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Originally published Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 8:05 PM

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Communication key to a good tenant-landlord relationship

Fortunately, fostering a positive relationship doesn’t take much effort, and it all starts with one basic idea: communication.

Special to NWhomes

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Perhaps the most underappreciated art in the rental-housing industry is that of simple communication. A majority of unpleasant issues faced by landlords and tenants seem to sprout from the soil of communication breakdown.

Unexplained late rent turns into an eviction. A broken stove becomes a reason to break a lease. Noisy neighbors drive all the “good” tenants away.

Such stories are all too frequent in the rental-housing industry. Fortunately, fostering a positive relationship doesn’t take much effort, and it all starts with one basic idea: communication.

The worst form of communication is leaving things to ink on paper, aka “the lease.” Landlords are left wondering if they should have majored in psychology before getting into the rental business, and tenants begin to feel like a tradable commodity measured only by an ability to trade cash for four walls and a roof.

Feel-good stories of charitable landlords and super-tenants can leave the Grinch in all of us with a fuzzy feeling.

But they don’t equip everyday landlords and tenants with the tools necessary to build a sense of friendship and respect found in all successful landlord-tenant relationships.

Showing a rental unit is the first opportunity for a landlord to communicate a positive attitude and eagerness to please. But that initial sales pitch doesn’t have to be the end of things.

Good landlords know that tenant retention is as important as finding a good tenant in the first place. It saves time and money, and can go a long way toward ensuring your favorite tenants stick around beyond their initial lease term.

Conversely, a tenant can think of the showing as an interview for a new job. Be on time, be polite, ask all the necessary questions and follow through on any commitments made. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Establishing expectations of both parties will ensure there are no surprises once a tenancy begins.

From the landlord’s perspective, this can start at the point of tenant screening with the disclosure of their “minimum tenant screening criteria” (required by state law), informing the tenant of what will result in the denial of a rental application.

Landlords should also ensure that future tenants understand all house rules found in the lease, including rules for rent payment and tenant behavior.

An extra tip: Try empowering the tenant to communicate by providing copies of maintenance-request notices and “permission to enter” forms to help facilitate needs for repairs. Entry into a rental is one of the more contentious issues during tenancy. Having repair requests on paper is always preferable.

Likewise, a responsible tenant is one who keeps the landlord informed of things happening at the property. Many lease agreements hold that additional damages resulting from undisclosed maintenance needs at a property — even those not caused by the tenant — become the responsibility of the tenant. Simple communication to the landlord in writing can prevent such a situation from occurring.

Tenants should also not be afraid of communicating an issue to a landlord, particularly when it comes to paying the rent. Sometimes life happens, and people lose their job or get sick, making the payment of rent a temporary difficulty.

While failure to pay rent is a serious issue, it is also one that many landlords will seek to work out with a tenant.

Evictions and re-renting a unit are almost always more costly to a landlord then attempting to work out an agreement for late rent. Smart landlords know that flexibility with a tenant can lend itself to a tenant who will stay long-term and provide security for the landlord.

Lastly, the Golden Rule applies in every scenario you might encounter as a landlord or tenant, and should always be followed. As a landlord, the tenant is your customer and your client.

Treat them with the best of customer service and create a positive experience by communicating early, often and effectively.

As a tenant, the landlord is entrusting you with an asset worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Respecting the property and keeping the landlord up-to-date on happenings will keep your rental unit in great condition and your landlord happy to have you there.

Content provided by the Rental Housing Association of Washington, a not-for-profit association of more than 5,000 landlord members statewide. For more information visit rhawa.org.

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