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Landlord and Tenant Dispute and Resolution

There are some common landlord and tenant disputes, and many factors that can lead to conflict. The most significant contributor is usually poor communication which leads to mismanaged expectations. Disagreements on terms or interpretation of the lease or proper maintenance by the landlord or renter are typical legal issues to resolve.

When entering a contractual relationship, both parties have an opportunity to assess the flexibility of the other. Requesting changes to the lease or property maintenance expectations is the responsibility of both landlord and tenant. Both parties should walk away if they cannot reach some common ground or feel the information or promises are dishonest. Conflict resolution only happens when both sides remain unemotional and listen to the other’s point of view. A problem-solving mindset is key. A real estate attorney can help many situations by acting as a mediator when interpreting contracts.

Nonpayment or Consistently Late Rent Payment

It is typical to experience issues surrounding the nonpayment of rent. Federal tenant protections via the emergency ban on eviction due to the coronavirus pandemic expired on August 26, 2021. In the absence of the CDC eviction ban, problems continue when:

  • The tenant falls behind on the rent due date or only makes partial payments.
  • The tenant may lie to the landlord, making excuses about the processing of credit card payments or knowingly writing bad checks.
  • The tenant pays no or only partial rent because the landlord does not follow through with regular maintenance and repair.

Before entering into a lease, the landlord should credit check the applicant for solvency and make sure there is a clear understanding of the date rent is due and when it is considered late. A communication system allowing tenants to report property or maintenance issues can avoid a situation where the tenant feels they have leverage over rent payment for poor upkeep. However, a landlord who can show tolerance in a tenant emergency or unexpected financial crisis for the short term can be beneficial as long as the tenant doesn’t take advantage of the generosity. The details in your rental contract are critical to resolving disputes quickly and fairly.

Security Deposits

Security deposit disputes tend to center on the tenant and landlord disagreeing on what each party considers “damage.” A landlord can deduct costs and expenses of any unpaid rent, items that require repair by tenant damage, and property cleaning. Each state has a time limit for the landlord to return the damage deposit in its entirety or present a list of deductions explaining why some or all of the security deposit is non-refundable. Understand your state laws and offer examples of damages that reduce the deposit.

Pet Deposits

While a landlord can require a pet deposit depending on your state, the pet deposit may limit the amount permissible of the security deposit. If your state limits the maximum security deposit amount, it is best to forgo including a pet deposit. If there is damage to the property, but it is not pet damage, you will have to refund the pet deposit and may not have enough security deposit to cover the damage.

Property Damage

There is a difference between normal wear and tear and property damage by tenants or their guests. Provide your tenant a list of responsibilities such as maintaining sanitary conditions, routine removal of trash from the property, abiding by non-smoking agreements, and keeping common areas free of dangerous debris. Move-in and move-out inspection checklists can prevent misunderstanding. Both parties can walk through the property, perhaps finding areas that need attention for the tenant to receive the security deposit in full.

Habitable and Safe Environments

A tenant has the right to a habitable premise by law. A landlord must provide a sanitary, clean environment and make timely repairs addressing defective conditions to pass health and safety code inspection. Individual perspectives of what constitutes a habitable and safe living situation can differ. Reference the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online guide regarding federal standards to resolve these issues.

Landlords must understand their rental property’s specific federal, state, and local disclosures. The presence of mold, lead-based paints, certain types of deaths in units, flooding, and methamphetamine contamination are some, but not all, of the required disclosures. Failure to disclose and provide proper notice to your tenant can result in legal action.

Right to Access and Repair

A landlord should inform a tenant that they, or a property manager, will visit the residence on a monthly basis. Some tenants may feel this infringes on their privacy. Still, the landlord has a legal right to enter their property and ensure tenants do not violate the lease agreement or engage in unlawful activity. Routine visits also allow the landlord to repair or maintain the property according to health and safety standards.

Tenant Breaking the Lease

Turnover in rental properties, when unexpected, can cause problems for a landlord. Many tenants are unaware there are serious legal consequences when abandoning a lease. Depending on the lease, the security deposit can cover the costs of replacing a tenant who broke or abandoned their lease. Costs may include advertising for a new renter, paying overdue bills, and making necessary repairs — regular visits and open communication with the tenant help avoid small problems turning into bigger ones.

Whether a landlord or a tenant, knowing your rights and responsibilities is key to a positive experience. Regular contact and honest communication can diffuse conflict situations. However, if the dispute reaches excessive tension levels, meet with your real estate attorney, especially if you find yourself in small claims court. A real estate attorney can offer the best path forward for problem resolution.

We hope you found this article helpful. Contact our Chicago area office at 630-568-6656 to discuss how we can help you with any legal questions you may have.

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