I received a reader question and it’s a really good one. So without further ado…
I know your feelings on basement suites etc, but I have a 4-plex (2 upper and 2 lower units) so I have to deal with the situation at hand
The one basement tenant has been there for over a year, I have never had any issues with her, she is a model tenant. The person in the unit above her has been here for almost a year, model tenant. Both are early or on time with rent, no complaints from them about anything. Obviously I like them. Who wouldn’t ?
On the other side, I have another basement tenant and a couple in the upstairs suite. The basement tenant has been renting since September. The upstairs tenant has been there for almost 2 years. Both pay on time or early for rent and utilities.
The upstairs tenants have been a bit high maintenance at times, and they like to negotiate things at lease renewal time, which has included free Internet or a new dishwasher. We were happy to get the dishwasher with warranty. It was cheaper than paying for the Internet. We have not bumped up the upstairs rent yet, but plan to in May when the lease renewal comes due again. In previous years it fell on/ around the time I was having kids (yeah) so I wasn’t really into bumping up rent and have the unit vacant and trying to find a tenant while being in labour (that actually has happened to me).
So the tenant downstairs moves in and complains of dog poop left by people upstairs all over the lawn. I posted a notice to get it sorted and counted many “deposits”. When the upstairs tenants contacted me, the guy was quite confrontational with me. He also confronted the girl downstairs.
I told him this attitude would not be tolerated and apologies ensued to both myself and the downstairs tenant.
The downstairs tenant also wanted a pet and I attached to the email the application process; pet fee; size, weight and height restrictions. She opted not to bring in a pet, although the upstairs tenant claimed she had sneaked one in. Ultimately the downstairs tenant got rid of the pet on her own.
Then the noise complaints started. I have asked the other tenants on the other side if they ever noticed any noise issues and they had said no. I have received noise complaints via email with foul language from the downstairs tenant. I emailed back that she should first consider asking them to adjust volume and if it is not resolved, to note it (time, date, what happened) and let me know. I also pointed out that it was only 7 pm and they have the right to enjoy music. She also said she bangs on the ceiling with a broom when it gets too loud. I pointed out that this was not acceptable as it can cause damage to property. I also pointed out that her tone and way of doing things wasn’t benefitting anyone. She apologized.
Last week the upstairs tenant complained of a marijuana smell. I was mad. I drove there from 45 minutes away to see if all the finger pointing had merit. It was difficult to smell when I put my nose up to the door. Very faint. I called the downstairs tenant who was not at home and she blamed house guests. I told her she was ultimately responsible. She apologized and said they would be gone by weekend.
Tonight I get an email regarding the downstairs tenant bringing 2 guys back to her flat and she leaves and they stay. Upstairs tenant wants to know arrangements and length of stay and that she isn’t comfortable paying 60% utilities of these people are visiting.
I feel like pointing out to upstairs tenant that hey, you have dishwasher. Maybe you should be paying more than 60% for utilities.
How can I remedy this ongoing situation so everyone wins?
I appreciate your input.
You’ve hit the nail on the head with this question. This is exactly why duplexed properties are so challenging to manage. I’m not sure why but duplex houses tend to really encourage ownership type feelings in tenants and this leads to additional problems.
The other problem is when you get tenants “reporting” on each other simply because they don’t get along and start “watching and tattling” on each other. As a landlord/manager you have to walk a fine line between knowing what’s going on at the property and knowing every time a bee farts on the property.
Document, Document, Document
One of the most useful forms for dealing with tenant complaints is a handy dandy tenant complaint form that the tenant who is complaining must fill out. There is a section for “How has this problem affected you?” and a question that asks if the tenant will go to the Landlord & Tenant Board to testify. There are two benefits to this system, first it reduces nuisance complaints because it requires the complainer to work and fill out a form. If it’s a real problem the tenants will indeed fill out the form. If not, they won’t be bothered.
The other question about the Landlord & Tenant Board is to verify if the tenant will actually follow through on the complaint. In Ontario, a nuisance tenant who is bothering other tenants is very difficult to evict. It becomes even more difficult if the tenant who is the victim of the other tenant will not partner with you to protect themselves. You won’t get anywhere at the Landlord & Tenant Board with a loosey goosey tenant complaint case without a tenant who will testify.
If you are ever to be successful in evicting the tenant, you must have a history of behaviour and warnings, behaviour and warning, behaviour and warning. It’s not enough to verbally follow up with the tenant. Write a letter and send it off.
You can never have too much diplomacy, I wish I had a lot more. It’s really hard to be patient with some of the foolishness I’ve heard over the years. There’s all kinds of reasons why people don’t get along. I once had a triplex I managed… the top floor were Goths, the middle floor were seniors and the main floor was a Christian fundamentalist. It was a match made in hell. The Goths came home late and clunked the stairs on their way up, the seniors were kind of hoarders and didn’t like the Goths because of them walking on the stairs or the woman downstairs because of her kids noise. The woman downstairs decorated the house for the Rapture and then the Goth husband tore it all off stating he was Jewish. Next the seniors didn’t pay their rent and I had to start evicting them. Next a city tree plugged the drains and the main & basement flooded with raw sewage. I used to spend an hour a day on the phone just dealing with this one house, and not one person who lived there was ever happy and they all hated each other…
Doing Nothing Is A Decision
Some problems are never going to be solved. People will accuse you, the landlord, of not acting properly. When you can’t win or don’t see resolution, waiting and doing nothing is a perfectly valid and reasonable approach. Not everything can or should be fixed. My suggestion is to say the hell away from people conflicts as much as humanly possible. As the landlord, you are rarely there to witness the situation evolving and all you hear are two stories, both of which contain stretching of the truth. Our job is not to mediate minor tenant disputes, you can’t make everyone happy and you shouldn’t even try. If anything you are there to protect your property, keep the peace and that’s it. If you’re unhelpful enough, people will call you for important issues and figure out what side of the driveway to put the recycle container on all by themselves. It’s ok to not solve some problems that can’t be solved. Walk away, you don’t have to catch every ball people throw your way. Work on your sympathetic nod and use phrases like “I’m sure a bright person like yourself can figure that one out”. You don’t need to engage or problem solve or fix everything.
When Fighting – Remember The End Result
If you are having arguments and disagreement with your tenants and people in general, you must remember that every fight has a winner and a loser. No one likes being the loser. In many cases, bragging rights are all you get with this so called victory. It isn’t worth it. If I had a dollar for every landlord who was going to “win” at the Landlord & Tenant Board… but what’s the prize? That’s my question. There is no winning and no prize at the Landlord & Tenant Board. Everyone there is a loser. You know who wins? The landlords and tenants who never see that place. The landlords fix the places and the tenants pay the rent and don’t cause problems for their fellow tenants. That’s everyone winning.That’s how you make money in this business.
Remember, if there’s no pot of gold at the end of the argument, it ain’t worth fighting for.
Most Of All – Keep Cool
For the most part try to keep out of minor tenant disputes, if not use the tenant vs tenant complaint form, document, document, document and then if it continues follow it up with the Landlord & Tenant Board. You’ll need to have a serious legitimate problem, lots of documentation and witnesses or evidence such as video to make your case. Frankly if you intervene, you may inadvertently make the situation worse. Keep your energy for serious problems, and keep smiling and don’t let this get you down. When I’m totally stressed out I ask myself,”Is anyone going to care about this in 100 years?” This helps me put situations in perspective and be calm.
Here’s an article about Crisis Deescalation to help work on your conflict resolution skills.