How To Effectively Handle Landlord-Tenant Disputes

For most landlords, dealing with tenant disputes is at the top of their list of most hated things to do. Most of us don’t seek conflict or enjoy dealing with it, but resolving problems is an inevitable part of life. That said, when dealing with tenants, the majority of disputes can either be avoided entirely or mitigated before the argument reaches court.

Without a doubt, for a landlord the best place to start resolving tenant disputes is before the lease is signed. Perform your due diligence on all potential renters. Reviewing their credit and rental histories will often tell you all you need to know.

If your prospective tenant has been a problem for others, he will likely be a problem for you. You must be objective and always follow Federal and State laws as they apply to fair rental practices, but if a prospective tenant has a history of not paying his bills and has been evicted twice before, you very likely have solid legal grounds not to lease your residential real estate property to him.

Most of the time, disputes between landlords and tenants involve standard issues. While personalities definitely come into play, the core subject matter is often the same.

Here’s a shortlist of the top three landlord-tenant dispute issues and how to avoid them:

Security Deposits. Your lease should require tenants to leave your rental property in good condition. Best practice is to require all tenants to pay a security deposit when the lease is signed. This deposit is returned if, when they leave the property, it is clean and undamaged (normal wear and tear are excluded).

I wrote a blog article on this topic about one year ago – NY Security Deposit Laws. Nothing has fundamentally changed in Landlord-Tenant law since this article was written, other than the COVID created non-eviction restraints now in place on a State and Federal level.

Property Maintenance. Properly maintaining a residential real estate property is the tenant’s right and the landlord’s responsibility. As a responsible landlord, any required maintenance that immediately impacts your tenant’s health and safety must be resolved quickly. Maintenance emergencies include things like a tree falling and opening a hole in the roof, a home heating system failing in the winter, or a broken water heater that has flooded a basement.

Lesser maintenance issues can often create a dispute with a landlord. An example here might be a tenant’s belief (in his opinion only) or based on a verbal “promise” made by the landlord, that new flooring or fresh paint is required for the property. What’s the best way to keep these small issues from becoming a larger dispute? Effective communication and good business practices.

Don’t make written or verbal promises on upgrades to your rental property that you do not intend on keeping promptly. Do have a reasonable plan to upgrade appliances, flooring, paint, etc., over time. Share this general plan with your tenants, leaving yourself plenty of flexibility on what is to be done. Completion dates should always be targeted, tentative objectives.

Subletting Policies. We live in the age of Airbnb. There has been extensive media coverage about Airbnb and New York City rental laws. In Westchester County, there are no legal prohibitions in place to prevent tenants of a single-family, residential home from renting the house out short term through Airbnb.

If you don’t want to see your rental property listed on Airbnb and occupied by a series of short-term strangers, then be sure to have a rock-solid no subletting clause in your lease agreement.

Across the United States, this is becoming a larger problem for landlords. Some articles and studies suggest that the no subletting clause is a rule that tenants often break. Why? It can be quite lucrative to rent out a residence for days or a couple of weeks at a time, especially when special events in the area create a surge in short term rental demand.

While it seems obvious, it bears repeating – treating tenants fairly and communicating with them regularly is the most effective way to prevent any disputes. Remember that you have a lease for many reasons, but first and foremost, the lease is in place to protect your rights, and your tenant’s rights, in your business relationship.

Don’t sign templated, “boiler-plate” property lease forms without reading them carefully and thinking through the real-world impact of what you agree to do. Both you and your tenant will have to live up to the terms as written in your lease.

Clients use Sterling Property Solutions for many reasons, but near the top of that list is their desire not to directly deal with tenants’ complaints and disputes. Our landlords have satisfied tenants who live up to the terms of their rental agreements through our professionalism and good practices.

If you’re a landlord and no longer have the time or desire to handle rental property management on your own, we can help. Maybe your current property management company is not giving you the top tier service you deserve. If so, reach out. We are there for you.

Please give me a ring at 914-355-3277 or send me an email at [email protected]. Together, let’s form a plan for you to take full advantage of the current conditions and put in place a robust, long term program for your success.