As property managers, it is our job to protect our landlords and teach them best practices when it comes to tenant requests, especially maintenance requests. We want to help them build a successful business and reach their portfolio goals, and one way to do that is by having strict processes in place.

Maintenance requests and unpaid rent add up quickly, so we work hard to hold tenants accountable. How do you do this? By asking for pictures. You can really get a grasp of how important a maintenance request is by how quickly a tenant will respond with a picture. On the flipside, if a tenant says they will be sending in a rental payment but fails to send in a picture of the funds/tracking, then there is a good chance they are not making a payment.

As the property owner, the simple act of requesting a real-time image gives you control over the situation. It will help you have a better understanding of your tenant’s actual needs and give you the insight to decide on next steps.

As far as best practices go, requesting pictures for payments and maintenance requests has served us well, and I would highly recommend it to both novice and experienced investors.

Like any rule of thumb, however, those picture requests do not always quite work out the way you planned. Here, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to tell you about a few examples of times that asking for those pictures backfired.

The Rodent Killer

Whether you are a homeowner or renter, you know that pests are inevitable. Despite your best efforts there is a very good chance at some point you will come across mice, ants, or animals in the attic. As the property manager, it’s our job to figure whether these issues are an infestation or something that can be handled with some spray or a few well-placed traps.

In one instance, we requested a photo from a tenant who said her cat was finding mice. She sent a picture of her cat with a dead mouse in its mouth. We were expecting a picture of mouse droppings (the usual evidence of rodents), not a dead mouse! Needless to say, we didn’t forget to specify exactly what we needed to see next time so that we could determine the scale of the problem.

The Cabbage Dumper

Occasionally, you come across tenants who seem to have the same issue over and over. Especially in the case of an old property, when you acquired the property you might have known that the home could be prone to this certain issue (leaky pipe, old insulation, etc.). Sometimes, though, it can be a lack of knowledge on the renters’ part.

We had a case of a tenant who was constantly having issues with their garbage disposal backing up. The owner wanted to do what was best for the tenant, so he continued to send someone out to help with the problem every time it was reported. After repeated maintenance visits, however, we took steps to clarify with the tenant what does and does not go down the disposal (see list provided). They assured us that none of these forbidden items ever went down their disposal. We hoped for the best but asked the plumber to take a picture of the clog next time he went out, if there was a next time.

Well, the next time, he sent us a picture of what he found: a whole bunch of cabbage. The picture wasn’t pretty, but it cracked the case on what the issue was. Going forward, the owner now makes sure he provides a list of restricted foods at lease signing and the tenants sign off that if forbidden items are found in the disposal, they will cover the maintenance repair.

The Photo Bomber

There are tenants, especially when new to a unit, who might have quite a few maintenance requests. We tell them to text them over with a photo and description and we will follow up with maintenance. One household, however, took our offer very, very seriously. They sent a lot of pictures. After text message number 25, we had to ask them to stop. I was running out of storage space on my phone! If a tenant has more than three major maintenance issues, you want to request that they use email for faster, more efficient service. Saving more than five picture messages is a tedious process that takes up more time than you need to be spending.

I hope you got a chuckle out of these three examples of picture requests gone wrong. We did too, after getting over the horror of seeing a dead mouse in a cat’s mouth. While these three situations might have slightly backfired, at least they helped us fine-tune our policies. We have used photo requests as a best practice hundreds of times to help us prioritize maintenance requests (think: times when there is “flooding” that couldn’t fill a water cup) and validate rental payments.

Categories | Article | Operations
  • Jenna Heneghan

    Jenna Heneghan is the director of business development at Secure Pay One MLH. She may be reached at

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