Few things are scarier or more stressful than having a dispute with your landlord. We understand that this is not a position anyone wants to have to deal with, but it is best to be prepared and understand your options. With that in mind, in today's article, we are going to discuss our top five tips for anyone dealing with landlord-tenant disputes.
1. Can the dispute be avoided?
At some point during a landlord-tenant relationship, a dispute will most likely arise. Very seldom will a court or lawyer be necessary to resolve the issue. Often, clear and open communication can help ease the tensions in a landlord-tenant dispute. One thing to consider is whether to approach your landlord in person or in writing. Some landlords are more personable than others and an open, honest, and calm face-to-face conversation may the best option. If the tenant is concerned with their ability to stay calm and cool in a face-to-face conversation or if their landlord is hard to reach may be written correspondence will be more effective. Regardless of the approach, a tenant should document all attempts to resolve the issue so that if the issue is not resolved to the tenant's satisfaction, they will have a timeline of what was communicated and when.
2. Is there a written lease and what does it say?
Landlords and tenants should opt for a written lease as it will go a long way in resolving disputes before they turn into lawsuits. A lease should provide answers to the most common disputes including payment of rent, use of the property, repairs, maintenance responsibility, and even dispute resolution. However, not all leases are created equally, and some leases are better than others, and in some cases, there may be no lease at all.
3. What federal, state, and local laws apply?
Landlord-tenant laws are there to protect both landlords and tenants, and it is important for a tenant to understand what laws apply to their dispute. Many disputes over security deposits and application fees, for instance, are easily resolved once both parties familiarized themselves with the state and local laws. Many states and some cities have laws and ordinances on how much a landlord can charge for an application fee. In addition, many states have laws on how security deposits are supposed to handled and returned. Most states and some cities have laws on security deposits, how the security deposits must be handled or the type of account it must be kept, and how and when the security deposit must be returned. A tenant should be aware that state and local laws vary from state to state and county to county, so tenants involved in a dispute should take the time to review the applicable federal, state, and local laws for guidance in dealing with a landlord dispute.
4. Can I just stop paying rent?
Almost, certainly not. Most, if not all states, do not allow a tenant in a dispute with their landlord to stop paying rent or even deduct rent if the tenant has to make a repair and pay for it out of their own pocket. In most states, except in very rare circumstances, a renter has to maintain current on their obligation to pay rent. In Florida, for instance, the only time a tenant can withhold rent is if a repair that affects the habitability of the property has not been fixed and the tenant gives proper notice as defined by state law prior to withholding rent. The amount that can be withheld is also limited and can only be withheld for a certain period of time. Anyone considering withholding rent needs to be very careful that they follow the letter of the law, so they do not unintentionally turn a simple dispute into an eviction.
5. Do I need expert help?
One of the most crucial issues in dealing with landlord-tenant disputes is knowing when it is time to seek professional help either by filing a small claims lawsuit or by hiring an attorney. If the dispute is causing you extreme stress or anxiety, it is probably time to talk to a lawyer so they can discuss all the available options. Some counties have landlord-tenant helplines that you can call, and some counties even offer services for landlord-tenant mediation in an aim to reduce the number of landlord-tenant cases in the court system. Check into what, if any, services your county or city may offer to help you resolve your dispute.
Landlord-tenant disputes can be stressful, but hopefully, with these five helpful tips, you can resolve your dispute as quickly and efficiently as possible. We hope that these tips help relieve some anxiety and stress that is to be expected with a landlord-tenant dispute.