Does Size Really Matter?

25 Replies

I'm in C'class rentals as a self-managing handyman landlord. I am 6'2" and weigh 350 lbs. Most people peripheral to the business (mortgage brokers, financial advisors, magistrates) tend to tell me I really look exactly like a slumlord. My size is a clear disadvantage for a lot of the handyman work I do (installations in tight areas, roofing).

I'm not a bully. Never been one to push people around. When I see people smaller than me, my first thought isn't, "Oh, I can probably take them." But I think the fact that I'm as big as I am really cuts down on the shenanigans from my tenants. Some of this stuff I read on this site I can barely believe -- nobody would try to pull that with me. Overall, I've noticed that the people I rent to really do tend to be A LOT smaller and obviously weaker than me, as opposed to the homeowners and of course other landlords I meet.

I am also of the opinion that when my tenants see me in my work uniform, pulling up in my work vehicle, and have the opportunity to watch me working on my own properties with my own hands, a lot of class envy really seems to seep away out of the landlord-tenant relationship. I become a guy who's just leveraging his skills to do better, not someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

I'm dead certain it's a lot easier for a tenant to pay rent to a handyman landlord than most others.

But still, working with such an obvious advantage tends to make you blind. So I'd like to know from the BP community of landlords, have you ever been physically intimidated by a tenant? Has a tenant ever tried to bully you with their size? Do you think that if you're small you have a disadvantage to overcome in dealing belly-to-belly with your tenants? I'm really looking for the nuanced perspective of the women who make it as landlords or property managers, too. Thank you!

@Jim K. Respect is important for sure. I'm sure Jim you probably gain more from your actions and demeanor than you do by physical size. If I were a true deadbeat tenant I'd want you to get physical on me and use that against you with tenant activists. 

My wife is the PM so we always choose properties and tenants that will be unlikely to cause problems and instances have been few; the tenants respect her and her manner is very professional.

In an earlier life I was a repo man in a Northern Ontario mining town I can't tell you how many individuals I personally hounded for payments, or how many cars I actually repossessed, easily in the thousands. Physically I am 5'9'' and 160 lbs. I don't recall having any serious altercations. Anyway size does matter but other attributes matter more. Interesting topic.

People can respect you for your size, but they can also respect someone for their honesty, professionalism, kindness, fairness, intelligence, and a myriad of other non-physical attributes.

I'm managing 400 rentals, 11 years experience, and I don't have tenants trying to intimidate me. I can count on the number of times they tried, but they always back down when I maintain my cool and professionalism.

Originally posted by @Bjorn Ahlblad :

@Jim K.Respect is important for sure. I'm sure Jim you probably gain more from your actions and demeanor than you do by physical size. If I were a true deadbeat tenant I'd want you to get physical on me and use that against you with tenant activists. 

My wife is the PM so we always choose properties and tenants that will be unlikely to cause problems and instances have been few; the tenants respect her and her manner is very professional.

In an earlier life I was a repo man in a Northern Ontario mining town I can't tell you how many individuals I personally hounded for payments, or how many cars I actually repossessed, easily in the thousands. Physically I am 5'9'' and 160 lbs. I don't recall having any serious altercations. Anyway size does matter but other attributes matter more. Interesting topic.

I can only imagine what you went through in repo. For me, there's never been any of that. Nobody offering up physical violence, nobody trying get me to lose my temper. The sort of thing I worry about is unpredictable violence planned out in cold blood. I don't do regular collections, for instance, going somewhere at a specific time every month to get money. Way too simple to get jumped and robbed.

I hope I earn respect from my tenants with my actions, but I've dropped the ball plenty of times and been at fault for not getting some stuff done on time. It's almost inevitable, especially at the beginning, when you don't know how to run maintenance schedules and logs.

Originally posted by @Nathan G. :

People can respect you for your size, but they can also respect someone for their honesty, professionalism, kindness, fairness, intelligence, and a myriad of other non-physical attributes.

I'm managing 400 rentals, 11 years experience, and I don't have tenants trying to intimidate me. I can count on the number of times they tried, but they always back down when I maintain my cool and professionalism.

