How to Avoid Landlord Tenant Disputes

Four Parts:Avoiding Bad Tenants or LandlordsPaying Your Rent on TimeFollowing the Lease AgreementHandling Disputes Informally

Landlord-tenant disputes can quickly become nasty. A tenant might refuse to pay rent, and a landlord might retaliate by refusing to make repairs. In order to avoid disputes, each party should perform its obligations under the lease agreement. For tenants, this means that you must pay your rent on time and follow other covenants, like not making too much noise. For landlords, you should make repairs as soon as possible and promptly address other tenant concerns. With a little effort, both landlords and tenants can avoid disputes.

Part 1
Avoiding Bad Tenants or Landlords

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    Research the prospective tenant or landlord. One easy way to avoid disputes is to avoid renting with someone who is a risk for disputes. Try to weed out troublesome tenants or difficult landlords so that you don’t enter into an agreement with them. There are several different ways to research prospective tenants or landlords.
    • Ask for references. Both landlords and tenants should request references. You should then call the reference and ask what kind of a tenant/landlord the person was.
    • Perform online research. You can find a lot about a person by doing basic web research. For example, many building management companies are reviewed online at places like Yelp. You can also look at someone’s Facebook or Instagram account (if public) to find out whether the prospective tenant is a party person.
    • Pull a credit report. A landlord can pull a prospective tenant’s credit report provided they have the applicant’s name, address, and Social Security Number. You must inform the applicant on the rental application that you will be pulling the credit history and get a signature authorization.[1]
    • See Check a Background for a Tenant for more information.
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    Look at the unit. As a potential tenant, you should insist on seeing the unit before agreeing to a lease.[2] Landlords also benefit by having tenants see the apartment first. In this way, there should be no surprises about the condition of the apartment when the tenant moves in.
    • As you go through the unit, check to see that the appliances, heating, lights, and electricity work. Also check windows and locks. If you see something that needs to be fixed, then write a list and give it to the landlord before signing the lease.
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    Read an advance copy of the lease. If you are a tenant, then you should request an advance copy of the lease so that you can read it before signing. By reading it first, you can know what is expected of you and whether or not you can live with the terms set by the landlord.[3]
    • If you disagree with something in the lease, then bring it to the landlord’s attention before signing. Once you sign, you have bound yourself legally to the agreement.
    • Also get oral agreements put into writing.[4] You might raise an issue with the landlord who says, “Sure, I’ll do that.” However, if the oral agreement isn’t in writing, it might be invalid.
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    Ask questions. If you see that the lease does not address something, then ask the landlord. For example, you should make sure that the lease addresses the following:[5]
    • who will pay for utilities
    • whether pets are allowed
    • whether parking is provided
    • if subleasing is allowed
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    Get a security deposit. A security deposit helps protect a landlord from unpaid rent or damage done to the property.[6] Requiring a security deposit can also weed out people who don’t have sufficient funds to pay rent.
    • Check with your state law, which limits the maximum amount you can get in a security deposit. In Maryland, for example, you cannot ask for more than two months’ rent as a deposit.[7]

Part 2
Paying Your Rent on Time

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    Set a budget. Ideally, you have not signed a lease that you cannot afford. According to experts, your monthly rent should be around 25-35% of your take-home pay.[8] If you are in a cash crunch, then you should try to set up a budget so that you can make full, timely rent payments.
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    Set reminders. You probably have to pay rent at the start of the month. Whatever the date, you should set reminders so that you don’t forget. Write a note on the calendar or set an email pop-up to remind you that rent is due.
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    Get rent receipts. After you pay rent, you should get a receipt. This receipt will act as proof that you have made payment. In some states, a landlord is legally required to give a rent receipt if requested or if the tenant has paid in cash.[9]
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    Notify the landlord of problems. If you have a problem in your apartment, you should immediately call the landlord. You should not, however, stop paying rent.[10] You can be evicted for failure to pay your rent.
    • Even if the landlord is refusing to make necessary repairs, you need to do exactly what the law requires you to do. In some states, you must pay your rent into an escrow at the district court.[11] The money will not be released until the landlord makes the repairs.
    • You must follow the state’s rules so that, if a dispute goes to court, you can’t be faulted for refusing to pay rent when you are legally obligated to. You can get assistance navigating your state’s rules by calling your county or town office.

