Telling Tenants You're the Property Manager

50 Replies

Hello everyone,

I've heard that some people will tell their tenants they are the property manager so that when a dispute comes up they can say the "owner" is the "bad guy" and not them. On the other side of the coin, like I read in The Book on Managing Rental Properties, you can also make the lease the "bad guy" and be firm on enforcing the lease of the property you own. I'm wondering what you think is the better approach especially considering the fact that your name will be listed as the owner on the county/city GIS website that the tenants could easily see. I feel like it would be a bad situation if the tenant actually looks up the listed owner of the property, then confronts you and you are caught in a lie.

Secondly, considering that the owner and owner address are both public info and easily accessible on the city GIS site, is there any way to keep your personal address private? I have a feeling there isn't if you are wanting the property in your name to avoid setting up an LLC and get residential financing on the property instead of commercial. I agree its not good to have your personal address easily accessible to tenants but are there any other options?

Thanks!!

Honesty is always the best policy. Everyone is guilty of stretching that from time to time, but in the case you're talking about....just be honest, they'll respect you more. Do everything you can to hide your personal details, but beyond that be honest....

Originally posted by @Matthew Kirkwold:

Hello everyone,

I've heard that some people will tell their tenants they are the property manager so that when a dispute comes up they can say the "owner" is the "bad guy" and not them. On the other side of the coin, like I read in The Book on Managing Rental Properties, you can also make the lease the "bad guy" and be firm on enforcing the lease of the property you own. I'm wondering what you think is the better approach especially considering the fact that your name will be listed as the owner on the county/city GIS website that the tenants could easily see. I feel like it would be a bad situation if the tenant actually looks up the listed owner of the property, then confronts you and you are caught in a lie.

Secondly, considering that the owner and owner address are both public info and easily accessible on the city GIS site, is there any way to keep your personal address private? I have a feeling there isn't if you are wanting the property in your name to avoid setting up an LLC and get residential financing on the property instead of commercial. I agree its not good to have your personal address easily accessible to tenants but are there any other options?

Thanks!!

We're in the same situation here with the county website. If you want to hide your address here, you can generally set up a mail box with a UPS Store, and use that.

You can get a fake ID in some other name and if there are plenty of pics of you floating around the Web, claim you're the owner's cousin to explain the physical resemblance.

But generally, if you're self-managing and dealing with a situation when you're renting out single family and residential small multiplex (up to quadplex), this kind of thing isn't a good idea. When you buy the property, you're going to have to introduce yourself to the neighbors. You will tend to learn about and acquire properties with a certain proximity to each other, so you may end up owning multiple properties in a small area. Keeping the fake and real names straight with everybody could get complicated.

As far as making the lease the bad guy goes...I live in Allegheny County, in Pennsylvania. The local district magistrates have enormous authority in dictating what you should do or shouldn't do for a tenant, and the kind of lease sticklers you're talking about don't do well in court. "The lease is the lease is the lease" will work up to a point when you're in court trying to evict your tenant, but not beyond that point. You're not going to be able to use the lease to enforce all kinds of arbitrary, petty, often vindictive rules, as we often see here by new or mentally deficient landlords writing here on Bigger Pockets.

So for us, the best alternative is to introduce ourselves as the landlords, have a straightforward lease, screen carefully, and avoid signing leases for more than six months or a year.

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Don't be afraid to be a landlord.

Don't be afraid to enforce the terms of a lease.

You have far, far more influence with a tenant knowing you are the owner and the buck stops with you.

It is 2021, a tenant is going to find out you are the owner, and when they do and realize you are frightened of your duties and responsibilities then they may believe they have the upper hand. At best they think you are a coward and they will play you out.

This approach can work if you have a property manager managing your multi family house hack, I have had clients take this approach and they give up 8-10% of their monthly rent in turn for not being bothered w/ tenant phone calls. 

Is that the best thing to do? I think it's debatable, but for people who travel a lot for work and/or have a high paying W2 they may deem it more worth it than someone bootstrapping. 

Anyone with a handful of working brain cells and an internet connection can track down your address if they really want to. A guy who lives across from one of my rentals heard it was going to be available, looked me up on the county tax site, and figured out which house I actually lived in by the tax rate and showed up in my driveway one afternoon, wanting to get his sister in the house, lol (I'd already rented it before he got to me!). 

