Coronavirus Updates

As a New Landlord, Here’s How I’m Keeping Good Tenants During the Coronavirus Crisis

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I'm a relatively new landlord—I house hacked my first property in 2018, and my first tenants were my roommates. I really lucked out, because they were the best tenants-turned-friends I could’ve asked for.

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After moving out of my house hack in April 2019, I found a new tenant to move in, which then made me a “real” landlord—or at least that’s how it feels—for almost a year now.

Having my first tenants also be my roommates changed my perspective on what kind of landlord I wanted to be. With my roommates/tenants, I thought it would be strictly a business relationship, but that wasn’t the case.

Don’t get me wrong—I love contracts and paper trails, but sometimes it’s necessary to have a little flexibility and understanding. Sometimes you need to give people a little grace.

woman with hands on face looking concerned, worried, sad, scared

Related: Renters: What to Do If You’re Worried You Can’t Pay Your Rent (Landlords, Share This With Tenants!)

Putting People First

When it comes to business needs, it’s easy to forget that our renters are people, too. In a time of crisis like the pandemic we’re experiencing now, it’s more important than ever to remember that.

I know a thing or two about people—if you haven’t checked out my bio, I’m the People Operations Lead at BiggerPockets. However, you certainly don’t have to be in human resources to understand the needs of people.

Two weeks ago, I sent my tenant her new lease, which she had been putting off signing despite my text and email reminders. I had a feeling she was intentionally delaying signing, and I worried it was due to the pandemic and the prevalent fear surrounding coronavirus.

My tenant is a single mom and small-business owner, so considering what it must be like to be in her shoes, I texted her to see how she was doing. I asked if she had any hesitations about signing the lease.

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Related: Landlords: Tenants Matter Most Right Now—Please Keep This in Mind

It turns out that not only is she afraid of what will happen with her business, but she also thinks she actually has the coronavirus and has been dealing with sickness for the last couple of weeks. We talked more about her illness and the uncertainty in our world now. We also spoke about how wonderful it is that people really seem to be united in kindness and the betterment of our community.

She consistently knows how to see the silver lining in a situation, which is a trait I’ve always appreciated about her.

Showing Grace in a Time of Crisis

Eventually, we got back to the topic at hand and discussed her new lease—we compromised and arranged for a shorter lease rather than the original 12-month agreement. I also told her if she couldn’t pay rent on time, we would work it out and I’d waive the late fees.

I understand that not every landlord has that flexibility with their mortgage payments, but if I hadn't reached out to her and talked through her concerns—ultimately adjusting the lease for her—my gut says she would have moved. Even if she didn't, my hope is that because of the simple conversation where I showed empathy, kindness, and flexibility, she at least thinks well of me. And hopefully, as a result, she wants to stay in the home she is renting for as long as she is able.

The takeaway from this? I hope you agree that when you’re able to give a little grace, it can go a long way. That’s especially true now, at a time when we are all united in a world of uncertainty.

How are you approaching tenant relationships during these uncertain times?

Let us know in the comments below.

Alex is the People Operations Lead at BiggerPockets and Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference. She transitioned from the special events industry to join the BiggerPockets team in 2016 and h...
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    Scott Trench President of BiggerPockets from Denver, CO
    Replied 6 months ago
    Nice job, Alex! I love the thoughtful discussion and real-world problems you pose here. There are no black and white answers for a situation like this. And, your thought process and handling of the situation is really helpful to see and admirable as a newer investor.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Thanks. Scott. I'm grateful to have learned from you and so many others in the BiggerPockets community!
    Steve Vaughan Rental Property Investor from East Wenatchee, WA
    Replied 5 months ago
    Well done. I agree that treating tenants as people first, then customers, is the best way to go as well My tenant business cards say right at the top "You are our #1 asset" and I mean it👍
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    That's awesome!
    Darius White New to Real Estate from Detroit, MI
    Replied 5 months ago
    We're just getting started also. Great read! Nice how you keep everything in perspective.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Glad you enjoyed it! Best of luck in your real estate investing endeavors -- you got this!
    Luis Alba
    Replied 5 months ago
    I am a one year new landlord. I had the feeling that when my tenant called me before the Corona Virus (just three weeks the declared Pandemic) he said he would be ready to move then I took a deep breath and waited on the answer-we would text- then the Crisis came and just after I texted him telling him that I had a showing for two possible renters. He told me that he would stay because his parents were moving from NY due to the crisis there! I felt sad for his parents but relieved. My take on this was I did not reacted quickly but rather I let the time go by a little and not rushing in response - although a colleague was ready to help me bring the contract on him- but to wait. And worked.
    Susan Maneck Investor from Jackson, Mississippi
    Replied 5 months ago
    This is not a good time for people to looking for new places to live. Our tenants will stay, if we let them.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    I know a few people that are getting creative with housing. They're moving in with friends and bringing on additional roommates in order to cheapen the rent. I'm not saying that is a solution I think is best for the tenant or the landlord, but I've seen it happening with friends and acquaintances. That said, I'm not sure any of them talked to their landlord first and in this situation (and most situations) communication is key.
    Kristi Kandel Developer from Stateline, NV
    Replied 5 months ago
    Agreed that each Tenant will be a completely different conversation depending on all the variables. However, I hate the fact that some hard working Tenants would have their savings eaten up by COVID. I entered the workforce in 2008 and watched as people around me got laid off every quarter. It was sickening. However, if you hustled you could still find a way to make money. Now the slam dunk hustle jobs feel like they are even gone. Add to that the fact that we appear to be able to defer our mortgages for next to no penalties for 6-12 months. Once we lock that in for each property we can then in turn work with our tenants. Our plan is to have them pay their utilities as well as cover our portion of taxes and insurance. Beyond that we have a lot of wiggle room to work with our tenants on a greatly reduced rent that depending on the tenant and their work situation they won't need to pay back. Bottom line is be human but document EVERYTHING and look out for your business while having a heart.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    Kristi, I completely agree! It's so important to get things in writing and documented in some way when possible. My goal was to be honest and compassionate with my tenant but also make sure I understood the situation and had a grasp on what would be mutually beneficial and agreeable to both parties. Also, this is just one property I'm referring to in the article so I understand situations may be different for others, especially when you have more than a couple of mortgages to pay. My tenant compromise wasn't a perfect solution, but it was a place to start. If she needs a creative solution when it comes to paying rent in the coming months, I'm happy to work with her on that.
    Gerard Johnson
    Replied 5 months ago
    I am so glad to read an article where bean counting and profits is at the top of list during this dark time. Thank God for grace and as property owners we should express compassion over capital. I plan to work with each one of my tenants on a case by case basis. Some may require unique payment plans.
    Gerard Johnson
    Replied 5 months ago
    Correction - I am so glad to read an article where bean counting and profits **ARE NOT** at the top of list during this dark time.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    I'm glad you gave it a shot and I hope you enjoyed it, Gerard!
    Mariano Santana Rental Property Investor from Gilbert, AZ
    Replied 5 months ago
    Great article! Love the compassion and empathy. I had an eerily similar situation with my tenant. Thankfully, with a little communication, we were able to work something out and the tenant was extreme grateful.
    Alexandra Hughes People Ops + Director of the 2020 BiggerPockets Conference from Denver, CO
    Replied 5 months ago
    I'm glad you can relate and the outcome of your situation was positive for both you and your tenant. Communication and empathy can be so important, especially during a time when everyone is just a little bit fragile in some regards.