Good tenants expect attention and appreciation
Good tenants expect attention and appreciation from their landlords, just as their landlords expect on-time rent payments and tender care of their homes from their tenants.
Want to drive a good tenant out of your rental property? I know how. It's really a pretty simple thing to do. In fact in this article I am going to tell you about 10 things that good tenants hate, that will make them pack up their belongings and move to another rental property.
Of course you don't want that. Knowing what really gets a good tenant's goat will enable you to make sure you don't do them, and in fact, do just the opposite.
Good tenants expect attention and appreciation from their landlords, just as their landlords expect on-time rent payments and tender care of their homes from their tenants.
These ten circumstances and situations are under your control. To make sure your good tenants want to stay in your rental property, it requires paying attention to your investments and what goes on there. It requires realizing that good tenants are your most important asset. It requires that you treat your good tenants the way they would like to be treated.
1. Good tenants hate being disturbed.
One of the reasons they are good tenants is that they are good neighbors, that they show consideration of the people who live around them. So when another tenant throws wild parties all night long, they hate it.
Other kinds of disturbances they hate would be the drug dealers next door, and the traffic, unsavory characters and bad behavior that goes along with dealing drugs. That kind of disturbance will get them to move as fast or faster than loud parties next door. In fact drug dealers in an apartment complex or even in the neighborhood tells them that the neighborhood is going downhill. Good tenants don't like to live in bad neighborhoods.
They hate it when landlords do things to disturb them, too. Any number of things would be possible irritants. It might be someone mowing the lawn at eight o'clock Saturday morning, just when they were looking forward to a quiet, peaceful breakfast on their balcony. It could be the leaf blower at about the same time on Sunday morning.
Good tenants hate having their lives disrupted by repairs, either in their units or in common areas. It's bad enough that road construction made it just about impossible for them to get to work that morning. But you expect rude, arrogant treatment from city crews and employees. But then you finally get home from work only to find that there is a huge trench across your parking space. Then, you have to walk all the way around the building just to get to your front door because everything is torn up.
As a landlord you have control over every one of these aggravating situations.
Immediately responding to noise complaints is essential. Tenants agreed when they signed the lease that they would not do things to disturb their neighbors. In fact you may even have specific rules in addition to the lease regarding noise. Enforce them.
There are times when a landlord has to be the bad guy. That's why apartment and landlord associations sell forms that tell tenants to stop being bad neighbors. Insisting on good-neighbor behavior is part of managing rental property.
Evict drug dealers. If you have any real evidence, you can evict them for cause. If your tenants are all under lease, you will have to evict for violating the terms of the lease, anyway. If they are month-to-month, and you don't have hard evidence of drug dealing, but know it's going on, simply give them a 30-day notice to move (or whatever is required in your state).
If the drug dealing is going on in a property that is not owned by you, work with neighbors, the property owner and the police to do what's necessary to get rid of the drug dealers.
When you make repairs or have them done, think of the needs of your tenants first. Yes, sometimes you have to make major repairs that inconvenience your tenants. Work with the contractor to make it as easy on your tenants as possible. Prompted toward working his brain in that direction, your contractor will probably be able to come up with ideas for minimizing inconvenience.
Whatever inconvenience there is going to be, tell your tenants beforehand. Write a letter explaining the work that is going to be done, how long it will take, and what kind of inconvenience they can expect. Always be thinking of the safety and security of both your tenants and their property (such as their vehicles), too. For example, in the case of their parking space being unusable while repairs are being made, make sure they have an equally secure parking space. Criminals are always on the lookout for easy targets. Cars parked where they are not visible from a building will catch a crook's eye like a homing beacon.
Then, when everything is done, send your tenants a gift thanking them for their patience, and a note reiterating the repairs that were done and how it will make their home a better place to live.
2. Having no place to park
Having their parking space abrogated for repairs is one thing. Something else entirely is another tenant or the tenant's guest using the good tenant's parking space. In many apartment complexes parking is assigned by seniority. Good spots are prized possessions, earned by longevity in a complex. To come home and find some bozo's car in his space will start a good tenant's blood boiling, and for good reason.
