Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends?
Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends?
I often find myself singing this classic 1975 R&B song when I’m around people who aren’t getting along. But when a landlord is stuck between tenants who can’t get along, you need to be prepared with more than just song lyrics. When tenants become entangled in a dispute it can disrupt the tranquility of all your residents. Unhappy residents won’t stick around for long, and that can have a real impact on your bottom line. Although you may properly screen your residents, there are just some people that are more prone to argument and complain.
Being caught in the middle is never easy, but there are steps you can take as a landlord to try and mitigate the conflict calmly. These steps include opting for neutrality, having respect for both parties, and looking to prevent arguments before they arise.
Neutrality is key
Start by hearing out all of the residents involved. Collect as much information as possible so that you really understand the facts of the matter. This will help you get to the underlying cause of the problem.
If you find that one resident is doing something in violation of their lease – like leaving rubbish in the common areas or renting their unit out on Airbnb without your permission – then the case is pretty cut and dry. Now that this behavior has been brought to your attention, you should follow an appropriate course of action (whether fining the tenant or otherwise) as you would if there was no tenant dispute. Ideally, this will stop the behavior and restore the peace among neighbors.
But perhaps the case isn’t so straightforward. Maybe there’s no clear “at fault” party. In this situation, consider a compromise that offers something up to both sides. For instance, maybe one resident is annoyed that the other resident always has her boyfriend over and using the visitor parking space that’s supposed to be available to all residents’ guests. There’s no policy that states the boyfriend can’t use the parking space, but if he’s parked there 24/7, it doesn’t leave room for other residents’ guests. A solution in this case might be to limit any one visitor from using the parking space for more than three days per week. This would encourage turnover at the parking space, but would still allow the boyfriend to visit frequently. It is important for the landlord to be respectful to both sides, yet eliminate the problem.
Be Respectful of Both Sides
Sometimes there’s no easy remedy, or the dispute has bubbled up to a point where you don’t feel like you can resolve the problem on your own. This happens all the time, so you’re not alone! In situations like these, don’t hesitate to call in a professional. There are mediation services that specialize in resolving tenant disputes.
One of our go-to resources is the team over at SEEDS Community Resolution Center. The mediation company is based in Berkeley but will work with landlords and residents throughout the Bay Area. SEEDS’ trained, impartial mediators don’t pick sides or decide who’s right or wrong. Instead, they create an environment that makes it easier for the parties to communicate and then helps guide the residents to a mutually-agreeable resolution. And it works: an estimated 75-80% of SEEDS cases end with a satisfactory resolution for all.
And that’s really all you want – to end the conflict peacefully in a way that works for everyone. The worst case scenario is evicting an unruly tenant. It’s expensive for you as a landlord, takes time, and can add fuel to the fire between residents already at war with one another. It’s always better to nip conflicts in the bud before they reach that point.
How Can you Handle Resident Conflict Should it Occur?
If and when resident conflict does arise, there are steps you can take to mitigate the issues. You can hope that the tenants solve the issues on their own, or you can step in and assist with the conflict, following these steps.
1. Hear them out
First things first, hear out both sides of the story equally. Contact the residents in conflict separately and listen to their stories. Most of the time, people just want to be heard. This idea can be extended to your rental property residents as well. Take the time to listen, ask questions, and work towards a resolution.
2. Make both parties aware of the complaint
If one resident has made the complain, ensure that the other resident in question is aware of the complaint. It is important here to be neutral, provide the facts and work towards a resolution. Do not throw the tenant who had complained under the bus, this might make the situation worse. Be clear about what the residing issue is and don't focus on who had complained. Only share names if completely necessary.
3. Find a resolution
Once you have heard both sides, looped in all necessary parties and got to the bottom of the details, it is not your responsibility to figure out a solution to the problem. You may need to send out a letter or email to all of your tenants reminding them of lease agreement rules. Maybe you will need to implement new rules if the issue is problematic enough. Or possibly, there was simply a misunderstanding and the two residents just need to have a face to face conversation. This part of the process will be determined by what the issue is and how you plan to fix it.
Professional property management companies deal with these issues on a daily basis and have best practices to implement to deal with conflicting residents.
Prevention is always the best cure.
Remember to screen residents carefully before they sign a lease. This should weed out the troublemakers. If this tactic proves to be unsuccessful, you can also prevent issues by setting clear expectation with residents in the lease agreement before they move in to your property. To go one step further, reviewing these specific rules and recommendations with them in person can help to assure your guidelines are being met.
What should you include in the lease agreement to prevent conflict among residents? It would be beneficial to outline quiet hours in the unit, appropriate behavior in common areas & spaces, rules on guests, pet outlines, and so on. There are also some states with laws surrounding this idea. This is known as the right to peaceful or quiet enjoyment, meaning residents should be able to live in their unit free from unreasonable disturbances.
When in doubt, hire a responsible property management company to help you find rock star residents. It could save you – and your other residents! – painful headaches down the road!