Tenants who are always finding problems.

16 Replies

I'd like to start out by saying that I understand problems arise and they are legitimate. I self manage 11 properties and I'm a fairly new landlord. I'm curious if I could get any advise on how to handle tenants who are good tenants as far as pay on time as keep up the home but are kind of naive to renting homes and what goes along with being a renter. The particular situation I'm am in need of guidance on is a new tenant we have recently put in one of our homes and this person feels the need to text myself and my partner every time the house makes a noise or the air conditioner makes a sound they think is a problem or when the weather is bad and the lights blink......the list goes on and on. At what point do I as the landlord have to draw a line on what is petty and what is legitimate and set boundaries with the tenant? Any added advise is appreciated. Thanks!

I have learned that asking for pictures/ recordings is a great tool, they can't capture a house creak on audio and you can make determinations for legitimate issues such as a faulty HVAC

I am sorry you're having this experience - it comes sooner or later for every landlord.

I hope you have some clause in your lease about how maintenance is handled and what constitutes a maintenance request. I would set up an appointment one day with your tenants and review this clause (or if you don't have one, or it's not very strong, draft an addendum that clarifies the matter), go over it in detail, and if using the addendum, both sign it in person and make them a copy.

You want to explain the boundaries in a professional manner and memorialize it in writing. The sooner you do this, the better. In the meantime, ignore any communication about such frivolous requests. 

With professional property management, of course we receive all manner of frivolous maintenance requests at all hours of the day and night, weekends and holidays. However, we are working with professional software, so we aren't just getting text messages. When we do receive a frivolous request, we open the request during business hours and close/cancel it with a note notifying the tenant that the work order was cancelled because it is not something the landlord warrants to address per the lease, or something to that effect.

If you are not looking for professional property management at this time, I do recommend investing in some kind of software that allows you to process maintenance requests instead of giving tenants your phone number. Our company uses AppFolio, which wouldn't be appropriate for someone self-managing 11 properties - unfortunately I don't have recommendations for other software, but I do see many investors on here recommending cozy.co - might be worth checking it out and seeing if they have a maintenance feature.

I hope you're able to get this situation under control quickly without affecting your working relationship with these tenants for the remainder of their lease term!

Hi @Fralan Gatte !  I have this same issue right now with some tenants who, otherwise, are rock solid.  What I p found to be helpful with them is to insert massive amounts of education on homes and home-rentership.  Most of the time this high-maintenance tenancy comes from either a naivety on the reality of homes (they are basically living, breathing things and NONE of them are perfect) OR from a previous landlord who trained them in these bad habits.

It's no guarantee that the retraining program will work, but so far each time these tenants have reached out with a creak, or a caulking issue, or something like that it was been met with an informational session on WHY this issue is happening and what they can do the next time.


 

I would think that the easier it is for them to put in the repair request (a text in this instance) the more likely you are going to run into the frivolous issues. You certainly don't want them to ignore issues but at the same time, if it takes them a few minutes to fill out a form to request a fix they will not be as likely to come up with the spook in the attic routine.

Just my two cents.

YMMV

I think it depends on the issue at hand. If its just intrusive to get multiple maintenance calls, get a google voice number, let the calls go to voicemail and then you can check it right after. if its important you handle, if its not, you put it on your list of things to check when you do your next inspection.

If they are expecting you to fix everything that makes a creak, they have unreasonable expectations and you should probably hit them with the happy clause. (I don't think this is the case from your explanation)

1. Ignore frivolous requests outside of "normal" business hours, whatever those might be for you. I won't respond to any text or phone call outside of business hours that's not an emergency because I don't want the tenant thinking I am on speed dial. 

2. Don't respond to non-frivolous requests immediately by text unless it is an emergency. Same reason - you don't want your tenant thinking you are at their instant service. 

3. For frivolous requests: explain nicely but firmly why it is a frivolous request (you don't have to use that word) and how they may be able to address it if they want to pursue it on their own (if applicable) or why it cannot be addressed at all. 