Yes, but...we've had discussions about the Army and guns, Nathan. I suspect a armed-forced veteran property manager known for carrying a weapon out in Wyoming is a whole different sammich from a guy in Pittsburgh working a small number of urban properties. No tenant of mine has ever tried to physically intimidate me here, and while I've done my share of ugly things in the past and I'm pretty sure it shows on my face, I wasn't up there at Fort Drum toting a rifle, I was in the Snow Belt to study. I've no doubt you're a much scarier guy when you want to be than I am. And as always, Nathan, thank you for your service.

 

Originally posted by @Theresa Harris :

Bjorn and Nathan both said it well.  How you act is much more important than your appearance.  

I guess, Theresa, but when I read about some of the goings-on here on Bigger Pockets, I'm certainly glad I'm not on the small side.

Originally posted by @Jim K. :
Yes, but...we've had discussions about the Army and guns, Nathan. I suspect a armed-forced veteran property manager known for carrying a weapon out in Wyoming is a whole different sammich from a guy in Pittsburgh working a small number of urban properties. No tenant of mine has ever tried to physically intimidate me here, and while I've done my share of ugly things in the past and I'm pretty sure it shows on my face, I wasn't up there at Fort Drum toting a rifle, I was in the Snow Belt to study. I've no doubt you're a much scarier guy when you want to be than I am. And as always, Nathan, thank you for your service.

I rarely carry. Maybe ten days in the last ten years. And I carry concealed, so they wouldn't know.

 

I try to show respect for all the people I need to deal with. It seems that If I am seen with the proper attitude it makes them feel more at ease. At the same time I require that same respect, If you think I'm a push over because of my attitude and try to take advantage, you'll find it's not so easy. I just firmly and politely stand my ground. Also I am lucky to live in a small town where there is not much to fear as far as the violence in the larger cities.  

We had our 1st one ever last year with a sheriff enforced eviction. These long term tenants were great for 10 years, but they got into drugs so were no longer coherent or sane. My 102 lb, 4'11" wife (with a CC permit) was present (as required by the sheriff to change locks), but with 3 of my guys, I was recovering from a torn meniscus so bedridden. The skinny drug addict threatened my wife but her 'support group' put him down very fast. 

The tenants then refused to leave but were subsequently arrested for threatening the female backup LEO with an old bowling ball. Their vehicles were then towed & I assume they enjoyed overnight accommodations curtesy of the sheriff. A week later their daughter returned, with a sheriff escort, to retrieve their personal stuff & the last we heard they were living in their vehicles & delivering for Insta Cart & a pizza joint.   



@Jim K. I have only had a couple times that I thought something may turn physical. One of my tenants was a drunk who liked beating his wife. I confronted him and told him to get the f out of my property and never come back. Only other situation was a tenants boyfriend who got super verbally abusive. I was more afraid he would retaliate and damage the property. In general I keep it professional but sometimes people are irrational or emotional. I try to exit a situation if I feel like I can’t keep control. That rarely happens as I have found experience gives me confidence. There are cases every year of landlords getting killed, even when they do it all right, so everyone be careful out there.

I do think size is an advantage for a landlord but I think good listening and de-escalation skills are the biggest advantages a landlord can have and people of any size can improve on those skills. When we inherit tenants in a property, I like to win over the "tough cases"; the people that have been screwed over before (sometimes multiple times). In every case where I have had to "non renew" a tenant lease for unacceptable behavior (other than drug dealing), I believe I that was dealing with a person suffering from a cluster B personality disorder. And even in all but one of those cases, I've been able to work out an exit strategy that allowed the tenant time to find a new place and got us out without a financial loss or property damage. The one time we had to evict, I believe the guy was suffering from a BAD case of narcissistic personality disorder.

I think that people who believe that a landlord needs to be physically intimidating or carry a gun in order to deal with tenants, probably shouldn't be managing rentals. (I manage rentals in B-D neighborhoods @5'3 1/2 and my new years resolution is 130 (lol, it could happen)).

Are C class tenants smart enough to realize that your big size is an advantage to them - they can assault you and then sue you, as no one in the court will believe that you didn’t try to use your size. But maybe C class tenants are more used to using guns instead of hands and legs?