Parking issues rank right up there with noise for things that most irritate tenants. Ask any police officer who does community meetings, and he or she will tell you that even though the police officer has come to talk about crime prevention, the questions will always devolve to traffic problems: misuse of the streets.
By the same token, get tenants talking about what bugs them most, and somebody else's car in their parking space will go right to the top of the list.
You have probably created specific rules about parking for your rental properties, assuming that you have to deal with it at all. Single-family homes don't have a problem, since there are no other tenants to steal a parking spot. But in any rental property that has an actual parking lot, count on there being disagreements over parking spaces, even if you have hard and fast rules.
Just as with rules about disturbing neighbors, enforce the parking rules to the letter. That means warning letters and notices to tenants who break the rules and calling the tow truck. There is no excuse, period, for parking in another tenant's parking spot, except if the other tenant has given permission.
3. Landlords who don't do what they way they will do
Trust is one of the most important aspects of business. You violate that trust when you say you will do something and then don't do it or even do just the opposite.
Elsewhere in this issue is the article "When you rent from us." This is a marketing tool that you can change to fit your own circumstances. Just make sure that you do exactly what you promise in the form. When you hand a printed sheet to a tenant saying what the tenant can expect, you have created a contract. Even if you orally tell a tenant what you will do, make sure you do exactly that. It's always better to do it in writing, though, because, as Rule Number 8 (from the speech, "The Rules") states, "If a tenant can misunderstand, he will." It's corollary is "clearly stated instructions consistently produce multiple interpretations."
A couple of examples: one tenant complained about his landlord "told us before we moved in that a washer and dryer would be installed, and after we moved in and had signed the lease, told us that only ‘select' apartments would get these, and ours was not one of them."
"I had a very noisy neighbor. I had to file about eight noise complaints on him, and I don't think the management did anything at all about it, because nothing changed. Supposedly you get kicked out after three complaints."
If you make rules or promise something, your good tenants expect that you will follow them. Otherwise, what's the point in making rules and promising stuff. Fail to do what you say and your good tenants take their possessions and move them to a new location. It might even cost them more money or not be as nice, they just don't want to do business anymore with a landlord whom they can't trust.
4. Ignored repair requests (or slow response)
Many of your good tenants could buy a home, but they don't. The National Multi Housing Council calls these folks "renters by choice." There is a growing army of them. They choose to rent because they don't want to have to deal with taking care a house. They may have too many other things to do or may be physically unable to handle home repairs.
Traditionally, they move into upper-end rental properties and expect to be treated like guests in a five-star hotel. That means when they call about something broken, they want it fixed right away, not next week. If they can't get service, why are they paying the big bucks?
Even if your tenants are not "renters by choice," they dearly love to have repairs handled quickly and efficiently. On the other hand they hate it when their landlord blows them off, or wants to wait until there is something else to fix before he deals with this repair. After all, this one isn't that serious, is it?
Good tenants don't forget when they make a repair request and you ignore it. To them, ignoring it is the same thing as being slow about getting to it.
One of the main points of the article was that repairs become infinitely easier to manage if you have a system for handling them. That way every time a repair call comes in you aren't reinventing the process. All you do is use the checklist and the form, then go to work on getting the repair handled.
Good tenants appreciate landlords who have their ducks in a row. With that kind of landlord they always know what to expect. On the other hand landlords who fumble and always seem to be befuddled about what to do when a tenant calls make good tenants crazy.
One good example is a situation that happened to my daughter, Laurel, recently. She rents a house in Seattle from a landlord who could politely be described as "not in there." Somehow this guy acquired a number of properties, and he manages and takes care of them himself.
When she first looked at the house, this landlord didn't even have any rental applications with him. She and her roommate-to-be scratched out their information on a sheet of paper. The fellow did have the good sense to check their references and such.
Laurel called me a few weeks ago irate. There was a drain leak into the basement that a plumber, whom she or her roommate had called, had said would cost €2,500 to fix. They had called the plumber because they couldn't get the landlord to show up to look at it.