I do have a P.O. box I use for my "official" address on leases, but nobody ever uses it.  *shrug*

And I have no problem telling renters that I'm the owner. If they ask for something I'm not sure about, I simply tell them I need to think about it and get back to them. Disputes are settled by looking at the lease.

@Patrick M.

This is a good point. Whether you are the owner or not, a tenant could always find out where you live. When put into that perspective, there’s really nothing concerning. I appreciate the advice!

@Dawn P.

Oh man, that’s an interesting way to approach a landlord! Did the person respectfully walk away when you told them it was already rented out? It’s surprising he didn’t give you a call first to save the time of looking you up and driving over.

I also believe honesty is the best policy. Getting caught in a lie will make things worse.

It is easier to hold the line if you are responsible to someone else. Are you married? Instead of telling tenants you have to "run it by my wife" you can say "I have to consult my partner" as if there's a separate investor. It's not a lie and it will help you protect you from feeling like the bad guy.

But in all honesty, the best practice is to learn to stand up for yourself.

@Matthew Kirkwold new landlords do this out of fear of confrontation. It is a mistake to lie about your identity. Tenants find out you are lying, then you look like a fool and have no credibility. More importantly, you want honesty from your tenant, so it is pretty hypocritical to lie to them and expect them to be honest. Trust is a two way street. Treat people fair, but that doesn't mean saying yes to everything. Have firm policies and simply say, "I am sorry no, our lease doesn't allow that". Saying no is like building a muscle. The more you say it, the better you get at doing it. 

I have had people say "but it is not a lie because I am the property manager". There is three problems with that:

1. Omitting critical facts is a form of lying. It is called lie by omission. 

2. Tenants will generally ask if you own the property or who owns the property. Then you are forced to either come clean or push the lie further.

3. Property ownership is public record in South Dakota. With little effort, someone can find out who owns the property. LLC ownership is also also public record and you can't register an LLC to a PO Box.

When I started in this business, I told tenants I was the property manager. A few months late, one of them says "I drove by your house, it is very nice". The tenant found out who owned the property and my address was on the county records. It was awkward, but also taught me a valuable lesson. From that point forward, I have openly disclosed I am the owner. It is actually very empowering. I don't need to "ask the owner". Requests are answered quickly and I am not talking to imaginary friends. 

If you want to self manage, be prepared to be the "bad guy". No manager can say yes to everything. That is true in the rental property business and true in ANY business. A good analogy is parenting. If a parent said yes to everything a child wanted, they would sit on their iPad for 8 hours a day eating candy and never brush their teeth. Saying no is actually BETTER for the child and also BETTER for the tenant. Having rules and boundaries is the only way to keep a business from failing. If you are not able to adapt your mindset, then hiring a property manager may be the best option.

As for hiding your identity and/or address it gets more and more impossible every day. I would say an LLC using a lawyers office or PO box or UPS box as an address and the lawyer or a registered agent signing on your behalf would make it more difficult. The tenant that wants to put in time and effort (vast majority will not) probably can. But to have the best chance of hiding not buying in your own name using your own address is step one.

Since you already bought in your own name with your own address the cat is out of the bag.  

Tell em who you are and enforce the lease and where you find the lease doesn't address issues, add it to the lease so next time you have a better lease.  And you won't remember come lease time.  The second you realize something should be addressed in the lease, put it in the lease.  

Might be scary at first saying you are the decision maker and saying no but it comes with time and practice.  Not sure if you have kids yet but if you don't great training for when you do. 

@Matthew Kirkwold plus one on honesty being the best policy. I find tenants respect me as the owner and I treat them with equal respect. I don't lie to them and I expect them not to lie to me. When negotiating things like pets, late fees, adding a roommate, making improvements etc. if I have to say "No" I just reference the lease or say it's against our business policy. I keep my properties in an LLC and use a PO Box so that my name and home address isn't front and center on things like eviction paperwork.

Originally posted by @Matthew Kirkwold:

@Dawn P.

Oh man, that’s an interesting way to approach a landlord! Did the person respectfully walk away when you told them it was already rented out? It’s surprising he didn’t give you a call first to save the time of looking you up and driving over.

Oh, he was fine with it, just trying to get me before I advertised the house. I'd talked to him a few times when I was first rehabbing the house, he actually kept an eye on it for me when I wasn't there. I guess it was easier to get my address than my phone number!

