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Here’s how three D.C.-area landlords handled disputes between tenants

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Here’s how three D.C.-area landlords handled disputes between tenants

1027 DC List Extra illo property manager landlord tenant disputes

When your tenants start arguing with each other, you might need to mediate the situation.
Carolyn M. Proctor
By Carolyn M. Proctor – Data Editor, Washington Business Journal


While “neighborly love” might be the ideal, we all know it’s not always the reality. Few are more aware of this than landlords and property managers.

Tenants might share common space, but they do not always get along with each other, to put it mildly. Sometimes it’s more than just personal friction, escalating into disputes that are carried all the way to the building management office, or even beyond. The underlying cause could be something small or something severe. Either way, it’s not a good idea to let that tension fester, even if you think the tenants should be able to work their issues out on their own, as this might only cause things to escalate.

The outcomes of these inter-tenant disputes can range from resolving themselves to requiring mediation to eviction or legal action taken against any of the parties involved (including the landlord).

RentPost Inc., a Georgia-based property management software company, advises landlords to be prepared for disputes between neighbor tenants using the following steps to mediate:

  1. Establish clear rules and guidelines that make it easy for all tenants to understand what’s expected of them when it comes to things like noise levels and proper common area uses.
  2. Encourage community building by hosting regular events and gatherings for your tenants to mingle and hopefully build camaraderie.
  3. Don’t expect neighbors to work it out themselves as this is likely to only result in arguing and escalation of what may have begun as a smaller disagreement.
  4. Intervene promptly and keep a record of all communication in case further steps are needed, or if legal intervention is necessary.
  5. Stay professional, keep all interactions to business hours (unless it’s an emergency) and foster a calm, respectful atmosphere.
  6. When in doubt, consult the lease agreement, also keeping in mind all basic tenants’ rights that apply.

Three property management professionals in the region told us more about their own experience with this issue.

John Sebring, executive managing director of property management for The Shopping Center Group/TSCG based in Vienna, said that this is a pretty rare occurrence among his retail tenants — but it does still happen. And most of the time, he said it’s usually a dispute over someone else’s employees either parking or loitering somewhere they shouldn’t.

“On the parking front, the tenants are supposed to make sure that their employees do not take up the most desired parking spots directly in front of a retailer’s business and park there all day while they work their shift,” said Sebring, as those spaces should be left open for customers.

John Sebring atlanta 2013

John Sebring, executive managing director of property management for The Shopping Center Group/TSCG

Employees taking smoke breaks or just hanging out in front of another store can also cause tenant tension. Usually, Sebring said it can be resolved with a little professional courtesy and an informal conversation asking both parties to make sure their staff are following the rules and not negatively impacting other businesses.

“The issues should not be glossed over but instead the resolution is based on all parties being heard,” Sebring said. “A sincere property manager approach will result in the parties coming to an understanding.”

Frederick, Maryland-based Ruppert Management (part of the Laytonsville – based Ruppert Cos.) manages both residential and commercial properties. Kate Layman, its vice president, said it’s important to approach each conflict from the appropriate perspective.

“In residential, you’re dealing with someone’s home. It is the place they want to feel safe and comfortable, and the disputes can often become personal. In commercial, you’re talking about someone’s livelihood and business. The disputes arise when a neighboring tenant is impeding their business’s ability to succeed,” she said.

In either case, she said the first step is always to look at the documents — lease agreements, covenants and bylaws — that state the rights to quiet enjoyment of the property and outline the allowed uses.

Kate Layman

Kate Layman, vice president, Ruppert Management

“With that as a basis, we encourage tenants to communicate through us as a third-party arbiter of sorts. We often are able to negotiate compromises and good-faith considerations that maintain the integrity of written agreements, but also work to acknowledge what is best for everyone in practice,” said Layman.

Scott Bloom, who manages a few multifamily properties as the owner and senior property manager at D.C.-based Columbia Property Management, said he dealt with one of these inter-tenant disputes just this past summer.

“We have had to institute house rules in a two-unit rowhouse to lay out quiet hours and acceptable and non-acceptable behavior and enforce it as part of the lease so that not abiding by it would be a lease violation,” Bloom said. “The problems stopped.”

In another situation, he said, a tenant moved out due to noise from an upstairs neighbor, but the replacement tenant was completely unbothered by the same noise.

Scott Bloom

Scott Bloom, owner and senior property manager at Columbia Property Management

Volume can be measured but noise is subjective, Bloom said. Still, it is the most frequently cited cause of inter-tenant disputes. Sometimes he encourages tenants to meet up when everyone is calm to learn more about what’s causing the noise and whether it’s preventable.

“Many times people do not realize how much noise travels,” he said. But also, “Many people are not rational enough to have discussion.”

So there have been times he’s asked for decibel readings to get a more objective measure, which he said can be done with smartphone apps.

But whenever possible, Bloom said he tries to resolve things in a way that fosters better communication between the neighbors.

“We investigate and talk to both parties to determine if there is common ground or opportunity to resolve without further escalation,” he said. “We try to come up with solutions such as bringing them together and making a voluntary agreement to settle the dispute.”

Full Washington Business Journal Here

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