What areas in Pittsburg?

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

@Jim K. I have only had a couple times that I thought something may turn physical. One of my tenants was a drunk who liked beating his wife. I confronted him and told him to get the f out of my property and never come back. Only other situation was a tenants boyfriend who got super verbally abusive. I was more afraid he would retaliate and damage the property. In general I keep it professional but sometimes people are irrational or emotional. I try to exit a situation if I feel like I can’t keep control. That rarely happens as I have found experience gives me confidence. There are cases every year of landlords getting killed, even when they do it all right, so everyone be careful out there.

Joe, I've had just one situation like this. Wife was the tenant, getting away from an abusive husband, but they were trying to keep things civil for the sake of the kids and the father had some limited visitation. I was there once when the guy showed up. When he learned who I was, he had this lizardlike reaction, eyes narrowed and he actually tried to stare me down before he caught himself. Man, I could smell the crazy on that guy. He resented me for giving his wife and kids a place to stay away from him, which is understandable as the wife had no credit to speak of and the only reason I set aside my credit standards and rented to her was a specific ask and a guarantee of the rent from a local police officer who was involved in the case (one of the many things I've seen officers do and never get credit for).

The verbal abuse I've had to endure has been from drunks, too. There are just some guys who express themselves like that when drunk -- that's their release.

What I worry about most are repetitive, predictable visits. You still hear about guys here who go around every first of the month and pick up cash rent from multiple properties. I don't do that, no matter how much I love cash. Sooner or later in some Pittsburgh hood, someone's going to figure out your route, your weak points, and even if you're carrying, there's going to be a situation that could and should have been avoided.

 

Originally posted by @Jill F. :

I do think size is an advantage for a landlord but I think good listening and de-escalation skills are the biggest advantages a landlord can have and people of any size can improve on those skills. When we inherit tenants in a property, I like to win over the "tough cases"; the people that have been screwed over before (sometimes multiple times). In every case where I have had to "non renew" a tenant lease for unacceptable behavior (other than drug dealing), I believe I that was dealing with a person suffering from a cluster B personality disorder. And even in all but one of those cases, I've been able to work out an exit strategy that allowed the tenant time to find a new place and got us out without a financial loss or property damage. The one time we had to evict, I believe the guy was suffering from a BAD case of narcissistic personality disorder.

I think that people who believe that a landlord needs to be physically intimidating or carry a gun in order to deal with tenants, probably shouldn't be managing rentals. (I manage rentals in B-D neighborhoods @5'3 1/2 and my new years resolution is 130 (lol, it could happen)).

Jill, I get this so much. The horror stories I've heard from tenants have been extraordinary. Multiple times, I've heard stories that the LL breaks in when they're not there, and this has been from people who haven't shown me any supporting paranoid beliefs or behaviors. Currently, I'm dealing with an inherited tenant whose former LL ginned up a civil complaint online form for about $5K in back rent and fees online, took a screenshot of it, and emailed it to her. I called the local municipal court and it turns out that he never filled the complaint, just filled out the form to scare and intimidate her.

I don't ever like to share my own eviction stories because the people have slipped into absolutely clear mental problems in all of them, yes, textbook disorder stuff out of my psych classes. You guys have a lot more units now and I'm sure there's pain that I never want to deal with.

I'm glad to hear it hasn't been bad for you in your situation, either. I don't carry to deal with my tenants. I carry to deal with crazy and unlike some guys I know here, I've never had to take out my weapon and if I make it another ten years without that, I'll be a very happy man.

 

Originally posted by @Tushar P. :

Are C class tenants smart enough to realize that your big size is an advantage to them - they can assault you and then sue you, as no one in the court will believe that you didn’t try to use your size. But maybe C class tenants are more used to using guns instead of hands and legs?

What areas in Pittsburg?

No, that's never happened. This isn't Fight Club.

I don't know where Pittsburg is. 

Jim, I've been the handyman in a minivan self-managing cheaper rentals for 18 years and I'm not large.  

I think a couple things that have helped me, like you were saying, is I am there helping the best I can as soon as I can when repairs or matters need addressed.  I am on their side (I just 'manage' the MF) and I give a rip. I have also built a reputation of fair but firm.  Problem people go away. 

