As it often happens, there may come a time during a tenancy when a landlord-tenant dispute arises. These disputes can pop up over many different issues including lease agreements regarding rental property, tenant rights, responsibility for repairs to the property, rent, eviction, and more. However, in most situations, lawyers and court time should be the last option for resolving these concerns.
There are several self-help tips that both residential landlords and tenants can follow that will help avoid litigation:
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) maintains a list that has information regarding the landlord-tenant laws of each state. These state laws are always important to know whether you are a landlord or a tenant. For example, depending on the state, a landlord may be required to receive written notice of a defect in the property before he or she is obligated to repair it.
It is unfortunate that not all landlord-tenant disputes can be settled by a simple conversation between both parties to the lease. However, when communication breaks down, there are still steps that can be taken before lawyers are hired and court proceedings start.
For example, an independent, third-party mediator can be hired to help form an agreement between the property owner and the renter. Although the mediator is often mistaken for a judge, the mediator does not have any authority to bind either party to an agreement and is simply there to facilitate communication between the landlord and the tenant. Mediation services are often available for little to no cost through various programs.
Mediation services are often rendered through both private companies as well as state and local bar associations. You can find more information regarding the mediation services in your area by contacting the bar association closest to you or the city manager's office and asking about services for mediating landlord-tenant disputes.
When both open communication and mediation fail, the last resort for many landlord-tenant disputes is in small claims court. Small claims court can generally only hear limited types of cases, and the cases must involve some amount of money, like rent increase, unpaid rent, or an unreturned security deposit for the rental unit.
Because of the nature of small claims courts, the court fees are generally low and can even be waived in certain instances and for certain parties. Both parties can also save on attorney's fees because you are not required to bring an attorney to your case in small claims court. Indeed, some states, like California, do not even allow parties to bring lawyers to small claims court.
These courts do act as a last resort for most landlord-tenant disputes and are structured to provide a quick and efficient resolution to these issues. However, you will need to check with your local courts to see the filing requirements for your small claims court. In most instances, these courts are only authorized to hear cases where the amount in controversy does not exceed a certain amount, generally in the range between $3,000 and $10,000. If your case does exceed this amount, you will need to file your lawsuit in the appropriate court.
Maybe you've had enough of trying to negotiate a landlord-tenant dispute on your own. If you aren't getting the results you were hoping for, you may need some professional guidance on how to move towards a solution. Consider speaking with an experienced, local landlord-tenant law attorney to get helpful legal advice.