenant-landlord issues.
If mediation works out, you can salvage the tenant relationship and avoid a costly court battle. But, if mediation fails, you have not given away any of your rights under the lease and you will have a clearer idea of what kind of case you have.
Set Firm Limits
Tenants may test you to see how much leeway you will give them. When you allow tenants to constantly test you, you open yourself up to a never ending series of conflicts over trivial matters.
The best way to avoid many conflicts is to set firm limits. If the lease forbids something, do not make any exceptions. This will help you treat all tenants equally. You take away the chance for a tenant to argue that you made an exception for someone else and should make an exception for him or her too.
Once tenants learn that you intend to abide by the lease and your policies, they will be less likely to continue to ask for special treatment.
Another way to set firm limits is to establish office hours. You do not have to be available at all hours to deal with every little problem.
Give tenants an after hours number for emergencies where they can leave a message. If you check the messages immediately, you can deal with the true emergencies right away and deal with other issues the next business day during the office hours you have established.
When you have a firm plan in mind of how to prevent and deal with tenant issues, you can make your renters aware of what they should expect prior to even signing the lease. And when tenants know what to expect, there will be fewer conflicts in the future.