Part 3
Following the Lease Agreement

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    Read your copy of the lease agreement. This agreement will tell each party what their obligations are. For example, a standard lease agreement will contain covenants. These covenants are promises each party makes by signing the lease. You need to read the lease closely to find out what you have agreed to.
    • Here are sample covenants for tenants:
      • to keep the apartment clean and in safe condition
      • to dispose of rubbish
      • to use electricity, plumbing, heating, and elevators reasonably and for the purposes intended
      • not to disturb other tenants by playing radios, TVs, or musical instruments in a manner that disturbs other tenants
    • A landlord’s covenants could include:
      • to provide heat and hot water in sufficient quantities
      • deliver possession of the property on the agreed date[12]
      • provide for the quiet enjoyment of the property
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    Research your state law. In addition to the lease, state law will set certain requirements that landlords and tenants must follow. For example, laws may regulate whether or not you must give the landlord written notice of a defect in the apartment.[13]
    • The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a list of links to each state’s HUD office. The website is Click on your state and then get contact information for the state’s office. You can call and ask if they have copies of the state law or any handout that includes the information.
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    Follow the lease. You should satisfy all obligations under the lease (as well as other obligations imposed by law). You can avoid most disputes by simply following through with what you have agreed to do at the outset of the landlord-tenant relationship.
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    Get written permission, if necessary. Sometimes tenants want to do something that is not included in the lease. For example, you might want to paint the walls bright red. If the lease doesn’t state whether or not you can do this, you should speak to the landlord and get permission before opening your first can of paint.
    • After getting oral permission, you should then get something in writing.[14] By reducing oral agreements to writing, you can avoid disputes later regarding what the landlord agreed to.
    • You shouldn’t ever just go ahead and do something without permission. You might think, “The lease didn’t say I can’t do this. So I guess I can do it.” However, if your goal is to avoid disputes, then you should always get permission before altering your apartment in any way.

Part 4
Handling Disputes Informally

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    Commit to remaining calm. No matter how angry you are, you should try to remain calm and professional.[15] You can still get your point across by remaining firm, but you do not need to be angry.
    • Anger can force the other party to harden his or her stance as well. Anger erects barriers between people when what you really need is to find common ground.
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    Carve out time to talk in person. You should talk face-to-face about any problems instead of using email or letters.[16] It is easy to misinterpret someone’s tone in an email. You might think someone is being difficult when, in reality, they are merely confused. By meeting in person, you can read someone’s body language and respond to their tone more accurately.
    • You can always summarize a conversation after you have it. In this way, you will have a written record of what was discussed. You can send an email to the landlord or tenant and summarize the substance of the conversation.
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    Admit mistakes. If you failed to do something, then you should admit to it quickly.[17] Say, “No, you’re right, I should have notified you in writing. I’m sorry about that.”
    • After admitting your mistake, then swiftly pivot to how you can resolve the dispute. For example, if you painted the walls without permission, ask if you need to repaint them or if you can leave them the way they are.
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    Consider mediation. If a dispute is unavoidable, then both the landlord and the tenant should see if they can resolve the dispute in mediation. Check with your local courthouse to see if there is a mediation program that you could attend. You might also contact your local bar association.
    • In mediation, a neutral third party listens to both people. Both the landlord and the tenant will have a chance to talk to the mediator in front of each other as well as alone. The mediator is not a judge.[18] Instead, he or she listens to each party’s complaints and works to come up with mutually-acceptable solutions.


  • Be sure to end the tenancy on good terms as well. Give the landlord proper notice when you decide to end the tenancy. Your lease should tell you how to give notice and how much advance notice the landlord must receive.
  • If you need legal advice, you can visit your state’s HUD page. Look for links to “Talk to a Housing Counselor.”[19] Click on the link and you will be directed to a list of counselors. Look for an agency that offers “Rental Housing Counseling.”

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Categories: Contracts and Legal Agreements