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Tensions are bound to exist in multi-family apartments. A large number of people living in close proximity to each other (especially those who do not know each other well) will disagree at some point. These conflicts often work themselves out, but sometimes the property manager needs to step in to resolve disputes between residents. In order to better serve your residents, take these tips to help produce an outcome that is a win for both parties, as well as your business.

Meet Residents Separately, Then Together

property manager meeting with residentProperty managers often make the mistake of only trying to resolve disputes between residents by meeting with each party separately throughout the entire process. Conversely, other managers try exactly the opposite approach, only meeting with the residents together in a group setting. Unfortunately, this is equally ineffective. While you might view these as viable options, neither is the best way to go about conflict resolution. For example, meeting with one resident at a time might resolve the conflict; however, the two parties end up never speaking about the resolution in-person. In this scenario, the families are not given the chance to improve their communication. This potentially leads to more conflicts in the future. Moreover, meeting together from the onset tends to lead to strong emotions, with both sides trying to speak over each other. You don’t want this scenario either.

For this reason, a combination approach is best. To begin, meet with each family individually. This allows each side of the story to be told, in private, without the threat of interruption or argument from the other party. Once each side has met with you, set up a group facilitation as well. This allows you to act as a mediator for the conflict. It also allows the families to better learn how to communicate with each other in the future.

Meet As Soon As Possible

property management speaking with tenantIn resolving disputes between tenants, you may be tempted to let the scenario work itself out. While time does indeed heal some wounds, it is more than likely that a conflict in a multi-family apartment will only get worse if left to fester. If the problem has already been brought to your attention, there is a high chance that it has already become quite a large problem. One family may be more overbearing than the other, or one family might be too reserved or shy to say anything at all about the conflict. Either way, the conflict is probably already in critical condition once it’s brought to your attention.

In an effort to resolve disputes between residents as cleanly as possible, set up meetings with the families as soon as possible. As mentioned earlier, set up individual meetings first, allowing each party to tell their side of the story. These separate meetings also benefit you, as the facilitator. They often give you the chance to learn how each side manages conflict. Make notes to better assist your facilitation of the group meeting. Knowing a bit about how each person responds to conflict also allows you to prevent parts of someone’s personality–such as being overly shy or overbearing–to come to the surface during the group meeting.

Let Them Speak

two residents sorting out their issues over coffeeIn both the individual and group facilitation meetings, let residents speak for themselves. In resolving disputes between residents, your instinct may be to do most of the speaking. This can appear to be a good strategy, as it allows you to lead the conversation down a path of resolution. However, this is actually one of the worst things you can do in facilitating. It is much more empowering to let residents speak for themselves, coming to their own solutions in the process. Because this is taking place in a multi-family apartment, it’s likely that disputes will occur in the future. Being in the room for this first resolution is a great way to prepare the families to work things out for themselves in the future.

In a dispute resolution meeting, your only job is to facilitate. Let the residents do most (if not all) of the speaking. If the conversation seems to be slowing down or has completely stalled, ask open-ended questions which call for reflection. Direct one person to speak at a time, especially if things get heated. In this calm, regulated environment, the families are much more likely to work the conflict out on their own.

Conflict resolution is an important skill for property managers. Resolving conflict is an important aspect of good customer service. Sometimes, issues with a resident can be avoided through good screening and background checks. But even good resident screening can’t prevent all issues. Problems will inevitably occur when managing multifamily apartments. By taking the time to resolve disputes between residents in multi-family apartments, you raise the chances of future peaceful interactions in your building. This is not a process that can be rushed, however. Follow these steps to help produce the best outcome for all parties involved.

  • Nick Massie

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