Every landlord needs to be prepared for a deposit dispute because it’s an inevitability that comes with the job. Whether a minor quibble or a larger dispute, knowing how to handle those conversations professionally (and without the need to take the matter to court) will save you a lot of time and money. There are a few ways you can achieve this. Read on for suggestions of how to deal with tenant-landlord disputes quickly and calmly.
Prevention is the best cure
As a landlord, the old phrase ‘prevention is the best cure’ couldn’t be more appropriate. You don’t want to be wasting time constantly handling disputes with tenants, so it’s best to avoid them in the first place so that a dispute is a rarity rather than a common occurrence.
Many arguments over deposits arise because either the tenant or the landlord don’t realise they’ve broken their part of the lease agreement, or they don’t understand their rights. The best way to achieve this is to know the law fully and stay abreast of any changes to housing legislation, so you can make the necessary amends. It results in happier tenants and lowers the chance of you having an empty rental property for too long, as well as reducing the risk of legal issues arising.
So many problems with tenants can be resolved quickly simply by having a face-to-face conversation with them and ironing out any issues in person. Keep your temper calm and don’t let the conversation get out of hand. There may well be an honest solution to the problem which both parties are blowing out of proportion, and trying to resolve it over text or email only makes the likelihood of that happening higher. Another way to keep tensions at bay is to meet in a neutral environment, so everyone feels safe and able to say their piece.
Contact a mediator
If you’ve met and tried to discuss the problem to no avail, a professional mediator can help you make progress and find a solution that works for you both. In a mediation, both parties come together with an impartial mediator to reach an agreement and resolve the dispute.
The mediator will be trained to deal with these types of situations so they’ll be able to act as a neutral but experienced party. They don’t assist with working out the issue directly. Instead, mediators guide the parties to negotiation in a constructive way. Mediation isn’t as formal or expensive as the litigation process so it works well for tenants who are seeking an informal solution and landlords looking to save on costs.
Keep detailed records
Having detailed records to hand makes it much easier to resolve disputes because you’ll have evidence of what’s been agreed and what has occurred since. From correspondence with the tenant regarding the issue at hand, to photographic evidence of the property before they moved in and its current state, a paper trail makes it much easier to fall back on hard facts when the time comes. And, if you need to escalate the issue to a legal team, records will be very helpful to show that it’s not just a case of your word against your tenants.
If you handle multiple rental properties, you should keep a file for each one, whether paper or digital, so you can keep your property management records organised and up to date. It can deter a tenant from taking the matter to court themselves if they know that you have evidence to back up your claims and disprove theirs.
Hire a specialist solicitor
If the problem has escalated and you haven’t been able to informally handle it, then the next step is to hire a specialist solicitor who has experience of landlord and tenancy law and will be able to advise you on the best course of action. Contact from a solicitor can often dissuade a tenant from taking the matter further and may help you both reach a fair agreement outside of court.
A specialist solicitor will be able to advise you on your legal rights, and those of the tenant, as well as the likelihood of you getting the result you’re looking for. It’s certainly an expense that you don’t want to pay for, but it can be a beneficial step to take if court is looking likely.
Put it in writing
Putting your complaints, or having the tenant put their issues down, in writing formally dictates any misgivings either party has about the property that’s being let. It’s important when you do this to be as specific and accurate as possible, from the occurrences being disagreed upon to the dates the dispute spans. It’s also important to take into account any previous correspondence.
The reason for doing this and having a record of the issue is that if you aren’t able to handle it out of court, having a document in place that outlines exactly what the issues are will come in handy when resolving it with a legal team. It also ensures you won’t forget any details further down the line, as court proceedings can take some time.
Court involvement as a last resort
Where possible, both parties should avoid taking the matter to court, as it’s time-consuming and incredibly costly. But sometimes it’s the only way to reach a decision. Just know that if the matter reaches the courts, you could be in for a long wait and a lot of legal expenses to have the matter settled, so it’s not a decision to take lightly.
The housing industry has been on a rollercoaster of activity in the last few years and it’s led many people to invest in rental properties. But it’s vital that you understand the issues that can arise with a buy-to-let and know how to mitigate them as much as possible, to save yourself time, money and the need to find new tenants. The smoother you can make your relationship with tenants, the better it is for you and them, so it’s worth making clear who is responsible for what and having thorough records in place to reduce the risk of a dispute.