@Matthew Kirkwold,

If you aren't okay being the "bad guy" you shouldn't be managing your own properties.    Tenants DO NOT like you, this isn't a friendship, in reality, tenants probably secretly (or not so secretly!)  hate you and think poorly of you because you're taking so much of their money-- even if you're providing them a beautiful and affordable place to live!  Learn to be okay with it, not a popularity contest-- you want respected, not to be liked.   

Think tenants can't google you or search the GIS website to find out who the real owner is--- and I guarantee they will if you ever say the "owner" did something they don't like-- then they'll find out it's you.. and in addition to thinking you're a liar, they'll also think you're 100% a coward!    

Be honest,  ethical, upfront and ask for the same in return-- that's the best way to manage IMO. I only do M2M, it keeps everyone happy.. if someone isn't happy, or a huge PITA-- MOVE.  Easy!  I like life and managing properties to be easy!

Ps.  @Jim K., great idea about the fake ID, probably an easy time of the year  to be Kris Kringle! :)  LOL j/k

@Joe Splitrock

Thanks for the response Joe! I thought I had read somewhere on the state website that you can't register an LLC to a PO Box in South Dakota. That's intriguing to me but that just means every other landlord/business owner has their address on public record and anyone can find it. I like that these responses have reinforced to me that having your name/address easily accessible is certainly unavoidable and that it won't create issues like certain preconceived notions tend to make me think.

@Scott M.

I wouldn’t say I find it scary, per se, but hearing and reading what other people do had led me to think it was a bigger issue than it appears to be based on the responses in this forum post. I have seen business owners undergo severe financial hardships because they didn’t have a backbone. I understand how it is necessary to be firm but fair and think it’s a challenge I can overcome! Thanks for your intuition, Scott!

@Steve K.

Steve, I like the idea of playing the “against business policy” card. To me, business policy can be adjusted as needed as long as it’s applied evenly to all your tenants to avoid discrimination and just being unfair in general. In other words, would you agree that if something comes up that you hadn’t considered before, is it acceptable to tell the tenant you will get back to them, add it to the policy since it is new, and then keep that as a firm policy going forward?

@Matthew Kirkwold

Just would like to emphasize what so many other posters have said from a slightly different point of view. Tenants LIKE renting from self-managing landlords. A lot of property managers will tell you its because tenants believe that they can manipulate self-managing landlords more easily than a property manager, but the way I see things, tenants appreciate being able to get in touch with the decision-maker and make a personal appeal.

But there's another dimension to you. You're in Sioux Falls, with a contractor's license. A handyman/DIY landlord's natural entry point into the business is low C-class property that we turn into solidly respectable C-class.  Don't let anyone tell you different -- C-class hands-on landlording is where you get the most bang for your buck initially if you can handle fixing a single-family or small-multifamily up. It's really hard for the kind of tenants you'll choose to be late on the rent when they've made the call and their actual landlord has come out and gotten his hands good and dirty fixing up your place.

Except for the one inherited tenant I'm evicting right now, all my tenants like me. Do I deal with anger and disrespect at times? Not really, and most especially not from the people I've placed myself. It really doesn't have to be sturm und drang all the time when you're a handyman landlord. They know you can put in a gas oven, they know you're rough and tough enough to refinish a floor, they've heard you swearing at the plumbing, and they understand you can kick their butts out if you have to. Are we all one big happy family? Of course not, but they know they're under our umbrella, and that if they need us, we'll ALWAYS do the right thing. That builds a LOT of goodwill into the relationship.

Originally posted by @Matthew Kirkwold:

@Steve K.

Steve, I like the idea of playing the “against business policy” card. To me, business policy can be adjusted as needed as long as it’s applied evenly to all your tenants to avoid discrimination and just being unfair in general. In other words, would you agree that if something comes up that you hadn’t considered before, is it acceptable to tell the tenant you will get back to them, add it to the policy since it is new, and then keep that as a firm policy going forward?

I don't recall ever telling a tenant I would get back to them yet, but you definitely could. If you have other investors/partners (or a spouse), you could tell the tenants you need to run it by them first but of course that might get them hopeful or lead them to believe it's open for negotiation. Probably better just to treat it like a business, no emotion, just know what your lease says and what your business policies are and say something like "Sorry that's against our business policy" or "Sorry that's against the lease that we both agreed to when you moved in". I'd recommend having a business plan/operating agreement in place, a strong lease that covers all the typical tenant issues that come up such as pets, late fees, adding/removing roommates, breaking the lease, making improvements, maintenance requests etc, and just sticking to it. The better your lease and the better you know what your policies are, the better able you will be to make executive decisions on the fly. 

