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.
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.
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.
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.
Prevention is always the best cure. Remember to screen residents carefully before they sign a lease. This should weed out the troublemakers. 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!