I have to say that I am amazed at how quickly real estate investors, especially landlords, have adopted electronic media as a primary means of communicating with tenants. Heck… I got caught up in a text exchange just today with one of my tenants.
Lets face it, technology, emails, texting and voice messages have made it extremely easy to communicate with our tenants and deal with routine issues quickly and effortlessly. And, while that is great news, I cringe every time I hear one of my clients or read a post on BiggerPockets, where critical information like lease differences or interpretations, rents past due, move out notices are being communicated via texts or emails.
While I realize that emails are now considered admissible in the eyes of the court, the key to any communications with tenants is being able to prove that you did in fact communicate with them, and texts, phone messages, and emails just can’t be relied on to prove that you attempted to communicate with your tenant.
I have found myself in front of judges with tenants as the defendants more times then I care to admit. And, while I always used these experiences as a place to watch and learn, and only lost one case, the over riding lesson I learned was that the party that could prove to the judge they attempted to communicate with the other party would always win.
Did you get that?
The party that proves the attempt to communicate will win.
And, I never, ever saw the claim of a text sent or phone message left, and many times printed emails get past the judge for one very simple reason: the tenant always claimed they never received anything from the landlord. In most circles we would call that outright lying. You be the judge!
So, what to do to ensure your communications with your tenants will not only get your message to your tenants but pass muster before a judge.
Simple: snail mail!
That is correct. I’m talking about letters sent via first class mail and certified return receipt requested letters!
Here is the thinking when using this dual approach. The certified letter is your ace in the hole. If you get the return receipt you know your tenants got the letter — at least that is the assumption the court will use. If your tenants don’t pick up the letter then you can prove to the court – assuming you don’t open the letter – that you attempted to contact the tenant but they ignored your attempts.
The first class letter will most likely be opened by the tenant, but they will claim they never received it. That’s okay, because your purpose here is to communicate with the tenants to keep them informed. Remember, though, in all likelihood they will claim to ignorance about receiving it.
How does this work in practice?
Lets say you intend to perform a safe and clean inspection and the tenant always resists you entering the property — even with proper notification. Your solution is to send the notification letter via first class and certified mail, and then on the scheduled inspection date to conduct the inspection.
If the tenant claims they were never notified, you can act confidently by showing them a copy of the letter you sent via first class and certified mail. You could then show them the unopened envelope that they didn’t sign for and tell them you are now going to start the inspection. If they balk, simply inform them that you will be more than happy to allow them to tell the judge why they ignored your attempts to communicate with them.
The key take away here is this: texts, emails, and voice mails are incredibly effective methods for communication, but their use is very hard to prove in a courtroom, and I can assure you that your tenants will claim complete ignorance regarding your attempts to communicate with them.
It may take a few moments longer to send letters, but if you do so, you be happy with the outcome!
Photo: Doug Coldwell