She didn't know what to do, so I told her what the Washington Landlord-Tenant Law had to say about that particular situation. She was calling this guy all kinds of names. Even though he had promised to show up to look at the problem at 2 pm that day. She was sure he wouldn't show.
Well, as it turns out, he didn't show at 2 pm, but finally did at 8 pm. I don't know how you manage to be six hours late and never even call, but he was. He spent a few hours that day and the next fixing the problem, and for far less than €2,500.
Why was Laurel mad? Because her landlord has a history of not being "in there." The only thing you can depend on with him is that you can't depend on him. Had he had a system for dealing with repairs and doing what he said he would do, Laurel would not have been irate. But since he didn't, she expected the worst, in spite of the fact that the worst did not happen.
If you take care of repairs promptly, efficiently and predictably, good tenants appreciate it.
>5. Surprises—bad ones
As a landlord there are no good surprises in rental property or real estate. That is not true for your tenants, though. Bad surprises happen when something unexpected affects a tenant's living arrangements and make things inconvenient for him or her. When the landlord has something to do with that, good tenants get irritated with the landlord. There's nothing you can do about a tenant's relatives showing up at his or her door unexpectedly and wanting to stay for a couple of weeks. Your tenants won't blame you for that–usually.
What makes good tenants impatient with their landlords is unexpected inconveniences and problems that the landlords could have headed off by an early warning system for events which are going to occur in and around the tenants' homes. We have already looked at repairs that both inconvenience and surprise tenants. We have also talked about complaints about the unneighborly behavior of other tenants.
Many large apartment complexes have newsletters that tell tenants what is going on and what to expect. Smaller landlords can't do that very well, since widely separated single-family residences and small plexes don't have the same kind of community. But you can send notices to tenants telling them exactly what's going to happen and when that will affect their homes and living conditions.
You can also keep up with events and problems going on in the neighborhood around the property that are likely to create a disturbance, inconvenience, or simply be an item of interest. It could be a new shopping area, or it could be road construction that will make it more difficult to get home to their parking space that is open and available. Good tenants appreciate your attention. Your attention also enables you to keep track of things that will affect the value of your property.
Good tenants hate bad surprises. Let them have time to work around inconveniences.
6. Feeling unsafe
Have you ever gone to a place and thought, "watch out"? Something told you that it just wasn't safe, but you didn't know why. On the other hand, have you ever experienced a place where you could honestly answer that you would have no problem sending your wife or your mother outside at night to get something out of the car?
Everyone has built-in radar for situations that don't feel right, that make them nervous. Sometimes they can't identify what exactly it is, but they feel it nonetheless, and usually they are right.
An entire division of criminology studies just how one's environment tells a person whether or not it is safe. It is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Lots of elements go into making an area feel safe, and I am not going to go into it here. Look at the April 1996, April 1997, April 1998, April 2000 and April 2001 issues contain major articles on crime in rental property.
Another issue is hazardous structural situations. These could include such things as loose railings, obvious electrical problems, unsafe swimming pools, and unprotected and unfenced drop-offs. All of these are under the control of the landlord. Good tenants have a right to expect that their homes will be safe.
Do a safety and security survey at least a couple of times a year. And, in keeping with avoiding bad surprises, tell your tenants that you do them and would like to know if they see any situations that they feel are unsafe or an invitation to criminals.
7. Tenants who ignore the rules
When people live together in communities, whether it is cities and towns, apartment complexes or even a duplex, they or someone who is able to, establishes rules to live by. Rules are necessary so that people know what they can reasonably expect from one another.
Rental property rules are often more restrictive than those in a city or town, since they have to govern living arrangements that are so proximate. There is another characteristic of the rules of rental property: they are created by contract. And that fact is of ultimate importance.
When people move into a unit they sign a rental agreement or a lease. That lease governs how much rent to pay and when, how much notice to give before moving, and how you are supposed to act when you live in the property. Sometimes specific house rules are added in addition.
