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Landlord-Tenant Disputes: How to Handle Them

As a landlord, it’s inevitable that at some point, disagreements with tenants will arise, regardless of your best efforts. However, most tenant-landlord disputes can be resolved amicably, ensuring satisfaction for both parties. Being proactive and keeping open lines of communication can allows you to address issues before they become real problems, while minimizing the chances of costly and time-consuming court proceedings. Here are some insights to guide you.

Know the law: Massachusetts landlord tenant laws

There’s more to being a landlord than you might think. First of all, knowing the law that’s relevant to you as a landlord will often enable you to handle disputes or issues with tenants even before they’ve actually begun. Knowing the law begins with ensuring your property is ready for tenants. Many of the requirements for rental properties are set forth in the Massachusetts Sanitary Code. Make sure you review the latest edition which was published in April 2023 and is the first-time substantial changes have been made since 1994. Key changes include provisions dealing with a landlord’s right to access, hot water, obligations regarding refrigerators, pest control, and much more.

After getting an apartment ready for rent, be sure you are complying with the requirements around tenant applications and screening. Fair housing, credit reporting, and background checks are all areas where you should be familiar with before beginning to seek tenants.

As every landlord knows, Massachusetts has some of the most complex and stringent laws when it comes to landlord tenant relationships. A good example is the security deposit law which regulates nearly every detail of how a landlord much handle a security deposit and last month’s rent. There are plenty of traps for the unwary. Another example is the lead paint laws. Renting an apartment (if built prior to 1978) without knowing the status of lead paint is extremely risky for a landlord, and is certainly not recommended.

Maintaining documentation is key and can be invaluable, not just in the unfortunate event of legal proceedings but also as a persuasive tool. It can demonstrate to problematic tenants that justice favors your stance, potentially dissuading them from pursuing a court resolution if the situation warrants it.

You’re the landlord so be professional

Apart from knowing the law, the most important piece of advice that we can give you when it’s time to handle issues or disputes with tenants is – stay calm, cool, and professional. Even if you have justified reason(s) to get angry, screaming in rage and acting emotionally won’t do you any good. What’s more, always being professional can also acquire you new customers if you’re renting additional properties. After moving from one city to another in Massachusetts, for example, your possible tenants won’t only be looking for a nice place to stay, but also a place that comes with a highly professional landlord. Remember, it is not just tenants who get reference checked.

Generally speaking, no matter how unreasonable the tenant is, it is always best to try working together in order to find the solution to the problem. In this section, we’ll address a few things to have in mind in this regard.

Listen carefully to all tenant complaints

Sometimes, some landlords may dismiss their tenants’ complaints even before actually listening and getting to the bottom of the problem. At times, landlords might overlook their tenants’ concerns without genuinely understanding the root of the issue. This oversight can lead them to mistakenly believe that their tenants are merely overreacting and that there isn’t a genuine problem.

To clarify with an example: Imagine your tenant reports a leak in their bathroom. If you’re already aware of a leak that occurs during rain, you might naturally assume this is the issue they’re referencing. However, the actual concern might be a broken pipe in the bathroom that requires immediate attention. Without further inquiry, you might mistakenly attribute their complaint to the rain-related leak, leading to a potential misunderstanding that could escalate into a dispute.

As a landlord be easily accessible and quick to reply

A hallmark of a proficient landlord is their accessibility and openness to communication.

This doesn’t imply that you should immediately address every issue, especially if you have pressing commitments. Instead, assess the urgency of the situation and prioritize. Issues like broken front door locks and leaks demand immediate attention, whereas minor concerns like faulty cabinet handles can be addressed later.

Handle disputes with tenants by using legal counseling

If other resolutions prove ineffective, you may need to consider legal action or engage lawyers to facilitate an agreement before resorting to court proceedings. In many situations these disputes can be  managed in small claims court which a more cost-effective option.

However, whenever a situation rises to the level of requiring legal action  it’s crucial to engage a lawyer well-versed in relevant housing laws and experienced in handling similar cases. This is also when the comprehensive documentation we emphasized earlier becomes invaluable, potentially even persuading the tenant to reconsider pursuing the case.

In conclusion, while the landlord-tenant relationship is not without its challenges, a proactive and understanding approach can pave the way for harmonious interactions. By anticipating potential issues and being well-prepared, landlords can navigate disputes effectively, fostering mutual respect and understanding. This not only enhances the relationship but also reduces the likelihood of protracted legal battles. Embracing these insights can lead to a more positive and collaborative rental experience for all involved.