Dear Monty: My husband and I own about 75 units in 25+ buildings. He has a good day job, and I manage the apartments. We have been expanding slowly for over 20 years. This is not easy work. Over the years we have had tenants occasionally complain about different things, but we always shrug it off as sour grapes or “they don’t get it.” Yesterday we got a complaint letter that several tenants signed, which is upsetting. What makes a good landlord? — Sue and Vic S.
Answer: Owning and managing apartments is very hard work for a do-it-yourself landlord. The environment and working conditions vary considerably, based on location and size of the city. As a portfolio expands, the management responsibilities expand as well. Management practices must be tailored to the environment, the clientele and working conditions.
Going with a professional property management company has many advantages, and their expertise can save you a lot of blood, sweat and tears — not to mention legal headaches, as they stay up-to-date on local and federal laws.
That said, for those who choose to go the DIY route, there are a number of principles that, if properly utilized, can reduce or eliminate complaints. This leads to less turnover, less management intervention and happy employees and occupants.
No. 1 – Treat tenants respectfully
We all know high-maintenance people. Whether late with the rent, a sharp tongue or simply unreasonable, being respectful can be difficult. There are many resources to learn more about techniques to employ when dealing with difficult people. “Getting More” is a book that teaches readers how to negotiate respectfully. The National Association For Community Mediation is a place where you can take classes on dealing with difficult people, and YouTube.com has many videos on the subject.
No. 2 – Be true to your word to tenants
As an example, when you say something will be fixed on Tuesday, fix it on Tuesday. This may sound more difficult to deliver on than it actually is. This involves work on the part of the landlord to identify a person, or multiple people, who can deliver on fixing the problem right the first time and being organized and talented enough to stay on a schedule. It is creating a mindset to build an organization where every person involved in that “being true to your word” process understands it and has been trained and supervised to be able to carry it out.
No. 3 – Keep your property in top shape
Preventive maintenance, timely repairs by qualified people and utilizing products best designed for the job will pay dividends. If paint peels, repaint. When an air conditioner breaks down, fix it or replace it. If you have no funds to do this, something is wrong. Do you have a replacement repair fund you pay into monthly?
No. 4 – Be a picky landlord about accepting tenants
It is always tempting to “take a chance” on prospective tenants, as you want the income. On the other hand, if they move in and become a collection problem, you have gone backward. Review your rent-up procedures and alternate background check services. Most landlords will occasionally get stuck. It is part of the business, but if it is happening too often, you can improve.
No. 5 – Run it like a business
Many issues that affect some landlords can be minimized. An example is a move-in/move-out report; using it will be a breath of fresh air. A visit on move-out day can often reduce problems before they happen. If tenants expect you to be there and understand you are going out of your way to help them get their security deposit back in three days instead of two weeks, most will appreciate it. Include your house rules as a part of the lease and let them know before they sign a lease that you enforce them.
No. 6 – Train and manage employees and contractors closely
When bringing a new employee or new vendor into a relationship with you and your company, an orientation booklet and specific training to set the desired expectation is vital. It’s even better if that conversation takes place as part of the interview process. One of the most common complaints in apartment management is often directed toward a specific employee.
No. 7 – Pay your vendors on time
The old saying, “fast pay makes for good friends,” is an important part of holding a good team together. What kind of a message does a contractor or employee receive with slow pay when you really need them?
No. 8 – Stay close to the business
It is your responsibility to know how your buildings are being managed. Being on the premises regularly and talking to employees, contractors and tenants allows you to keep a pulse on the happenings. Are the neighbors getting along? Did the contractor finish painting the floor as agreed? Did the Jones’ move-in go as planned?
No. 9 – Be fair, consistent and follow through
When this principle is in place, and the tenants, employees and contractors know they can expect this level of treatment in a relationship with you and your company, it is natural that they will reciprocate in kind. While the tenant does not have the same motivation as the others, it is your job as the landlord leader to mentor and teach your employees to live the principle.
No. 10 – Think like a steward
A steward is defined as someone who manages another’s property. The idea is to see yourself as a temporary custodian who will diligently care for the property until such time as it is passed to the next “steward,” as a better property than when you found it.
The examples provided with each tip are just some of many more that could be applied. It is not easy, but if a landlord or property owner practiced each and every one of these principles, it would be extremely unlikely for tenants to have a reason to complain.