GoodLandlordTalk: How to Avoid a Fight with your Tenant

By Peter Shapiro,

If your tenant doesn’t give you access to make a repair the first time you ask, you will likely get access the next time if you can understand your tenant’s concerns – and meet them.

Why, then, do so many landlords become defensive when tenants don’t allow access the first time they ask?

Taking a primal perspective into account to understand the roots of defensive behavior can make it possible to get access, back rent owed, or even eviction without a fight! Stay with me here.

Many centuries ago, being excluded from your clan meant, in all probability, death. You’d be left alone to defend against wild animals for whom you were sustenance. Humans did everything they could to avoid being left out, quite literally, in the cold. Because being part of the clan meant food and protection, social acceptance was vital to your very survival!

It was thus very important, long ago, to not be blamed for -- or identified as the problem. This is where some of our most deeply embedded reactions to conflict may be rooted.

When we consider reactivity to conflict through a primal perspective, we begin to see how our least desired -- or nearly automatic reactions may come from a primitive need to belong, and not be rejected. We begin to realize that:

  • Blaming our tenants can be understood as an act of self-protection.
  • Strong defensiveness can be understood as an unconscious attempt to not be rejected.
  • Strong reactivity to our tenants can be understood as deeply fear-driven.

Seen this way, we can appreciate how:

  • pushing back against our tenants may amplify our reaction, and
  • judging them as unreasonable may be very misguided.

Mind you -- this does NOT mean that tenants are NOT the cause of your problems in many cases! Responsible landlords remind me, daily, that issues over nonpayment, denial of access, property damage, noise and nuisance ARE the problem. Add emotionally-charged tenant communication into the mix, and landlords have every reason to be angry.

Blaming, reacting and defending may not serve you best in these cases, however. Using other communication skills instead, which I’ll discuss next issue, may get you better results.

Here are two ideas to consider right now for how NOT to give your power away when you’re feeling the heat:

  • Before speaking, ask yourself:  It may be truthful, but is it useful?
  • Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, body sensations – whatever is predominant – to help you avoid reacting.   Notice what’s happening so you don’t speak before considering what to say.  This may take only 3 seconds!

This primal perspective for understanding conflict is a good one for helping us take a different tack when our instincts drive us to blame, defend and react. Like any view into the nature of conflict, the primal perspective can provide insight -- and help us tame our inner critic -- freeing us to get better results when dealing with conflict.

Peter Shapiro is a coach, mediator, trainer, and author of: The Good Landlord – A Guide to Making a Profit While Making a Difference.

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