Landlord And Tenant Disputes Without Court Action

Landlord and tenant disputes can be settled without court action. Here are some tips on settling rental disagreements peacefully.

Perhaps few professional or personal relationships ever rival landlord/tenant in terms of complexity and personal involvement. Most of us base our identity partially on our living arrangements, making the relationship between landlord and tenant even more critical. As renters, we want security and a sense of ownership when we rent an apartment. As landlords, we may want financial security or a sense of respect from our tenants. Both sides have certain expectations from the other, and occasionally conflicts arise when these expectations are not met. There are legal courses of action that can be taken to settle these conflicts, but these solutions can prove to be costly and more 'final' than either side really wanted. Eviction procedures can be financially and emotionally draining, while small claims court cases can actually damage the landlord/tenant relationship even further.

So how can tenants and landlords settle minor disputes without resorting to legal action? Remember these three "C's": Concede, Compromise, and Change.

1. Concede. Many landlord-tenant disputes arise over perceived violations of the rules. If a landlord has enacted a strict 'No Pets' policy, for example, he doesn't expect to see evidence of a pet in a tenant's apartment. Confronting the tenant may lead to a conflict that takes on a life of its own. The tenant may feel that his or her privacy has been violated. Both sides may feel strongly about their position, causing even more of a rift. In this case, concession may be your only recourse as a tenant. There were rules posted by your landlord which you agreed to follow to the best of your ability. By violating one of these rules, you reliquished quite a bit of leverage in your argument. In order to restore peace with your landlord, concede the pet issue and make alternative arrangements for your pet's care. You might also offer to pay for any damages your pet may have incurred.

Concession is the best route when you know deep down that you have indeed crossed over a line that was clearly drawn at the time you signed the lease. Swallow your pride and agree to turn down the stereo or get rid of an unauthorized animal or restore the walls to their original color. If you feel that a certain rule violates your rights as an adult, bring that issue up at a tenant's meeting or in a private meeting with your landlord. At the time of the infraction, however, your best bet is to concede the point and allow the landlord's focus to move elsewhere.

2. Compromise. Occasionally, a dispute between landlord and tenant falls into a gray area. As a tenant, you may not have violated the precise wording of a rule but the landlord may feel you broke the spirit of the rule. You may be asked to stop repair work on a vehicle, for example, because the rules clearly state that vehicles not in running condition are not allowed on the property. You may argue that the necessary repairs would not take longer than an hour to perform, then the vehicle would be in proper running order. Both sides have a valid point, but who should prevail? Rather than take such a minor dispute to court or take drastic action, you should explore a compromise. You might agree to have the vehicle towed off the property for repairs if you are not finished in a reasonable amount of time. The landlord may agree to those terms and grant an exception.

Compromise works best when there is no clear sign of wrongdoing on either side. If there is no rule specifying pet ownership responsibility but your dog destroys the landlord's landscaping, you should compromise on the cost of repairing the damage. It may not be worth escalating the conflict past the original situation. As a tenant, you can still bargain from a position of strength when compromising. Keep the suggested compromise on a 'win-win' level, making the solution as fair for both sides as possible. Compromising out of court may actually help you if your stance is weak, because a court may not see the same gray areas that you do. Court proceedings favor clearcut evidence such as leases and contracts over 'situational ethics' arguments, so out-of-court settlements can be your best bet.

3. Change. Sometimes there are disputes between landlords and tenants that cannot be solved without a major court action or eviction proceedings. Rent payments may be in serious arrears, or living conditions have become unsanitary or intolerable. Any hope of reconciling the differences amicably are fading fast. The situation between landlord and tenant couldn't possibly get any worse. What do you do now? Change your circumstances. You don't want to wait until a deputy sheriff serves eviction papers on you to take action. Make every effort to find alternative housing and move out. If you're a landlord being forced to take drastic action, take it swiftly and without compromise. The sooner you can change your situation for the better, the better off you'll be. Eviction proceedings usually take at least 3 months to implement, and by that time your property may be reduced to rubble. No matter which side of the fence you are on, the best possible solution outside of legal action is to just change tactics.

As a landlord, you may want to change your policies to avoid future conflicts. As long as your policies do not violate a prospective tenant's civil rights, you can impose rules that protect your property and your rights as an owner.

As a tenant, you may want to change your own expectations from landlords in order to maintain civil relations. Be honest about your lifestyle choices. If you prefer a more exciting, youth-oriented environment, don't bother trying to move into a quiet apartment complex consisting of older tenants. Avoid conflicts before they even have a chance to start. Establish a good rapport with your landlord from the start. Don't allow minor differences to become major conflicts.

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