Should You Tell the Tenants that You Are the Owner? [Counterpoint]

3 min read
Ben Leybovich Read More

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This question seems to continually pop up on my radar, and I don’t know why – this seems pretty simple to me.  What am I missing guys? (See Brandon’s article last week “Is it a Lie to Tell the Tenant I’m Not The Owner?“)

When I first started in the game of landlording, I remember reading a lot of opinions on the subject, and there is certainly a lot of advice out there which would suggest that hiding your identity as the owner of the building from your tenants is beneficial.  Eight years into this life as a landlord I have developed a strong perspective on the issue, and it runs contrary to this advice.

I Always Tell Everyone Involved That I am the Owner!

This gives me the opportunity to say to my tenants – if you have a problem, come to me; but know that if I have a problem, I am coming to you…nice, neat, and everything out in the open.

Realizing that this is somewhat of a bold statement in the face of an age-old argument, and respecting opinions on the other side of this argument, I feel that I owe an explanation.  I will approach this discussion from two focal points – moral, and practical.  Don’t worry – this won’t take long…

Let’s Get the Morality out of the Way – It’s Easy 🙂

On the “morality” level this conversation is a non-starter in my view.  Follow my logic guys – this isn’t rocket science:

If you own the building, but tell tenants that you are just the manager, then regardless of what your reasons are – you are lying!  I am not necessarily passing judgment here; well, may be I am…But more than that, this is simply statement of fact, isn’t it?  You are not being truthful, which is how we define lying.

Are you the kind of person who is comfortable with lying?  Does your wife know this?

Now the Practical Piece

First a general thought – I believe that energy breeds energy.  As I stated in Podcast 14 here on BP, you can certainly be a schmuck and still make money.  But, you will find it difficult to hang on to your success.  Why?  Because honest people will eventually figure out that you are not one of them and will quit doing business with you, while at the same time your “ways” will attract business partners, customers, and clients who will eventually swindle you!  You are not the best at your game, and eventually somebody will come along who will burn you.  This is a fact – happens all the time…take it or leave it.

Now, according to some people the main “advantage” of telling tenants that you are a manager and not the owner is that it creates a buffer.  The thinking goes something like this:

Tenant’s question:       Hey, can I get this or that repaired?

Your answer:              I don’t know.  I will need to ask the owner…

And this, apparently, is beneficial because it buys you time to make up your mind and creates a bogeyman should you decide to decline – you can blame “the owner”.

May I suggest that if you need time to think things over, there is nothing wrong with simply saying to the tenant – let me think about it.  Furthermore, if your answer is no, why not just say – my answer is no and here is why; I hope that you understand and can except my answer, but if not please feel free to move out and it’ll be my pleasure to find someone who’ll be too happy to live in this wonderful apartment.

OK – this only works if you are respectful of your tenants needs, stay on top of the repairs, and are the kind of a landlord who goes above and beyond WITHIN REASON.  This would not work if your goal in life is to get out of your responsibilities…but, be aware of the following:

Question:      If you lie to your tenants, why should you expect your tenants not to lie to you?  And if your tenants think that it’s OK to lie to you, how long do you think you will last as a landlord?

The answers to the above describe precisely the reason why most landlords burn out and get out of the business before being able to realize the benefits of it.  Landlord/Tenant is a business relationship, and it must be built on a foundation of honesty and respect.  Besides, we can rationalize this all day long, but isn’t there anything sacred in life any more, such as Don’t Lie…

Photo: Dyanna Hyde