Welcome to the Landlord Tenant Disputes section of FindLaw's Real Estate Center. Disputes between landlords and tenants can take many forms -- from upkeep and repair issues to non-payment of rent and potential eviction. In addition to looking to the terms of any rental agreement in place, being informed of your rights as either a tenant or a landlord can help save money and avoid frustration. When navigating a dispute with your landlord or your tenant, care should be taken to ensure that both sides attempt to uphold their side of the agreement while protecting their interests to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Eviction and Unlawful Detainer
Eviction is the process of terminating a lease agreement, typically for a specific cause, thereby removing the tenant from the rental unit. Common disputes that lead to eviction include failure to pay rent on time, keeping pets against the rules of the rental agreement, and engaging in criminal activity on the rental property. Laws are in place to make sure any eviction follows due process, which protects both tenants and landlords.
Evicting a tenant is not as simple as telling them to leave. There is a specific process in place to ensure the tenant has his or her say, and to give the tenant time to find a new place to live. The first step is to give the tenant formal notice of an eviction, explaining the fault (such as missed rent payments) that needs to be corrected. If the tenant fails to respond in a reasonable amount of time, the landlord may then file for a formal court eviction proceeding; this is typically referred to as a "forcible entry and detainer" or "unlawful detainer" action.
Avoiding Disputes with Your Landlord
The best way to solve landlord tenant disputes is to avoid them altogether. There may be disagreements or misunderstandings, but these are best handled outside of court most of the time. For instance, tenants should study their lease agreement carefully and also get a basic understanding of their rights and responsibilities as tenants. If a problem arises, it's best to talk to the other party right away and be completely honest. Keeping hard copies of all notes and correspondence related to the problem also is a good idea.
How to Resolve a Landlord Tenant Dispute Outside of Court
Of course, not all disputes are easily resolved by simply talking with your landlord. If you can avoid going to court, that is usually the best and least expensive option. One option is to use a third-party mediator to help draft an agreement between the two parties, which is not binding but can help facilitate communication. You can find a low-cost mediation program for handling landlord tenant disputes through both private companies and bar associations.
Handling a Landlord Tenant Dispute in Small Claims Court
The last resort for resolving disputes after direct communication and mediation have failed is to file a claim with your local small claims court. While they cannot hear every type of case, most landlord tenant disputes involving a sum of money below a certain amount (usually a few thousand dollars) can be handled in small claims. For instance, matters commonly resolved in small claims court include disputes over unpaid rent or un-returned security deposits. While you generally don't need legal representation for small claims court, many states (including California) don't even allow parties to use attorneys.
Click on a link below to learn more about landlord and tenant disputes. You can also learn more about state-specific laws on our landlord/tenant legal answers page.