For example, when rent is late, even by one single day, every single time I always issue a notice to quit as required by my state in order to start the eviction process, and charge the late fee. Sometimes tenants are put off by this, they just didn't remember/got busy/ bank was closed or whatever. I make this clear up front when we go through the policy in the lease when they move in. When it happens if there is push back I just calmly explain, with absolutely no emotion in my voice whatsoever and without apologizing, that it's our business policy to always charge the late fee and issue the notice to quit when rent is received past the due date, as I explained when you moved in. That's all I say but the reason I do this is that I want them to pay on time first of all and also to know that even though I'm super friendly, I'm also running a business. If they pay the late fee and the full rent amount, nothing to worry about but if they don't end up paying then I'm one step closer to being able to evict. I prefer to have good relationships with my tenants and even get to become friends with them sometimes, which others discourage and I can see why but it's just how I am. I still have strict business policies that I stick too because at the end of the day I'm running a business. 

Originally posted by @Steve K.:
Originally posted by @Matthew Kirkwold:

@Steve K.

Steve, I like the idea of playing the “against business policy” card. To me, business policy can be adjusted as needed as long as it’s applied evenly to all your tenants to avoid discrimination and just being unfair in general. In other words, would you agree that if something comes up that you hadn’t considered before, is it acceptable to tell the tenant you will get back to them, add it to the policy since it is new, and then keep that as a firm policy going forward?

I don't recall ever telling a tenant I would get back to them yet, but you definitely could. If you have other investors/partners (or a spouse), you could tell the tenants you need to run it by them first but of course that might get them hopeful or lead them to believe it's open for negotiation. Probably better just to treat it like a business, no emotion, just know what your lease says and what your business policies are and say something like "Sorry that's against our business policy" or "Sorry that's against the lease that we both agreed to when you moved in". I'd recommend having a business plan/operating agreement in place, a strong lease that covers all the typical tenant issues that come up such as pets, late fees, adding/removing roommates, breaking the lease, making improvements, maintenance requests etc, and just sticking to it. The better your lease and the better you know what your policies are, the better able you will be to make executive decisions on the fly. 

For example, when rent is late, even by one single day, every single time I always issue a notice to quit as required by my state in order to start the eviction process, and charge the late fee. Sometimes tenants are put off by this, they just didn't remember/got busy/ bank was closed or whatever. I make this clear up front when we go through the policy in the lease when they move in. When it happens if there is push back I just calmly explain, with absolutely no emotion in my voice whatsoever and without apologizing, that it's our business policy to always charge the late fee and issue the notice to quit when rent is received past the due date, as I explained when you moved in. That's all I say but the reason I do this is that I want them to pay on time first of all and also to know that even though I'm super friendly, I'm also running a business. If they pay the late fee and the full rent amount, nothing to worry about but if they don't end up paying then I'm one step closer to being able to evict. I prefer to have good relationships with my tenants and even get to become friends with them sometimes, which others discourage and I can see why but it's just how I am. I still have strict business policies that I stick too because at the end of the day I'm running a business. 

 You make a good point that telling people you will "get back to them" can lead to false hope. I have found it is better to say no, even if you are unsure what you want to do. You can always come back later and change it to "yes". There are some circumstances where I tell the tenant I need time to look into something. 

I agree, honesty is the only policy.  However, there are a couple of work arounds.

1. "I have to treat you the same as I do for all my tenants because the law requires it.  Unfortunately I cannot make any exceptions at this time."

2. If you have a business partner, like in my case my wife, I sometimes say, "Hey let me talk it over with my wife and get back to you.  We spoke and decided to do "X"."  

3. "I do need to go by the lease that we both agreed upon.  It can get complicated if we pick and choose what we enforce and don't."

Unfortunately I can be too nice sometimes so I have to go with one of these options to keep things neutral and business oriented.  

The first time I heard this approach years ago it sounded like a pretty good idea. But for all the reasons already listed, I quickly decided it was a bad idea. The better approach is either honesty ("I'm the owner and the answer is yes/no") or deflection ("Let me look into it and I'll get back to you"). There's no shame in buying yourself some time to consider requests or enforcing rules, even if you more or less immediately know the answer.