Landlord/Tenant Dispute Resolution

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Many times disputes arise among landlords and tenants. The lease will usually contain a dispute resolution provision which will provide for alternative methods of resolving disputes such as arbitration, mediation or filing an action in court. Landlord tenant dispute resolution litigation cases, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, are frequently resolved only with the representation and counsel from dispute resolution lawyers from each of the involved parties. 

Small claims court is typically where most landlord/tenant disputes get filed.  Before using any of these methods, the parties should try and work it out between themselves, if they cannot, then any one of these methods can be used to settle the dispute.

Arbitration

When the parties cannot resolve issues, then a neutral third party can be helpful in negotiating the settlement. An arbitrator is used when the parties submit their dispute to arbitration. The arbitrator can decide the resolution and the parties are bound by the decision, unless they agree to nonbinding arbitration. Arbitration is more formal than mediation.  There is a fee for arbitration.  You should check your local laws.

Mediation

Unlike arbitration, mediation is not binding.   The mediator is a neutral third party who helps the parties come to a decision and resolution.  Mediation and arbitration are faster and less expensive than litigating the matter in court, unless the action is filed in small claims court.

Small Claims Court

Small claims courts generally hears civil cases $5,000 and under. Each jurisdiction is different so check your local laws. The parties must represent themselves. It is less expensive than filing an action in county court or civil court and faster.  The judge will decide the case and enter the judgment.

Consulting an Attorney

You should consult an attorney if you have a legal matter involving a landlord/tenant or rental law issue that cannot be resolved between the two parties.  In a landlord tenant situation, the landlord will employ a lawyer to prepare an unlawful detainer action to evict a tenant or to help negotiate or prepare a lease. Generally, commercial leases are prepared by attorneys, but residential leases are prepared by landlords, management companies and Realtors.  A tenant may need to hire a lawyer to find out what their legal rights are when a landlord refuses to make major repairs or has committed an unlawful act such as discrimination or sexual harassment, or the tenant has been sued in an unlawful detainer action. The tenant may also want to consult with a lawyer before signing a lease.

How to Choose a Landlord/Tenant Attorney

When choosing a landlord/tenant attorney, get a referral if at all possible. If not, then check with the local State Bar, the Internet, legal directory such as ours or check the telephone directory.  Interview a couple attorneys to make sure you like the one you choose and the attorney has the right credentials and experience. You need to hire a real estate attorney that specializes in landlord/tenant law.

Cost of a Lawyer

When consulting with the lawyer be sure to find out what they charge and how they will bill you. Often times attorneys work on an hourly fee, contingency fee or retainer. Legal fees can be expensive, but sometimes you just don’t have any choice.

How a Lawyer Can Help

Lawyers advise you of your legal rights, obligations and legal options. A lawyer can defend you in a legal matter and help resolve your matter.

Legal Research

Lawyers are trained to research the state, local, federal and case laws that apply to your landlord/tenant or real estate law matter.  They also use secondary sources such as articles written by law professors which are helpful. Courts are not obligated to recognize research that is considered secondary sources.  If you want to do research on local ordinances, state statutes, federal codes and case law on your own, the best place to start is the law library or public library.  There is also information online that may help you. Lawyers have access to legal software that research laws and cases quicker and more efficiently than sources available to the public.  It is recommended that if you have a complicated landlord/tenant or rental matter, you consult with an attorney.  Attorneys do not charge for initial consultations, and at least you will have an idea what you are up against if you do try and solve the issue on your own or in small claims court.

Researching Laws

Landlords and tenants should research the rent laws in their area and be familiar with their rights, duties and obligations.  If you are in a rent control district, the local rent control board will have pamphlets or books with helpful information on the local, state and federal housing laws.  It is important to make sure you understand the rent laws and the legal consequences if you violate them.  When in doubt, consult with a legal professional.  It will save you money and a lot of hassle.  

Local Laws

Local laws are enacted by cities to govern the rental laws in their area.  They are referred to as ordinances.  You can find local ordinances online or by going to the law library or public library and searching under codes.  Generally, local laws are passed by local city and county councils. You must be in compliance at all times with your local and state laws as well as federal housing and discrimination laws.  Landlords who violate local and state health codes, safety codes, federal housing laws, discrimination laws and sexual harassment laws face stiff penalties and fines. It is illegal to violate the laws. 

There are also local court rules that each jurisdiction has that govern the procedures which must be followed when conducting the business of the court.   Court rules tell what procedures you must follow to serve a legal complaint on the defendant.

State Laws

Statutes are state laws that are enacted by state legislatures at least once a year. Every state has its own legislature. Executive agencies in states also have the authority to make laws on subjects that the authorizing statutes allow them to regulate.  Regulations and statutes are published in codes.

Federal Laws

The official place to search federal laws is in the United States Code.  There are three Codes: The United States Code, The United States Code Annotated and the United States Code Service. The United States Congress passes federal laws.  

Researching Court Cases

Most case law is a made by appellate judges in each state, not trial judges.  The U.S. Supreme Court also makes case law after it has gone through the highest level of state court, which is the State Supreme Court or some similar name depending on which state you reside in. The U.S. Supreme Court does not hear all cases. It is up to them to decide which cases they will hear. 

You will find case law published in books called reporters. There are State Court reporters, Appellate or Appeals Court Reporters, and Supreme State Court Reporters.  Cases published by the U.S. Supreme Court are published in the U.S. Reports by volume number and year.

As you can see, rent laws are complicated and should be taken seriously. Violations can lead to civil and criminal penalties and fines.  Landlords and tenants should research their local, state and federal laws to make sure they are familiar with them to avoid any legal expenses and misunderstandings.  We hope this guide will be helpful for you as well.  


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