These documents constitute a contract. Good tenants and good landlords respect contracts. In fact in contract law, absent something called a severability clause, violation of one portion or clause of a contract can make the entire contract void.
Good tenants look at the rental agreement or lease and the house rules and say, "yes, that works for me. Plus, I signed it and that makes it fair, as long as everyone abides by the contract." So when another tenant flagrantly breaks rules over and over, good tenants start to boil, becoming something between resentful and livid.
Good tenants hate bad tenants. They judge whether someone is a bad tenant by how he or she treats the contract signed at move-in. So while good tenants and good landlords are respecters of contracts, bad tenants are not. So good landlords and good tenants are on the same side here. Both want to be rid of bad tenants. Good tenants do that by moving. Good landlords do that by evicting.
8. Landlords who do not respond to complaints
We have talked about how irritated good tenants become by their complaints about noise, parking, repair and such being ignored. But this section is special. What I will deal with here is what happens to the peace and quiet of a rental property when a landlord doesn't deal with complaints, be they legitimate or not, the ultimate results of inattention.
Let's take the story of a noise complaint, since those are most common.
First, a landlord got a call about the tenants in 203 partying all night. The landlord dutifully listened to the complaint, even filled out a complaint form, figured it would go away and went back to watching soap operas.
Next day the landlord answered the phone, "they did it again! Partied all night, doors slamming, loud music, revved their cars in the parking lot. When are you going to do something?"
Landlord responded, "yeah, I'll look into it," and went back to watching soap operas. Even so she made a mental note to talk to the tenants in 203 the next time she got over there.
Things were quiet for two days, causing the landlord to assume the problem has taken care of itself.
The day after that it got worse. The complaining tenant reported another all-night party and the arrival of the police at 3 am. "Now that should take care of it," sighs the landlord in relief. "I don't have to worry about it any more. That should shut that whiner up, too."
The following day the landlord got a call from another tenant in the complex about the big fight the night before where the complaining tenant and the partying tenant in 203 got into a pitched battle in the parking lot. The police came again and took them both off to jail.
The situation escalated to a crisis, all because one tenant couldn't abide by the agreement, the landlord wouldn't deal with the problem and a good tenant felt that, since the landlord wouldn't, he was going to have to deal with it himself. Certainly the good tenant made the choice to personally confront, albeit in frustration, the noisy tenant, but it wouldn't have come to that if the landlord had been attentive to complaints and to the behavior of tenants immediately.
This kind of thing does not make for a peaceful, pleasant home life for anybody. In fact the next day, the landlord got 30-day notices from five good tenants. They didn't complain about the noise as did the other tenant, but the results of the landlord failing to deal with the complaint of another tenant were the loss of five good tenants. Oh, by the way, the complaining tenant gave notice the next day.
Good tenants hate bad tenants and they also hate landlords who don't respond to or who blow off complaints. Certainly the example is extreme, but you know as well as I do that uncivil behavior by tenants escalates into violence every day in rental properties around the country.
9. Rudeness by landlords
A few weeks ago I walked through the door of a business and up to the counter. The female at the counter looked at me, didn't say a word, turned around and walked into the back room. Then she never came out. I actually don't know if she came out, I only waited for a minute or two before I walked out the door. Next day I took my business somewhere else.
Yes, I know, I'm not a good customer. I am demanding of competent and efficient service. But if I was a good customer, there would be no excuse for that kind of rudeness.
Good tenants take their business elsewhere when their landlords treat them rudely, or they even perceive that their landlords treat them rudely. Perception is everything.
It matters not a whit if you are having a bad day. It matters not even an iota if you are having a bunch of personal problems. It makes no difference whatsoever if you are in the middle of an eviction of a tenant who never paid the rent and was dealing drugs out of your rental property. The good tenant who is about to call you had nothing whatsoever to do with all those things that are going on in your life and business right now.
When the phone rings and the call is from a customer who is paying you thousands of dollars a year, who takes care of her home, and who is a good neighbor, you smile, ask how her family is and how you can be of assistance.
