Many rental relationships are smooth, true win-win situations with no disputes. The tenant enjoys a safe place to live with a responsive landlord, and the landlord receives timely and full payments from a tenant that treats the property with respect.

However, sometimes things do go awry.

Fortunately, there are many resources in place to resolve landlord-tenant issues. A strong and comprehensive lease can provide a solid foundation for a respectful dialogue when there is confusion or disagreement between the parties.

Communication & Documentation

If there is a problem with your tenant, the first step is to clearly and calmly communicate the issues in writing. Explain the situation, why it is a problem, how to solve it, and when you need it solved. Be sure to keep hardcopies of all correspondence.


If directly engaging the tenant in a respectful manner does not work, consider hiring a mediator. Many states have housing agencies that provide landlord-tenant support at low cost. In addition, many attorney offices offer cost-effective, expert mediation services.

Small-Claims Court

Most disputes between landlord and tenant qualify for resolution through small-claims court. Before engaging the court system, make sure you have documentation of good-faith efforts to resolve the situation. The judge will want a factual account of the event, not an angry or emotional outburst. Prepare a clear and concise statement to present in court. If you do not feel capable of presenting the case yourself, consider hiring a qualified attorney.

Civil Court

Depending on the nature of the dispute or the monetary loss in the case, your case may not qualify for small claims court and your petition/lawsuit may need to be filed in the appropriate civil court. This legal journey can be complex and landlords benefit from gaining access to expert legal advice, and potentially legal representation.

Know Your Rights

If a dispute arises between you and your tenant, it is important to verify that you are acting within your rights as a landlord. A tenant who has an unauthorized pet on the property that is causing damage is likely a valid landlord concern. Being upset that the tenant likes to dress in black everyday is not. Take the time to understand your rights and your tenant rights.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers a webpage with links to general information on the landlord-tenant laws of each state.

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