How to Handle Tenant Complaints
By Kerry Curry, Contributing Writer
If you have residential rental properties with tenants, you will, at some point in time, receive a complaint. It’s just the law of averages, even for the most fastidious landlord.
There are good ways and bad ways to handle a tenant complaint.
“First and foremost you have to remember you are running a business and you have laws and regulations — local, state and federal — that you must comply with,” says Steve Rozenberg, owner of Houston-based Empire Industries Property Management, which specializes in managing residential rental properties for real estate investors. “Tenants have more rights than most people ever realize.”
Here’s some advice from Rozenberg to help investors to successfully handle tenant complaints:
Explain expectations at lease signing
Perhaps the most important factor is to set up clear expectations early on between the tenant and landlord, Rozenberg says.
“When you have a tenant move into the property, you have to set the proper expectations. ‘This is what you can expect of us, and this is what we expect of you,’ ” Rozenberg says. Many property owners fail to set those expectations at the beginning of the tenant-landlord relationship and that can lead to problems, he says.
Right off the bat, move-in expectations can set off complaints, for example. “Everybody has a different definition of clean,” he says. “For example, we require all of our properties to have professionally cleaned carpets before move-in.” Another landlord, on the other hand, may consider a carpet clean if it has been vacuumed. A tenant with allergies may not agree.
Put everything in writing
Landlord and tenant responsibilities should be written into the lease agreement. If the tenant is responsible for mowing and watering the lawn, for example, then the lease should spell that out. If there’s a service fee for minor maintenance issues such as unclogging the garbage disposal, it should be clearly noted.
It’s the responsibility of the landlord/investor to know and comply with all laws and codes. They should be well informed about what constitutes a health and safety issue and must be fixed immediately, or what can be fixed in a reasonable amount of time because it does not represent a health or safety issue.
Investors and landlords should request that complaints are put in writing, either by email or letter. Never text your tenants, Rozenberg warns. “They are rapid responses and can be emotionally fired off when you are upset,” he says.
If you accept a phone call complaint, follow up immediately with an email that sets out what was agreed to in the call to have a record of the conversation with a date and timestamp.
Remove yourself emotionally
It’s frustrating and stressful to receive a complaint, but the tenant is the client and the landlord/investor shouldn’t take the complaint personally. Handle each complaint in a professional and courteous manner.
“It’s a two-way street,” Rozenberg says. “You don’t have to fix it, but they don’t have to stay either. At the end of the day, when you have a problem with your property, even if that particular tenant leaves, the investor still has the problem.” The broken window or the leaky roof will still be there.
“The biggest challenge I see is that property owners don’t know what they have to fix, and what they do not have to fix and they get emotionally upset because they feel they are being taken advantage of,” Rozenberg says.
Make sure the tenant knows what is considered an emergency and what isn’t. They should know how to reach the landlord or property management firm and how quickly calls will be returned. If your policy is to return non-emergency calls by the next business day, make sure your tenant knows the policy. If they have a true emergency, they should know how to reach you quickly, even on weekends or during the night.
A calm demeanor that shows respect for your tenants coupled with a disciplined approach to handling complaints, will go a long way in reducing conflicts and maintaining a good tenant-landlord relationship.
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