Handling a Dispute With Your Landlord

While it likely may not be your aim to become close friends with your landlord, it’s a reasonable goal for both parties (renter and landlord) to maintain a healthy relationship while you rent. Unfortunately, there is a chance that a dispute will arise during your lease, and in order to prevent further issues from happening, a resolving strategy must be put in place.

There are a multitude of paths that one can choose to go down, and some will be more expensive than others. We will look at several potential options for both you and your landlord to take in order to remedy the situation, but first…

Know the laws and your rights

It is not recommended that you meet with your landlord over a dispute before having a full understanding of the laws relating to the dispute in question. If you are unsure, Nolo has an excellent list of renters’ laws by state. Keep in mind that more specific laws might apply to the city or town that you live in. Of course, also give a thorough read-through of your lease agreement.

Going in with a solid understanding of what protects you and what doesn’t can make for a smoother process in working things out with your landlord.

Option 1: Speak Directly With Your Landlord (Cheapest and Most-Suggested)

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Although the scale of the problem must be considered, there’s a good chance that you can simply have a series of conversations with your landlord without having to hire a third-party mediator, arbitrator, or lawyer. This option might seem a little overwhelming depending on your personality, but knowing how to approach your landlord in a dispute is can make all of the difference.

  • Set aside any feelings of frustration and/or animosity towards the landlord, and try to see the situation as objectively as possible. 
  • Calmly contact your landlord concerning the dispute, and state your desire to meet face-to-face in a public environment so that a civil discussion about the manner can be had. 
  • Give the landlord the opportunity to hear his/her side of the dispute, state yours, and see if there is common ground that can be found. 

It is important to handle this option as calmly as possible. When tensions and tempers rise, productive outcomes seldom occur.

Due to the many monetary and temporal expenses involved with bringing in a third party into the mix, it is highly suggested that you and the landlord do everything you can to come to an agreement on your own instead of taking it elsewhere. Depending on how long your landlord has been leasing properties, there’s a good chance that he or she will want to avoid bringing lawyers into the mix as it is.

Option 2: Bring in a Mediator or Arbitrator (Potentially Costly)

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Hiring a mediator is cheaper on average than an attorney, and it’s also a much easier process to go through.  At the same time, it isn’t something that you necessarily want to rush towards if it isn’t completely necessary.

What does a mediator do? He or she is essentially a neutral voice who hears both side of an argument – typically out-of-court – and helps guide disputing parties through the negotiation process. According to Rentalutions, the only document that has to be signed before a mediation session is a confidentiality agreement.

After a mediation session, which could potentially last several days depending on the situation, a Resolution Agreement will be drawn up. This is basically an amendment to the existing lease. Keep in mind that different state laws can come into play when it comes to Resolution Agreements, so responsibilities to adhere by both the tenant and landlord with vary.

Compared to a small claims court, which is often quick-paced and doesn’t exactly give the time for all sides and points to be heard, mediation gives all parties involved a chance. On top of that, the decision in a court lies on a judge, who may or may not give as much attention as a mediator.

Option 3: Small Claims Court (Expensive)

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When you believe your rights as a tenant have been egregiously violated and you see no other pathway towards fixing the problem, the Small Claims Court might be your option to consider. Do keep in mind that this requires lawyers, and you may not have any interest in the expenses involved.

As mentioned above, going to Small Claims Court gives no guarantee that you’ll come out as the winner, no matter how strong your case might be. It’s also important to note that you may have no choice but to go to court if your landlord decides to file a lawsuit against you. However, you may wish to approach your landlord about settling the manner outside of court, which is a move that most tenant and landlord organizations will suggest.

Take the route that makes most sense

Disputes with your landlord are an unfortunate event, but how you decide to go about it can make all of the difference. Don’t rush towards relying on a third-party option if you can find a way to avoid it. Think about what makes the most economic sense, and do everything you can to talk it out with the party you are in the middle of the dispute with.

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