On the rarer occasions of conflict or BS, I think I was treated differently than a larger person like you would have been.  Standing in the doorway and lieing to my face, looking down and feeling smug.  But never physical. 

Thankfully I am emotionally flat and not moved easily.  I can calmly tell them what's what and when Big Tony, Sammy Feet and I will be returning to address the issue personally if necessary.  Calm emotional state under fire is important. 

Overall I have had a good experience self-managing as another working stiff.  I think that's what your people see, too.  What's also important, probably more than size, is not being quick to rise.  Most of my large friends would be horrible landlords. Can't get riled up in this biz. 

Thank you for a cool topic to discuss. I was getting bored on here👍

Originally posted by @Jim K. :
Originally posted by @Tushar P.:

Are C class tenants smart enough to realize that your big size is an advantage to them - they can assault you and then sue you, as no one in the court will believe that you didn’t try to use your size. But maybe C class tenants are more used to using guns instead of hands and legs?

What areas in Pittsburg?

No, that's never happened. This isn't Fight Club.

I don't know where Pittsburg is. 

I’ve heard it isn’t completely like Detroit but didn’t the demise of steel plants over the decades combined with population decline create Detroit-like situation in many neighborhoods?

Originally posted by @Jim K. :

I'm in C'class rentals as a self-managing handyman landlord. I am 6'2" and weigh 350 lbs. Most people peripheral to the business (mortgage brokers, financial advisors, magistrates) tend to tell me I really look exactly like a slumlord.... But I think the fact that I'm as big as I am really cuts down on the shenanigans from my tenants... So I'd like to know from the BP community of landlords, have you ever been physically intimidated by a tenant? Has a tenant ever tried to bully you with their size? Do you think that if you're small you have a disadvantage to overcome in dealing belly-to-belly with your tenants? I'm really looking for the nuanced perspective of the women who make it as landlords or property managers, too. Thank you!

I've had one tenant try to intimidate/bully another (a woman about your size, against one upstairs that was quite a bit smaller, with a small child) over noise (yeah, ok, her kids get up early on Sat to run to eat and watch TV and yes, upstairs people do have to flush toilets now and then). Which I had to shut down - she was considerably larger than me, but as a former Marine, not many actually intimidate me. I do sometimes carry, but not usually. My dad had some apts/houses in an area that my husband did carry, when he went to collect rent -- always cash, had to get on Fri after work, before they spent it all - but all of those have been liquidated at this point. I still have houses and apts in C neighborhoods, but I make sure they are at the top end in appearance, appliances and rent. The very few people that were still wanting to pay in cash, we have moved to either mailing in a money order or, for two, having them drive to my parents house to drop it off (I'd rather they mail it, but this is much, much better of my Dad's method, where he drove to every unit to get the rent, almost always in cash, and on the first Fri of the month). Most pay online now, even older tenants. One has a son with power of attorney and he is much happier setting it up online, instead of us having to chase him down to try to get a check (his wife/girlfiend/whatever apparently resented him paying the mom's rent, so trashed notices and would not give him phone messages, which had gotten to the point of his mom nearly being evicted over the mess). Now he pays early each month, online. Even with Covid, we have had a much higher payment rate than many I've read of, although there has been slippage of dates and a couple I've had to work with, arranging for rental assistance.

The issue of carrying can be a complex one - you have to be in fear of your life or defending another at the same risk, or you can be in legal jeopardy. With no cash being collected, there is no real motive (other than my vehicle, I suppose) for someone to risk robbing me. We have had some trouble with one neighbor (an older teen, whose friends like to block our driveways while "waiting" for him, rather than pull into his driveway), but really most people just want to get along with their neighbors (assuming they aren't dealing and causing traffic/crime in the neighborhood -- and lately, don't have Covid, so aren't a risk to elderly neighbors).