It is absolutely stupid to be rude to a good tenant. Yes, it can be difficult to switch gears and be pleasant, but do your best. If you have to, in the absolute worst case, explain to your tenant, "I'm really sorry, but I'm in the middle of a real mess right now and wouldn't be able to give you my full attention. Can I call you back in, say, an hour?" That avoids being rude and allows you to give her call your full attention. Always add, "if you don't hear from me, please call me back." That way you can never be accused of ignoring your tenant's problem.
10. Being unappreciated
Everyone likes to be appreciated, to feel as if his or her presence, contribution or activity is valuable. But the strangest things can make different people feel as if they are unappreciated or taken for granted, and it is different with every person. Remember about perception, it is everything. And what you would perceive as nothing at all, another person perceives as a slap in the face. It's too bad we can't put a question on the rental application that asks "what makes you feel appreciated?" If we could get a straight answer, we'd know exactly how to tell good tenants we value their renting from us.
In past issues we have published articles about how to tell tenants how much we value their living in our rental properties. Thank you notes are great, as is just saying thank you for something a tenant did. Most important is simply acknowledging tenants.
"Consider research done by the Forum Corp.," writes Tom Peters, one of America's foremost business gurus. "Fifteen percent of those who switched to a competitor did so because they ‘found a better product. . . Another 15 percent changed because they found a ‘cheaper product' . . . Twenty percent high-tailed it because of the ‘lack of contact and individual attention' . . . and 49 percent left because ‘contact from the old supplier's personnel was poor in quality.' It seems fair to combine the last two categories, after which we could say 70 percent defected because they didn't like the human side of doing business with the previous product or service provider."
Lots of people feel that it is silly to thank someone for doing what they are supposed to do, anyway. After all, that's what is expected of you. Maybe it is silly. Maybe it is even patronizing. But I simply don't believe that it is ever a bad or silly idea to tell any customer that you value his or her buying or renting from you.
It's too bad, but many people don't do what they are expected to do or agreed to do. You may have one or two of them renting from you as you read this. So think about the ones you want to keep and tell them how important they are. Thank them for their continued good qualities. Be as specific as you can about what it is you appreciate about them. If it is always paying the rent on time, say so. If it is the fact that they keep the area around their unit neat and tidy, say so. If it is the fact that they are good neighbors, tell them that.
The great thing is, it helps the person who says nice things, too. Something I figured out one day a bunch of years ago was that when I felt really down in the dumps, exceptionally bummed out, I could make myself feel better by doing something nice for or saying something nice to someone else. It works like magic. What had begun as a rotten, disgusting day suddenly saw the sun burst through and I felt great. Just as wonderful was that the person whom I had done something nice for or said something nice to had just as great a day.
You can work the same magic in your rental property business.
Since you don't know what people value most for being appreciated, you could try several things, such as notes, gift baskets, cards or a special gift for their home. Most of the time it doesn't matter what it is, as long as the gift or card is appropriate. Just tell them how much you value their renting your property from you.
Good tenants know they are good tenants. When you fail to appreciate that they are at least a step above some other tenants you rent to, you run the risk of their coming to think that you don't care. That's when they think about moving.
You only have to be a tiny bit better to stand head and shoulders above other landlords. Other landlords, possibly without even knowing it, do things that good tenants hate. It's too bad, but far too many landlords don't understand what it takes to keep the good tenants they have and how important it is.
Here's a challenge. Think about what you can do today, right now, that your good tenants will love. Then do it.
Robert Cain, publisher of the Rental Property Reporter, has been providing solutions for the rental property industry for seventeen years. He is author of the landlord manuals Profitable Tenant Selection, Can Section 8 Work for You?, Using the Gross Monthly Rent Multiplier, the tape series “Avoiding the Tenant from Hell,” and several other booklets and manuals for landlords and property managers. In addition, he writes and produces newsletters for other companies that serve the rental property industry. He is a highly sought-after speaker, seminar leader and consultant on property management and real estate topics.