4 Best Practices for Preventing Tenant Lawsuits
The best-case scenario as a landlord involves you taking care of issues in a timely manner while your tenants pay rent on schedule and treat your property responsibly. While it’s not always possible to achieve a perfect utopia while renting, there are behaviors you can practice to cut down on potential conflict and even prevent tenant lawsuits. Taking a landlord-tenant dispute to court can be costly for all parties involved, not to mention time-consuming and stressful.
Here are four ideas to get started on the right track:
Screen Prospective Tenants
It all starts with who you approve to move into your property. The longer a property sits on the market, the more eager you are to fill it. However, rushing the screening process and approving a subpar tenant can be far more problematic down the line. Signing a lease with the wrong tenant can lead to property damage, tardy payments, and complicated eviction proceedings. What should your screening process include? According to a Forbes column featuring Money Wise Women, a comprehensive application includes:
-Financial information like employment and banking information
-Personal information like smoking preferences and pets
-Character references from employers and non-family acquaintances
It’s important to avoid asking discriminatory questions about religion, race, or gender. Before you write up any documentation, make sure it follows all federal housing laws.
Keep Detailed Documentation
When in doubt, get it in writing. From the entire application, leasing, and payment process to any records of repairs or complaints, you should keep a thorough paper trail that demonstrates your actions as well as those of your tenant. Any time you look the other way or cut corners in this area, you’re opening yourself up to potential gaps in your legal defense. Send your most important messages to tenants in writing with time and date stamps. Invest in a quality electronic and physical filing system that helps you keep everything organized on your end.
Open the Lines of Communication
Legal actions should be the last resort for every party, as it tends to drain finances and fuel frustrations. Money Crashers recommends that tenants should consider suing a landlord who will not respond, but should not sue if they haven’t yet pursued mediation with their landlord. The thought process is the same with the roles reversed. Consider bringing in a mediation professional to negotiate with upset tenants, and try to reach a compromise before elevating the case to court. Many landlords use rental property management to keep tenant information in one central location and to send messages. Don’t let a festering misunderstanding become a sticky court case due to blocked communications!
Stay Current on Repairs
As a landlord, it’s important to prioritize repair requests. What may seem like another order of business to you likely seems like a huge inconvenience to your tenant. Acting quickly can be the difference between an almost forgettable, routine appliance malfunction and a disaster that prompts your tenants to start keeping a track record against you. As Landlordology points out, tenants can sue for injuries related to a defective condition if you do not take prompt action. The key is to contact the tenant back promptly and set a time that works for both of you for the repair. If you work with third-party repair professionals or contractors, follow up as many times as it takes to ensure project completion and an acceptable outcome.
If a tenant sues you, it typically does not happen out of the blue. By employing these four best practices for preventing tenant lawsuits, you will likely be able to handle issues effectively as they arise and develop productive relationships with your tenants.