I suspect, sadly, the attitude you attribute to bankers and other money guys, are somewhat racially motivated, combined with the market you are invested in. I strongly suspect tenants thought that of my dad, tho, as he (still) drives a beat up pickup truck and dresses shabbily when working outside (those jumpers you see for garage mechanics, usually). I doubt he ran into that at the banks, tho he might have (as I said, some were in very sketchy neighborhoods, that continued downhill, although a few ended up in a more gentrified section as downtown has seen a revival in more recent years). Perhaps your size contributes to that impression from money lenders, but I see a lot of big contractors and that definitely isn't my first thought (it's usually "can I get that guy to help me put this heavy thing on my cart?" - at 5'7" and female, some things are simply physically beyond my capabilities).

Size does matter on repairs tho - Had an HVAC system that the interior part started leaking last Fall. Had to get a small guy to climb thru some open shelving to figure out why we could not open the access door to get to it and clean out the drip pipe -- some idiot had ran screws, from the inside, to secure the access door to the framing, in addition to caulking and painting on the outside. So, had to repair that, too. I have another house where I need to find a very small electrician, so he can shimmy over to the wall where the roofline hits, fix a loose outlet (is pulled out of the box, but working) and then replace an inline fan for the hvac system. Complicated, of course, by Covid and elderly tenants, who will not (and should not) allow repair people inside until a vaccine is available, for anything other than emergency repairs.

Best of luck in the New Year!

Originally posted by @Steve Vaughan :

Jim, I've been the handyman in a minivan self-managing cheaper rentals for 18 years and I'm not large.  

I think a couple things that have helped me, like you were saying, is I am there helping the best I can as soon as I can when repairs or matters need addressed.  I am on their side (I just 'manage' the MF) and I give a rip. I have also built a reputation of fair but firm.  Problem people go away. 

On the rarer occasions of conflict or BS, I think I was treated differently than a larger person like you would have been.  Standing in the doorway and lieing to my face, looking down and feeling smug.  But never physical. 

Thankfully I am emotionally flat and not moved easily.  I can calmly tell them what's what and when Big Tony, Sammy Feet and I will be returning to address the issue personally if necessary.  Calm emotional state under fire is important. 

Overall I have had a good experience self-managing as another working stiff.  I think that's what your people see, too.  What's also important, probably more than size, is not being quick to rise.  Most of my large friends would be horrible landlords. Can't get riled up in this biz. 

Thank you for a cool topic to discuss. I was getting bored on here👍

The kiss of death to the self-managing landlord is "he don't do s**t here." As soon as tenants get it into their head that you're milking them for maximum profit and doing very little around the place, they start hating the place and the jerk that's eating their rent.

I still get angry. Usually, it's when my intelligence is insulted. I have a new tenant who now insists that her former landlord made an agreement for her to pay off a +$5K debt at $25 a month with zero interest. Granted, the tenant is on disability and claims brain damage, but still, this kind of self-serving lie doesn't work for me, even if she really does believe it somewhere in there.

@Jim K. , thanks for the thread, it has been fun reading.  I have been doing the LL thing for over 25 years and probably close to 30 years when I had just one rental.  I currently have about 40 units and manage about 30 of them myself.  I have never had a tenant try to intimidate me.  Now I had a burly partner who was a life long contractor who had several altercations.  The contractor was about an inch taller than me and a good 60 pounds of muscle heavier.  My belief of why we had different results was out attitudes and how we treated folks.  He was the in your face kind of guy.  I am a bit pot bellied now, but I always treat folks with respect.  I sit in an office a lot of the time and so am only in half of the shape I should be, and I am in my 60s.  Unless a person is drunk most of the time they respond according to how they are treated.  It probably does help that I was the DA in a town of only 3K people for a dozen years.  Now I could tell you stories about putting folks in prison and getting death threats.  As a result I do carry concealed, but have never had an occasion in LL stuff to even consider drawing a weapon.  We rarely collect in person and I have told folks that I would be filing an eviction and they actually understand.  I suppose being the prosecutor might actually help in some situations but, I personally think it hurts in as many.  Being fair and respectful is the key.  We don't have to worry much about being robbed, I cannot recall that ever happening in my community in the 30 plus years I have lived here.

You have to use whatever advantage you have in the business.   I have heard of police officers having luck in Class C because tenants will behave.    And regardless you have to provide good service, keep things maintained!