What are some common landlord and tenant disputes?
Examples of disputes that commonly arise between landlords and tenants include disputes in relation to:
property maintenance - in England, Wales and Scotland landlords are responsible for ensuring a property is maintained correctly and is therefore safe for someone to reside in. Failure to do so can result in fines
keeping the property tidy - in England, Wales and Scotland tenants are generally responsible for keeping a property clean and tidy. Landlords will often take photographs of the property in its original condition to ensure that the tenants leave it in the same condition when they move out. Should the tenants leave the property in an unacceptable condition, the landlord has the right to withhold a reasonable amount of the security deposit and to use these funds for repairs and cleaning services
damage to the property - tenants should ask for their landlords’ permission before making alterations to a property (including using screws, nails or any other fixtures that may damage the property). It is up to the landlord to decide whether these will be allowed in the property. Should tenants make changes to the property without the permission of the landlord, they may be liable to pay for the necessary repairs. Any damage to the property that is the fault of the tenant or the fault of reckless and irresponsible behaviour will also be the tenant’s responsibility to get fixed
council tax - if a property is rented by either one tenant, joint tenants with one tenancy, or a family, then the tenants’ are responsible for paying the council tax. If landlords rent to multiple tenants with separate tenancy agreements (eg in an HMO or student let), it is the landlord’s responsibility to pay the council tax
subletting - generally, a tenant is not allowed to sublet a property without the landlord’s consent
keeping pets - landlords have a right to decide whether tenants may keep pets in their property. Provided this is clearly stated in the tenancy agreement, the tenant must comply with such prohibitions. Note that not allowing service animals (eg guide dogs) may amount to unlawful discrimination
Preventing disputes using a tenancy agreement
A Tenancy agreement essentially sets out the ground rules for a tenancy. Effective tenancy agreements strike the right balance between detail and flexibility. The detail makes sure everybody knows where they stand on key points. The flexibility allows both landlords and tenants a reasonable amount of room to manoeuvre.
Given the nature and purpose of tenancy agreements, it usually makes sense to use them to steer off common problems between landlords and tenants. For example, they should cover the following points:
when and how rent is to be paid
acceptable noise levels and guest visits
conditions for keeping pets and/or requesting to be permitted to keep a new pet
expectations for the maintenance of the property, including the landlord’s access rights
any requirements based on local authority regulations
A tenancy agreement should also set out the process for settling any disputes and what action will be taken if the tenants break the conditions of the agreement.
Ways to settle disputes with tenants
The options for settling disputes with tenants are largely the same as the options for settling other disputes. Ideally, disputes will be settled through direct communication between landlords and tenants. In a worst-case scenario, they will be settled by the courts.
In-between these options, there are various alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. Of these, mediation is likely to be the most appropriate.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential method of resolving disputes. It is facilitated by an impartial third-party mediator. This process of mediation promotes communication and negotiation between landlords and tenants, empowering them to collaboratively reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
The mediator creates a safe and structured environment for the parties to express their concerns, interests, and viewpoints. They help clarify misunderstandings, identify underlying issues, and explore potential solutions. The mediator remains impartial throughout the process, ensuring fairness and balance.
For more information, read Mediation.
Advantages of mediation in landlord-tenant disputes
The advantages of mediation in landlord-tenant disputes are much the same as the advantages of mediation in other types of disputes. Here are 5 key benefits:
Mediation is more cost-effective than formal legal proceedings as it avoids the need for extensive court fees, solicitors’ fees, and other associated costs.
Mediation also tends to make better use of the parties’ time. As the people involved have more control over the process, they can schedule mediation sessions at their convenience. These days, people can even participate in mediation remotely for even greater convenience.
This means that mediation can be completed in a matter of weeks or even days, whereas it can take months or even years just to get a date for a court hearing. What’s more, dates for court hearings are at much higher risk of having to be postponed for various reasons.
The discussions and information shared during mediation are confidential, creating a safe and open environment for the parties to express their concerns. This confidentiality encourages honest communication and reduces the fear of information being used against either party in the future. Court hearings, by contrast, are generally made public. They are only kept private if there are compelling grounds for doing so.
4. Less bound by legal procedure
Any agreement reached should be legally enforceable. The parties must form a valid contract if any changes to a tenancy agreement that they’ve agreed on during mediation are to be legally binding, and any changes they’ve agreed on must comply with the law. For example, payment of prohibited tenants’ fees should not be agreed upon. However, the parties making the agreement do not have to operate under the constraints of legal (ie court) procedures.
5. Preserves the relationship between the parties
Unlike litigation via the courts, which often strains relationships and escalates animosity, mediation promotes cooperation and understanding. By actively involving the parties in finding a resolution, mediation helps to rebuild trust and maintain a positive working relationship. This is particularly beneficial in cases where the landlord and tenant have a long-term rental agreement or where either party is hopeful of ongoing collaboration.
Having a comprehensive tenancy agreement is key to avoiding disputes. You can use Rocket Lawyer’s documents to create yours. If a dispute does arise with a tenant, consider using mediation to resolve it and Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.