Communication Solutions for Landlords and Tenants

by Karina Gafford

Break-ups happen. We’ll leave the personal relationship issues to the dating and marriage counselors, though, because we’re not dealing with personal relationships here. The landlord-tenant relationship is purely business even when you’re renting either to or from family, and as a business, you want everything in writing so that each of you has a clear understanding of the terms of the relationship. If you want to see just how nasty landlord-tenant breakups can be, check out a few online landlord and tenant forums; you’ll find all sorts of horror stories on evictions and lease breaking.

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Don’t get to the break-up point with either your landlord or tenant. You simply need to make sure that terms of your relationship are spelled out clearly in a landlord-tenant agreement so that no misunderstandings can arise. Before you confront either your landlord or your tenant to lay out your expectations, make sure you first understand their perspective on the relationship. Hopefully that will help make it easier for each of you to understand just what’s important to have in writing. We’ll look first at the tenant’s perspective and then at the landlord’s perspective.  
 
From the Tenant’s Perspective:

When I’m renting, I need to know that I’m not dealing with some squirrely landlord who shirks his maintenance responsibilities. After all, even a home on a quiet, tree-lined street in the suburbs can receive a designation of slum. Military landlords can inadvertently receive this designation simply by nature of their absentee landlord relationship.
 
When a military family is mid-PCS, the last thing they want to deal with is background checks, credit checks, rental agreements, and walk-through checklists just so that they can move into their new home. They’re tired; they’ve been packing, traveling, and moving their entire life across the country. As a landlord, you might think you’re being nice by letting some of the landlord "administrivia" slide--they can show proof of renter’s insurance when they get around to it, you don’t want to bother them with a walk-through checklist, or perhaps you won’t even bother with a rental agreement. You don’t really need them for family, and after all, what’s the military if not a giant extended family?
 
Wrong!

Everyone wants boundaries, and as the landlord, it’s your job to spell out my parameters for your property. If I’m renting from you, a fellow military family, I especially want to know my limits because I don’t want to make modifications to your property to better suit the needs of my family only to have you hold that as a grudge against my spouse when you wind up deploying with him ten years down the line! So, as a landlord, I need you to step up your level of professionalism and show me that my family is protected in your home. Establish standards and processes, and hold to them. Yes, there might be a little inconvenience upfront: I don’t want to do the walk-through checklist when I’m combating screaming children and phone calls from movers who won’t show up on time, but I appreciate that there is a process.
 
Now, when something goes wrong in the home, as it undoubtedly will over the course of the three years I’m living there, I know that a process will similarly exist for making sure it’s taken care of. Please keep in mind that I’m entrusting not only my family to your home, but also a considerable amount of cash over the course of the coming years. I need to know whether or not you’ll honor a military clause and allow me to break my lease honorably if I receive unexpected orders. When I call you because the air conditioning is on the fritz in the middle of the summer, I know you’ll address it within 24 hours, the number of hours you delineated in our landlord-tenant agreement. While I may not appreciate the clause that mandates I contact you before I bring home the cute little puppy I found by the side of the road, there’s comfort in knowing that the terms of our relationship are clear.
 
From the Landlord’s Perspective:

It isn’t easy being a military landlord. Not only are you entrusting someone else--a stranger, most likely--with what’s possibly your biggest financial investment, but also you’re probably not even living anywhere close to the property to keep an eye on it. You don’t know the person living in your house from Adam and yet he’s got all of his furniture in your home and who knows what’s going on behind those closed doors? With possibly hundreds of thousands of your investment dollars at stake, it’s enough to keep any military landlord up at night!
 
Here’s how to sleep more restfully, though: If you want to know what’s going on behind those closed doors, then spell out the terms of regular inspections in your landlord-tenant agreement, and then schedule them. It’s not a big deal. Your tenant will expect them, and the inspector--someone you hire because you trust them--will inspect the property. Before you start scheduling monthly inspections, though, check out our article, 8 Lessons from a First Time Landlord. No one’s going to rent from you if you have unreasonable expectations, no matter how beautiful your property.
 
I’ll confess right up front that I take the easy way out in landlord-tenant communication: I hire property managers to impart said communication. After dealing with more than a couple of near scary confrontations with tenants in our first rental property, I took the opportunity of an out-of-state PCS to change the day-to-day management of the home to a property manager.
 
Turning over the management, however, did not mean that I relinquished my responsibilities as landlord. Instead, this forced me to more critically analyze my responsibilities because I had to spell them all out in writing in advance. Knowing now the highly litigious terrain in which landlords must precariously tread, I’m grateful that I turned over the management role of that house when I did, as it undoubtedly helped me better understand my responsibilities toward my tenants.
 
So, if you’re a landlord, you can avoid countless headaches and confrontations over the unclear terms of your relationship with your tenant. Simply create an agreement between the two of you, which you can start by downloading a state specific landlord-tenant agreement from MilitaryByOwner’s partner US Legal Forms. You can modify the agreement with amendments to make sure that the relationship terms work for both parties.
 
Good luck with your successful landlord-tenant relationship!