< Back to Search

Working With Landlords

Published: July 3, 2012


Resettlement agencies, MAA’s and refugees all work with landlords on occasion. Although this is written from the perspective of the resettlement agency, suggestions are applicable and adaptable for refugee renters and MAA’s as well. Managing the relationship with landlords is critical to "successful" rental experiences.

"The relationship is everything!" That’s how one apartment manager describes his work with refugee agencies. Thom Kolton of Patterson Park Community Development Corporation, a non-profit agency redeveloping a neighborhood in Baltimore, stressed the importance of being responsive to landlords when problems arise.


  • Keep in touch with landlords regularly to see how things are going – this gives them a graceful way to raise issues before a bigger problem develops.
  • Give public recognition to landlords who have been particularly helpful. Honor them as you would a special volunteer or sponsor. Give them a certificate of appreciation or a plaque.
  • Offer them "training" about the predominant refugee culture they are serving. Make it fun and informal.
  • Take doughnuts over to their offices once in a while.
  • Invite them to cultural events and other agency functions.
  • If clients are willing, have one of the refugee families who found a home in that apartment complex write a letter in their own words to the manager or landlord telling how much it meant to them.

What's worked for you? Send us your suggestions and ideas! refugeehouseinfo@mercyhousing.org



Disputes over property maintenance are a fact of life in rental housing. The following ideas are offered as strategies for addressing these issues if and when they come up.

  • Know the lease. The lease will specify landlord and tenant maintenance responsibilities. Additionally, most large property management companies will have a formal grievance procedure to follow to resolve disputes. If a grievance procedure is not included in the lease, ask property management for a copy of the company’s procedure.
  • Define the problem. How many units are affected? What efforts have tenants and property management made to remedy the situation? Does the problem present a legitimate health or safety threat? If you work for a resettlement agency, how many refugee families have you placed in that complex? What has your past relationship with the landlord been? Does he/she have multiple properties that you have placed refugees in? Are other viable housing options available? Are there other tenants or resettlement agencies you can partner with to seek a resolution to the problem?
  • Take Action. As an agency, refugees and the public will hold the resettlement agency responsible—whether technically you are or not—for refugees living in poor housing. It is your job to ensure that refugees/tenants understand their rights as well as their obligations and are responsible for their actions. Think of dispute resolution as a long, difficult climb down from a mountaintop. Use caution and thoughtfulness with every step you take. Walking off a cliff in haste or anger during this process will not achieve the resolution you are looking for!
  • Renters and landlords need to effectively communicate about repairs! This illustrated housing repair guide to help refugees and other renters with limited English communicate repair requests in a way that is understood by property managers. It is designed to be printed double-sided, except the "Report Immediately" page which should be single-sided and on bright colored paper! www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/publications

Internal Options

Most issues can be addressed by understanding your responsibilities as well as the property management’s responsibilities under the lease.

  • Start at the local level—talk to the-maintenance person or on-site manager. Remind them of their responsibilities. Explain and how the resident is in compliance with the maintenance requirements of the lease.
  • Determine if the problem is with the worker, the manager, or higher up. Listen and learn as much as you can.
  • Work through the complaint process identified in the lease.
  • Take your complaint as high up the chain of command as you need to. Be polite, but firm.
  • Listen with an open mind for possible solutions to the problem.

External Options

  • Seek an unbiased third party. Sometimes a third party can be of use in resolving problems: another tenant, the resettlement agency, an ethnically-based support organization. These persons or groups can add objectivity and de-personalize a difficult situation. Some university law departments offer mediation services.
  • Learn about regulatory organizations. All properties must comply with health codes and local housing codes. If public funding was used to acquire or build the property, additional compliance requirements may apply. Go to these organizations with your concern.
  • Identify business and professional associations. Many rental housing owners and managers participate in business and professional associations (e.g. apartment associations, board of realtors, chamber of commerce, the Better Business Bureau). Take your concern to them.
  • If you have exhausted all informal options, consult an attorney to be clear on your rights. There is a huge variation from state-to-state in the protections provided by law for tenants.

Remember, any of these steps or the threat of them may be the trigger to produce a positive result in your dispute! Similarly, any of these steps may provide ammunition for the landlord. For example, calling in the health department because there is a problem with roaches may be counterproductive if you, the tenant has improperly stored food and the landlord can demonstrate they have regularly taken pest control actions! You could find that you are in violation of the lease and could be asked to move.


As a business owner or manager, the objective is to make a reasonable return on the investment in the property. Even though repairs and property maintenance can cost in the short run, unnecessary vacancies and lost revenue cost the apartment owner/manager much more in the long run. Even in tight housing markets with low vacancy rates, re-painting, cleaning, and making necessary repairs to prepare a unit for its next occupant costs money. Vacant units don’t generate revenue!

The Refugee Housing Program has collected a number of promising practices agencies across the country have used to help overcome some of the challenges in finding housing units. Click here to download a copy of “At Home with Refugee Housing: Resettlement to Integration” or contact us and order a hard copy today.

Now available: “New Roots in Common Ground”, a companion to the “Welcome to Your New Home” orientation booklets. This 50 minute DVD features interviews and demonstrations with refugees, case managers and landlords. Designed to be part of a comprehensive housing orientation program, the video also includes a discussion and activity guide to build on the points covered in the DVD. Each set includes versions with spoken narration in Arabic, Burmese, English, French, Kiswahili, Somali and Spanish. All national resettlement offices, local voluntary agency affiliates, T.A. providers, state refugee coordinators and ORR-recognized MAAs will receive a copy in the mail in late August 2008. If you do not fall into these categories and would like to order a free copy, please contact us. To access the discussion and activity guide, click here.

Video Study Guide (PDF 125KB, DOC 48KB)

Last Reviewed: May 22, 2019