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The best ways to manage a difficult tenant

Friday, January 13, 2017


The daisy lady got me thinking about difficult tenants. Be a landlord long enough and you are sure to get one of those. You know the one. She takes up 90% of your time and energy making the others look like a day at the beach. She rings you at 10pm because the carpet has peeled off from the floor and leaves five voicemails in the space of an hour because everything is urgent and priority-one. The sight of her name coming up on your caller ID gives you that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach (no, it is not gas, it is her). How do you manage these energy-sappers efficiently without losing your work-life balance, your income, and more importantly, your mind?

Here are some tips to help you manage difficult tenants: 

Tip 1: Put everything down in writing

Get into the habit of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Demanding tenants tend to be more empowered than those who are not. You never know if that sense of empowerment will see to it that the tenancy ends up in front of the Tenancy Tribunal. If the tenancy ends up acrimoniously then you want to have, at your disposal, as much evidence speaking to your professionalism and compliance as possible. If your tenant phones you about a repair request, then follow that call up with an email confirming your conversation, the issue at hand and a description of how the issue will be resolved. Once you have completed the repair, follow that up with another email to confirm and close the matter. When emailing the tenant, stick to the facts and leave the emotions out of it. As much as it is practicable, keep a log of the rental covering rent receipts, repairs, upgrades, and maintenance.

Tip 2: Always reply to messages

Dodging phone calls and emails just because you can't stand the anxiety that you will invariable feel after speaking to the tenant is the worst thing you can do for yourself. When you bury your head in the sand, the problem only compounds, it doesn't go away. When you don't return phone calls, your tenant will only pursue you more aggressively. Use the voicemail and automated text message facilities on your smartphone and be sure to give a realistic estimated timeframe within which your tenant can expect a reply. Once you give a commitment to reply then both you and the tenant can get on with your days without the issue hanging over your heads.

Tip 3: Set clear boundaries

Unless it is an emergency that poses an immediate danger to the security and wellbeing of your property and your tenant, you are not required to be on standby 24-7. When you give a tenant boundless access to your time, you forfeit your right to gate-keep the appropriateness of their intrusions. Be upfront with your tenant. Let them know that they can have you as a dedicated landlord between the hours of 8am and 4pm each day. Tell them that to be the best landlord you can be, you will need to attend to other obligations outside of those hours. That way you are triaging the issue before it is brought to your attention and you know that if your tenant calls you during the off-hours then it really warrants your immediate attention. If however you find the tenant not respecting your time boundaries then you know that fundamentally he doesn't respect you (as a landlord) or your hard work. Then you really have to ask yourself whether you can ever have a workable relationship with this tenant and whether it is time to move them on.

Tip 4: Be a professional, not a friend

From time to time you will have to say ‘no’ to your tenant. Because being a landlord is not about being a yes-man. Saying ‘no’ is not a vice, it is a way for you to draw the line in the sand and set relationship boundaries. You can say no courteously without being an a@#h$@e. Now, think about how difficult it is for you to say no to a friend. If you befriend a demanding tenant, have to be prepared to give into every single request no matter how unreasonable.

Tip 5: Be rational, not reactive

When someone is talking to you aggressively, it is very easy to lose our footing and acquiesce. Don’t get forced into making rash promises. Learn to slow down the conversation and tackle the issue rationally. Say you get a call over your lunch break about a broken front door. You have two options. You can take time off work at the drop of the hat to attend. If you do that then the message you are sending to the demanding tenant is that so long as they say to jump, you will only ask how high. Or you can slow down the conversation by asking about the details of the damage and whether there is any immediate threat to the safety and security of the tenant and property then act accordingly. By not being reactive you take away some of the heat out of the conversation without confirming to your tenant that you are aware of the issue and that it will be resolved.

Tip 6: Find out if there is an underlying unhappiness

Rather than address the root-cause, some people's instinct is to lash out when they are unhappy. Say a long term tenant suddenly becomes unreasonably demanding, ask yourself whether she is really unhappy about something else with the property/tenancy. Would it be because she is stuck in a fixed-term agreement that she wants to get out of? Or is the pressure from her social group making her regret living on the property? By helping your tenant address underlying issues and take part in providing a solution (such as negotiating for early termination), you could be saving yourself from the hassle of persistent late night calls and aggressive voicemails.

Tip 7: Be empathetic

I cannot say this often enough. Landlords often forget that what is your asset is your tenant’s home. For a tenant, everything that is wrong with their house is a priority. They see you as a landlord who they had paid to provide an accommodation service for rather than someone who is juggling a full time job and all the other social and familial obligations intrinsically attached to a modern day adult. So from their point of view, why shouldn’t you attend to a ripped carpet within 24 hours?! When you get a service call from your tenant, make it a priority to assure them that you get that they are being inconvenienced and that you understand their sense of urgency. Give them a reasonable and responsible time limit within which they can expect a resolution.

Tip 8: Get tenant’s buy-in

If your tenant calls you with a list of items to attend to, rather than scatter gunning your approach, get his input to help you set priorities. Ask him what matters are more urgent than the others. Make it clear that his comfort and wellbeing are important for you and in order for you to tackle the list, you will adequate time to do everything properly. When your tenant feels involved in the process he is less likely to be anxious and more likely to give you the breathing space you need to get your job done.

Tip 9: Keep up with market rent

When a demanding tenant becomes a time-suck, you really have to ask yourself whether you are being adequately compensated for it. After all, all these time and energy are taking you away from your other tenants. Make sure you are on top of the latest market rent statistics and charge the appropriate amount of rent. Now, I am not at all advocating for premium rent or some sort of punitive increase just to spite the tenant back. No one can expect to work for free and if you are not being adequately compensated for the time and effort you put into a tenancy then you should look at restrategising your business practices as a landlord.

Tip 10: Don’t despair

Finally, don’t bemoan a demanding tenant. At the end of the day, you are better off having a tenant who gives a damn than one who is happy to let your property rot.

Have you had any experience dealing with difficult tenants? Are there any other tips you can share with our readers? Sound out below.


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