Should You be Friends with Your Tenants or Just Friendly?
We’ve noticed that a lot of landlords have different approaches to the way they deal with tenants. We’ve come up against countless tenant issues over the years, from late rent payments, tenants dodging phone calls and emails, and some crazy property damage that we’ve seen inside units, and we’ve also encountered landlords who think they can avoid all of this by having friendlier tenant relations.
And the people who think you should be friendly with your tenants are (somewhat) right. However, there is a fine line between “being friendly” and “being friends” with tenants. One encourages cooperation with you, but the other will only cause problems in the long run.
At the end of the day, the short answer to the question “should you be friends with your tenants?'' is a firm no. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t communicate with them and develop healthy boundaries in the process.
The goal is to be sociable without disrupting the business relationship.
So, here are our top four tips for managing your relationship with tenants professionally—all for the mutual benefit of both parties.
Don’t accept favors or special requests.
Imagine you have a child, and they know they’re not allowed to watch TV after 9 PM. But then one time, just once, you let it slide and give in, letting them stay up late in front of the television. Now, they’re always going to expect you to give in because you caved once.
The same thing happens with your tenants, even if they’re full-grown adults. Instead of tantrums, though, they take undue advantage of you with sob stories and endless requests.
Granting these favors and special requests—even if it’s just once—will eventually bite you in the backside. Allow them to miss rent once, and you can bet that they’ll do it again!
If you become friends with your tenants, they will increasingly expect more favors and eventually take advantage of your generosity. And if you say no to your “tenant friends”, they will get frustrated and give you unnecessary headaches. That’s why it’s best to keep things professional, not personal.
You should have a friendly, default answer that sets firm boundaries. Go with “I’ll think about it” before letting them down gently, or “I’m sorry, but that’s not something my lawyer would advise” until they get used to your unwavering answers.
Don’t: Become a friend who’ll give special treatments.
Do: Politely refuse all favors and special requests; treat all tenants equally.
If it goes too far, you can also say that you “completely understand if the situation now calls for a move-out” and that you’ll be happy to work with them on the process.
The bottom line? Never give in.
Avoid mixing business with pleasure.
Being friendly means having casual chats with the tenant every so often—but never to the point of being friends and never letting it become routine.
Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure:
- 1. It undermines your authority, as tenants will likely overlook your position as the landlord once they know too much about you, and vice versa.
- 2. It affects your reputation as a landlord, allowing unwanted opinions about your personal life to form and bleed into your professional life. It may even lead to non-business-related conflicts that shouldn’t matter in the first place.
- 3. It might increase jealousy among tenants unless you socialize with all your tenants—which takes a lot of unnecessary stress, time, and effort.
Instead, keep your relationship professional and separate your personal life from your business. Being friendly is a necessity, but being friends with them is not.
You can define your relationship with them during the application process, where you communicate your expectations on the landlord-tenant relationship. Explain what kind of landlord you are and how you’d appreciate them only contacting you for business-related concerns.
You want them to treat you as their landlord—someone that they observe and respect.
Don’t: Intertwine business with personal life.
Do: Be friendly and respectful; be clear that you’re still their landlord, not their friend.
Document all agreements in writing.
Diligent landlords are obsessed with documenting everything from move-in checklists to lease agreements. This diligence in formalizing things should carry over to managing your tenants on a day-to-day basis. Nothing is an issue until it’s an issue—and you need to have written proof to verify it if and when a dispute does arise.
For example, there’ll always be tenants that will try to whip up a verbal agreement with you over a casual conversation. The friendlier you are to them, the more they will bring up certain things they want you to allow. It may be as simple as adopting an additional pet to stay in the rental unit, but it may also lead to more serious topics, such as being flexible with their payment plan for outstanding rent.
Allowing them to casually strike up an agreement with you without formal documentation will likely come back to haunt you, as verbal agreements have no leg to stand on in court. It’ll be your word against theirs.
Instead, put your business first and record all agreements made with your tenants. Don’t let any friendships cloud your judgment. Always have proper documentation to protect your business.
Don’t: Allow verbal agreements.
Do: Document all agreements on paper and uphold them at all times.
Maintain a manager-employee relationship.
Imagine you run a small consulting agency where you manage a team of 15 content creators. One of the most critical aspects of your relationship is that they acknowledge your authority. No matter how close you get at team-building events or drinking sessions—you are still their boss at the end of the day. They respect you as their manager, and you respect them as your employees.
It’s a similar situation with tenants, where there should be a manager-employee type of relationship for both parties to enjoy their stay. They need you just as much as you need them. After all, they are responsible for bringing in your rental income.
Strive to maintain a relationship that upholds respect towards each other’s position in the business. Treat your investment as a business venture, where your tenants are your trustworthy employees. They will thank you for being a reliable and understanding manager at the end of the day.
Here are some steps to establish a healthy working relationship with your tenants:
- 1. Develop mutual respect towards each other, and be firm on your role as their landlord.
- 2. Allow them to communicate with you, especially when it’s about their financial situation.
- 3. Maintain an appropriate gap between professional and personal life.
- 4. Recognize their efforts when you implement a carrot-and-stick strategy for rent payments and other rules. Motivate with rewards, but have consequences for dissatisfactory behavior.
All of these steps can help you develop a manager-employee type of relationship with your tenants.
Don’t: Allow your tenants to run your business.
Do: Treat them as “employees” who should cooperate with you.
The goal is to have a healthy, professional relationship with your tenants that encourages them to pay on time, maintain the rental property nicely, and follow all the agreements in the lease. Never get too chummy with them, or you run the risk of an unsuccessful rental investment at the cost of friendship. Always remember to:
- 1. Never accept favors or special requests.
- 2. Avoid mixing business with pleasure.
- 3. Document every agreement in writing.
- 4. Maintain a manager-employee type of relationship.
All of these tips will help you prioritize your goals as a landlord and rental investor. You’re still running a business—one that is supposed to generate a steady flow of income every month, not stressful situations.
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