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Originally published Friday, October 25, 2013 at 8:04 PM

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Communication is key to resolving landlord-tenant disputes

There are basic steps which can help in any given dispute situation, as well as resources that exist to mediate when direct communication with the other party isn’t feasible.

Special to NWhomes

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Disputes with other tenants, neighbors or the landlord can be a source of nonstop stress for renters, but they’re often a reality when dealing with multifamily living situations.

Even roommates can have a hard time getting along once the honeymoon period has worn off and the realities of living in proximity to one another sets in.

There are basic steps which can help in any given dispute situation, as well as resources that exist to mediate when direct communication with the other party isn’t feasible.

As a tenant, knowing your basic rights and responsibilities can go a long way toward figuring out how to handle a given situation.

Federal, state and local laws offer various protections for renters and landlords. But a dispute with a landlord about a needed repair is handled much differently than a noise issue with another tenant.

When having a disagreement with another tenant, the first thing a renter should consider is whether the issue is truly an unreasonable one, or simply a byproduct of multifamily living. If it’s something you can’t live with, then the starting point is to communicate with the other tenant directly.

When a dispute with another tenant can’t be handled directly, that’s the point at which to consider asking the landlord to get involved. Finding other tenants willing to be involved in a complaint can also make things easier to resolve for the landlord.

Be prepared to offer specific written communication to the landlord detailing what took place. Supplementing a letter with photos if the issue is visual is also helpful, and tenants seeking quicker resolution should seek to accommodate a landlord’s need to have access to the unit.

The landlord can issue a 10-day notice to an “offending” party to resolve the issue. However, tenants should understand that the landlord’s ability to solve a conflict is limited by the law and court processes. An overnight fix is not always possible.

In most cases, issues between tenants and landlords should be able to be resolved in a simple, direct fashion. The rights and responsibilities of both parties are spelled out clearly in the state’s landlord-tenant act, and under other federal and local laws.

The starting point for solving any dispute is always to communicate the problem. If it’s noisy neighbors keeping you up at night, talk to them and try to reach a compromise. If it’s a disagreement over the landlord’s right to enter your apartment, see if you can resolve the issue amicably, recognizing both parties’ rights and responsibilities under law.

Maintain copies of all written correspondence, and keep notes about any verbal communication. Good records can often take care of a disagreement over what the expectations were before the situation becomes dispute.

In any dispute situation, threatening language should be avoided, and the police should be contacted only when there is a physical threat presented to you. These circumstances will only lead to both sides further digging in their heels and refusing to compromise.

Sean Martin is the director of external affairs of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. Rental Resource is the organization’s biweekly column. For more information for landlords or tenants, visit


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