Whether you are a landlord or tenant, it is important to know what to do about a breach of the lease agreement because you do not want hiring a lawyer and filing a lawsuit to be your first choice. Be reasonable in your approach and consider alternative dispute resolution services if you cannot resolve the breach issue between yourselves.
Assess the Breach
A breach of a lease agreement is certainly a rough patch in the landlord-tenant relationship but does not necessarily have to mean the end of the relationship. You need to assess the breach in light of the primary purpose of the lease. For example, the tenant’s failure to pay the rent is a serious breach that may leave the landlord no choice but to sue for eviction. However, a tenant running afoul of rules regarding noise levels, parking and common area use would be better addressed through direct dialogue, rather than a lawsuit. Likewise, if the landlord is late in making a needed repair to the premises, only in an extreme case where the unit is rendered uninhabitable should the tenant choose to sue as a first option.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
A written lease requires both parties to abide by its terms for whatever period of time it remains in effect, whether month to month or a year or more. In addition, there are federal, state and local laws that may further affect the rights and responsibilities of the parties regardless of the terms of the lease, particularly in cases involving a lease for residential property. Before attempting to resolve a perceived or actual breach of the lease, it is important to know where you stand in terms of the landlord-tenant law in your state—which in many instances is easy to find out. Most states, as well as major cities, have an agency, such as the California Department of Consumer Affairs, that makes available publications and online information that state in plain language the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords of residential property. There will also most likely be private, nonprofit organizations in your area that provide such information to tenants and landlords alike.
Mediate Your Dispute
If you cannot resolve the issue of the breach between yourselves, your best approach for a resolution is mediation, often referred to as a method of alternative dispute resolution. The essential part of the mediation is the involvement of a neutral mediator whose sole responsibility is to facilitate communication and assist the parties to agree on a resolution of the dispute. Many courts offer the services of a mediator specifically for landlord-tenant disputes. One of the important aspects of a mediation is that it allows for a resolution while preserving the relationship between the parties, which is important when you will be continuing your landlord-tenant relationship.