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Effectively Communicating With Your Tenants

by Peter Giardini on August 31, 2012 · 4 comments

  
certified mail

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.

Ughhhhhhhhhhhh.

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

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Joshua Dorkin August 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Pete – I think I saw a similar thread on the forums this past week, where a tenant was complaining that a landlord wanted to throw him out of the place for having a dog, which the landlord claimed to not allow. According to the tenant, the landlord signed off on having a dog, but said after the fact that the dog couldn’t be left in the home alone . . . all their communication was by text, and it sounded like the landlord was trying an illegal eviction.

I was just wondering to myself what kind of landlord sends official business via text. Made no sense to me. Forget the fact that it sounds like the landlord is 100% in the wrong here, I’m fairly sure if it goes to court he is going to lose for quite a few reasons.

That case aside, certified mail (w/ return reciept) is absolutely the ONLY way I’d recommend sending official notices to your tenants today. That could change . . . but for now, I’m with with you on this one!

Reply

Peter Giardini August 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Josh,

It was that post and the fact that I caught myself texting with a tenant that was the driving my thoughts behind this article.

Snail mail may be a pain in the butt…. but it is your best friend when standing before a juddge.

Pete

Reply

Sharon Vornholt August 31, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Peter –

That is a great reminder for everyone that has rental property. Always use certified mail.

Sharon

Reply

Greg August 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I admit it. I watch too much court TV, where the standards seem pretty lax on admitting email and text. I think it can be fatal if you have to go to real court, not binding arbitration, where the standards will be higher, and don’t have the evidence of certified mail. Great post!

Reply

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