4. For non-frivolous requests: advise what you will/won't do, and when that will take place. Then stick to it. If you tell them you'll look at it by Friday, don't blow it off. 

5. For things that are the tenant's responsibility beyond a certain point, explain that up front. A real life example from me, from about a month ago:

Tenant: "Can you have someone check out the dryer plug? Our dryer runs but won't dry clothes."

Me: "OK. Did you check that the vent is cleared? Dryers have thermostatic switches that prevent overheating if the vent is clogged."

Tenant: "We did that and it's clear."

Me: "OK, the plug likely works but I will check the voltage on Wednesday when I am in town."

Me, on Wednesday: "Voltage is a full 240 and 120 on each leg. Outlet works correctly, you may have some problem with your dryer."

Tenant, one week later: "We got another dryer from pop's house but it still doesn't dry. Can you send an electrician to check the outlet?"

Me: "I can, but I have already checked it for free. If the electrician finds 240 at the plug, you will have a service charge from the electrician. My advice, try replacing your plug first - that is cheap and perhaps your plug is bad since you used same plug on both dryers."

Tenant: "Thanks! Will try that."

Tenant, one week later: "It was the plug and the heating element. Thanks for not sending electrician!"

Originally posted by @Fralan Gatte :

I’d like to start out by saying that I understand problems arise and they are legitimate. I self manage 11 properties and I’m a fairly new landlord. I’m curious if I could get any advise on how to handle tenants who are good tenants as far as pay on time as keep up the home but are kind of naive to renting homes and what goes along with being a renter. The particular situation I’m am in need of guidance on is a new tenant we have recently put in one of our homes and this person feels the need to text myself and my partner every time the house makes a noise or the air conditioner makes a sound they think is a problem or when the weather is bad and the lights blink......the list goes on and on. At what point do I as the landlord have to draw a line on what is petty and what is legitimate and set boundaries with the tenant? Any added advise is appreciated. Thanks!

LOL - This is not a problem my friend. This is a good thing. You want tenants that are attentive to the property.

Respond to emergencies immediately.

Respond to everything else during business hours.

Always respond and always thank them for notifying you of problems.

As these conversations go on, the tenant will learn what is worthy of calling you on and what isn't.

The alternative is when the tenant thinks you don't care and so they don't call.

@Fralan Gatte

Educate them. Quickly. If it’s not an emergency, do not get back to them immediately. They will then expect that. A brief text later can do the work.

“That’s normal”. “That’s fine”. “No need to worry”. “Since it’s not an emergency, I’ll swing by in a couple days and take a look”. “Refer to the lease. That’s your responsibility”. “Buy a plunger”.

@JD Martin

My latest example;

Tenant: The bathroom sink is draining slow. We’ve tried everything we can think of.

Me: Have you tried removing the drain stopper and cleaned out the hair that’s probably in there? That happens at my house all the time. (Sends pic of how to do that).

Tenant: That worked! Thanks.

I give out a sheet on move-in day that tells tenants how to put in a work order and defines "emergency", "urgent", and "minor" maintenance issues. It lays out the time frame for responses for each type of issues and lets tenants know that they may be charged for issues due to negligence on their part.

@Fralan Gatte  

You start with the same medium, text, and say "please these requests are not repairs and maintenance related". What you want to do is direct the tenant to your software (TenantCloud is free), so this extra step may act as a deterrent to text. 

After these approaches, if the tenant still continues, then just write a strong-worded letter and send it via post reiterating the above. 

@Fralan Gatte

Immediately covert them to an online google form for submission of non-emergency maintenance requests. Reply within two business days. If it is a pointless request such as the furnace made a noise “this non-emergency request has been documented and will be added to the schedule for future inspection” is all that’s required.

Documenting as much as possible will always help to set expectations prior to any "issues" coming up. Another way I've seen landlords handle the reoccurring requests for small fixes, is to add into the lease that under a certain $$$ amount, the tenant is responsible. I.e. if the door handle becomes loose, and for whatever reason it needs minor repair, it's on the tenant. This can add some obvious complications, but it also will let the tenant know that you're not going to be handling every minor nuance the tenant is able to find.

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