7 tips for dealing with tenants
by James Miller
1) Make them part of the solution
When I get a request for something the that a tenant wants done, but I feel doesn’t need to be done. I will often times make them part of the solution. I am not talking about things like a tenant being without ot water, or a broken window, but instead items like repainting a room, or in the instance I am about to describe, a screen door.
We had tenants that were in the middle of their second year with us. They had requested a new screen door as the existing one wasn’t shutting easily and was banged up. I had just put a new screen door on before they moved in and felt that much of the damage had been due to their use/abuse. I hadn’t installed a cheap $69 dollar door that I would expect to wear out in that short if time either. While I did point this out to them, I never got confrontational about it. I instead agreed to let them have a new door, but on the condition that they must pick it up from the store and install it themselves. I agreed to let them pick out the style of door and only limited them to a max of $200 for the door. They agreed to this and I went on my way.
It took them three months to get the new door installed.
If you can involve tenants in some aspect of a repair or fix of their complainant, particularly if you can make the part you do contingent on them completing some action, most of them will drag their feet on it, and about 1/3 of them will never even get around to getting their part done.
What would have happened if I had felt fully responsible for the door and agreed to get them a new one?
I can tell you from experience that they would have been calling every two days asking how the door was coming along and when it was going to get done. I wouldn’t blame them for this, if I had said I was going to do it, they should hold me accountable.
I was able to avoid this, not even having to think about the door by making them part of the solution. They can’t really complain as I had agreed to give them what they want, it was just up to them to get it done.
As a side note, I find it a common for tenants to find something to complain about, or want fixed, at about the same time they have to write out the rent check. I think this either comes about for one of two reasons. They are reminded that they have a landlord when writing the check, so they make a point to call me at that time, or more likely, that they feel the pain of writing the check and that they need to get something more in exchange for it.
2) The power of the third party
When I get a request for something that I know I am going to say “no” to, instead of immediately refusing to the request, I will tell them that I have to talk to my partner about it. I do actually have a partner in all of my investments that have tenants. It is my Brother.
While the tenants may see him with me working on a repair from time to time, what they don’t know is that he is the biggest, nicest, pushover teddy bear that ever lived. If I indeed did have to ask him for something, I am certain to get it. He isn’t a fool, he is in fact one of the smartest guys I know, but he really doesn’t like conflict.
Now as far as the tenants know, he is the tightfisted ogre who watches the books, refusing every request with a big red stamp. In their minds I am deathly afraid of asking him for anything.
By positioning him in their minds this way, it actually helps my relationship with tenants as we “team up” and it is now the tenant and I vs my tightfisted brother. They feel as though I am lobbying for them.
While this may seem underhanded please know that I do not do this for legitimate requests, or to skirt anything necessary. It is, in fact, most often used when I am asking them for late rent.
It is usually a “Hey I hate to be such a hard ass, but my brother was wondering why we don’t have rent from you yet.” Kind of thing.
They now see their failure to pay rent as getting me in trouble as well, and that they are letting me down.
3) Keep your promises
If you say you are going to do something, you do it. This makes you solid and reliable in the mind of the tenants. It also gives them little to complain about especially when it comes to reasons not to pay their rent. These reasons are not always verbalized, but may just be an internal dialog that occurs once a month when their pen hits the checkbook.
4) Respond to their requests quickly
This goes hand in hand with keeping your promises. Respond to them in a timely manner and they have no reason to feel you are not putting your best foot forward when it comes to taking care of them. It doesn’t always mean that you will do everything what they want, but taking the time out of your schedule to talk with them can often be all they really need anyway.
5) Don’t be their friend
You should be firm but friendly. If you feel you have to send them a card or present for the holidays, you are in too deep. It is easy for a tenant who feels close to you to feel that you will cut them some slack when it comes to paying rent late or getting special treatment…. And it’s probably true. The best bet is not to get in that situation on the first place. If you can swing it, a management company is a great way to have a natural barrier between yourself and your tenants. A management company is not always a possibility when starting out. I would recommend that you manage the first few properties you buy yourself anyway.
6) Seek first to understand, then to be understood
This is a Steven Covey thing, but works really well with dealing with most people in general. People want to be heard and understood before you start talking. It doesn’t mean that you will go along, or believe what they say. It mainly means that you hear them out.
When I ask tenants about why the rent hasn’t been paid yet, I really only care about two things, when they are going to get me a payment, and How much they are going to pay me when they do. Everything else they say means very little to my business. I am not heartless, if there has been a death in the family, or some medical emergency, I do have empathy for them, but from a business standpoint, I need to involve myself in their situation about as much as Visa or MasterCard cares about me.
I do, however, force myself to patiently listed to how the car broke down and they had to fix that, or how the cel phone bill was more than they thought, or how some other thing that they inappropriately label as an “emergency” took priority over the rent payment.
I do this despite the fact that a rent payment is one of the few payments in their life that both comes at the same time each month and is in the very same amount each month. I have always thought that these two factors should make it relatively easy to plan for it, but am frequently disappointed.
7) When they stop paying, act quickly.
This may not help you to get on the tenants good side, they all want you to cut them some slack, but I have talked to many landlords who want me to tell them how to get the money that the tenant owes them back. One lady had tenants that were into her for back rent alone of over $6000. Unless their rent was incredibly high, the only way for a tenant to get in this far is if you are burying your head in the sand and pretending things will get better as they continue to fail to pay you each month.
If they can’t pay for the current month, they aren’t going to be able to pay for two months rent next month. You need to take action immediately. Even after all is said and done and you get a judgement against them, the odds of getting your money back in any sort of timely fashion are very low. While it sucks to evict and to have to re-rent the apartment, you need to cut your losses at the first sign of trouble. If they can get caught back up, they will once they get a hand delivered “pay or quit” notice from the police.