2 Little Used Techniques for Responding Effectively to Unreasonable Tenant Demands
Written by David Lowrey, Stress Free Property Management
Let me start by saying, that a landlord has two primary responsibilities. The first is providing a well-maintained property and staying on top of maintenance. The second is treating your tenants with dignity and respect. Violate any of these two, and you can find yourself in for a world of aggravation and potential legal hassles, or worse. The goal of this article is to give you two tools that I’ve found work extraordinary well, when facing a tenant making unreasonable demands.
We’ve all encountered moments where a tenant is behaving in a rude, threatening manner when you are doing the right thing. How do you confront them with a firm “No” or with an answer that is not what they want to hear?
The most common reason for this negative tenant behavior is maintenance requests. Sometimes, the tenant refuses to think that a non-emergency repair can’t wait a day or more, and should be fixed right now. While this can be true for emergency repairs, like a burst water pipe, 95%+ of the time this is not the case. The tenant is frustrated, and the maintenance issue is making his or her personal time uncomfortable in some way. We can all relate to the common example of the AC breaking in the evening, right?
The key in these “Moments of Truth” is how you respond to their verbal tirades, threats, or aggressive stance.
Most landlords will choose one of the following: lose their temper, get verbally abused, cave in to an unreasonable request, or ignore them all together. The stress of these conversations are only heightened, when the tenant starts talking about suing you, moving out, not paying rent, or their kids are getting sick.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I try not to engage a tenant with a firm “No” when they make unreasonable demands. My goal is to establish a “cooling off period” and let them know my decision by email. A big key is to make sure the tenant doesn’t have your phone number, but instead is instructed when they first move-in to submit repair requests via email.
My second technique is to try and not be the reason for the “No” the tenant doesn’t want to hear. My goal is to shift the decision to a third part, related to the issue. Let me give you some examples.
1) AC breaks in the middle of the night.
My Response, “I would love to have the AC fixed immediately, but AC companies won’t work on them at night, because of the threat of electrocution. If they make a mistake and touch the 220 wire in the unit, the tech could die right there on the spot. He needs daylight to work safely. I will contact him now and request he gets out there as soon as possible, and I’ll let you know what as soon as I hear.
2) The toilet won’t flush!
My Response (if they have 2 toilets in the home), “I’ll contact the plumber and have him out there as soon as possible, but it will not be tonight. I know it is uncomfortable and annoying, but please try and use the other toilet for the next day or so, until I can get a plumber out. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something.”
3) My refrigerator broke and my food is spoiling!
My Response, “there unfortunately is no such thing as an emergency appliance repair service. I’ll do my best to have an appliance repair tech out there as soon as possible, but they don’t work on the weekends either. I’ve sent him an email begging him to make you one of his first strops on Monday. My apologies, and I’ll le you know when I hear something.”
Do you see the common thread? It’s not me the landlord saying, “No, I can’t do what you want now!” I’m shifting the responsibility to the person doing the work. This is not an effort to be deceitful or lie. This is the truth. I’m not a plumber, repair guy, or appliance tech. I can’t magically make these people show up at the drop of a hat.
The key to remember is when a tenant is really upset, he or she is looking for someone to blast their emotional outrage upon. This is human. We all do it. As a landlord, setting up a system for how you handle this in advance is key. That is one reason why staying off the phone is better because it gives you time to think carefully and not make a rash decision.
1) Have a cooling off period, before you give them a response, preferably do not have conversations on the phone unless it is something serious. Regardless, give your decision or updates by email. You need time to think and process.
2) If the repair is going to take a day or two, sympathize with the tenant (by email) and explain how the reason this repair is not going to happen now, is because of the availability of a vendor, which is true.
What you don’t want to do is just ignore the tenant’s request as unreasonable or lose your temper. Most quality landlords forget there are a lot of landlords who don’t do repairs timely or at all unless forced. So, tenants have learned to be more aggressive to try and pressure their landlord into action. This is not personal, but just the way the world is right now. Having systems for responding to these requests appropriately are critical to your long-term success as a landlord. Staying off the phone for non-emergency repairs saves you from the emotional outbursts for repairs that will be addressed in a timely manner, just not tonight.