4 Foolproof Steps to Painlessly Resolve Tenant Complaints

by | BiggerPockets.com

If you manage properties, there’s one thing that absolutely will happen, no matter how amazing you are at your job: someone somewhere will complain about something.

Even the world’s most pleasant people are destined to come across something over a year or more of tenancy that they’re not completely happy with — and that’s a strictly best-case scenario. The world is full of people who seem to thrive on complaining.

So when do you need to actually pay attention to a complaining tenant?

Every. Time.

If you don’t address your tenants’ complains, not only will you get unhappy tenants who move out and leave you scrambling to advertise and re-fill the properties, but you could end up in legal trouble as well.

Related: How to Find Great Tenants Without Ever Meeting Them

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4 Steps to Handling a Tenant Complaint

Step 1: Acknowledge That the Tenant’s Complaint is Important

Even if you don’t want it to be — and even if you don’t understand why — it’s important to them, which means it should be important to you…to a degree.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wisely prioritize it along with everything else on your plate. It does, however, mean that you should feel the need to communicate with them about it, including telling them where on your list of priorities it falls and when you expect to be able to deal with it.

Step 2: Record Everything

Start by making copies of any communications the tenant used to inform you of the problem. When you reply, make copies of any writing, and use Google Voice or another service to record any phone calls — even if you’re just leaving a message.

Tenants often exaggerate and claim that you didn’t respond to their numerous complaints, that you or a staff person were rude in calls or emails, and that the situation has been going on “for like ever.”

We’ve found that being able to quickly rebut these claims with a litany of the specific dates and times they contacted you “resets” the tone of the conversation, and they suddenly become more pleasant. This is even more important if you end up in court. If you can give the judge your precise communications, you can avoid a lot of tenant shenanigans. (Suffice it to say, you need to inform the tenants that this is your policy and that you’re recording specific calls.)

Step 3: Fix the Problem

And naturally, record everything you did to fix it. We actually bring a video camera with us, video the situation before the fix and after the fix, and then we try (they don’t always cooperate) to get a recorded statement from the tenant saying that they’ve seen the fix and they’re happy with it.

We keep that video alongside the receipts and other paperwork related to the job, just in case it crops back up.

Step 4: Follow Up With the Tenant

Even if you’re as paranoid as we are, and you have video of the tenant saying the job was all good, call back a week or two later and make sure that everything is still working out.

This is the kind of touch that will make a valued tenant stick around come renewal time because it shows that you’re actually interested in making the property livable and not just in getting them to stop complaining. That’s important.

We also don’t recommend handling complaint calls if you’re having a bad day! Nothing good will come of it if your temper is short. Don’t ignore the complaint; simply tell the tenant you’ll have to get back with them, and then do so as soon as you’re in a better mood, but not more than 24 hours or so later.

Related: The 8 Things I Want Every Tenant to Know

One more important point – dealing with complaints takes a certain type of personality. You need to be empathetic and receptive, but firm when necessary. If that’s not you, then delegate tenant complaints to someone who can better handle them.

Being a landlord is essentially asking people to complain to you — it’s part and parcel of the job. How you handle those complaints will go a long way toward defining how you succeed as a property manager.

What’s your protocol for handling tenant complaints? What’s your best tenant complaint story?

Join in on the comments below!

About Author

Drew Sygit

Drew is the manager of Royal Rose Property Management, a fairly high-tech solution for Detroit Metro area property owners & investors.


  1. Drew, excellent article! I really like your idea to record everything. This seems like a really good way to C.Y.A. Isn’t there rules/regulations against recording conversations though?

    • FRANKIE: thanks for commenting. Yes, as we mention in the article you have/should to inform the tenants that you’re recording them. GoogleVoice automatically states, “This call is now being recorded” to inform all on the call. When doing video, we get the tenant to state they are allowing us to video them and use as we see fit.

  2. Our standard policy is to make a written record of everything–we require tenants email us, NOT call, and we print out all communication for their file–especially complaints or requests to fix something. After we repair , we emaIL a few days later to ask if everything is still ok–we print their response & it goes in their file. That way they cannot complain that “the landlord never fixes anything”. Every email we send to a tenant about a repair or complaint states” please print this for your records, a copy is in your tenant file.”
    Document everything, no matter how pleasant your relationship with a tenant is–especially serious issues like roof leaks, septic issues, pest control–if you ever go to court, having everything documented with time and date will go a long way!

    • Nice!! I love the disclaimer about “Please print for you records, a copy will be placed in your file.” I too require the email too. I will start the following up process too. Thanks

      • JOANN: thanks for sharing how you do things, all great points! We actually have a tenant portal system they can post everything to and if they email us, we copy and paste it there for all to see. If you don’t have such a system, you may want to scan everything and save it in a digital folder instead of paper. We’ve been 100% digital for almost 3 years and not only does it save on space, but it saves a LOT of time looking for things and when you have to send it to an attorney, etc:) You will need to be strict about standardizing naming conventions! We use yyyy-mm-dd for dates and Main_E_123 for addresses.

    • DANNY: we use Propertyware which is a full-blown, cloud-based property management solution. Some other are Buildium and Appfolio. There are several other solutions available, just not sure if they offer tenant portals.

  3. Have a single family home with new 8 mts tenets at first they complained about re cleaning the house. It was freshly painted, cleaned by former tenants, then recleaned. At the time this remark was made the new tenant was very pregnant and the place looked like a pigstye with trash and boxes of theirs. I. Have photos showing the house before and after they moved in. The wife emptied some garden equipment from the garage then vacuumed it! Then they asked if the bedroom window could be repaired due to fogging between the panes they also offered to split the cost of replacement of the window in the second bedroom. After Mandy estimates and allowing for idle very, we replaced 5 custom window and respected they remove or raise a bed placed on top of a heater vent. Then we received a response detailing the filthy nature of the house and the considerable cost to then to buy a washer. We were willing to replace with one, but they wanted one that cost $600. More so we said you buy it and take it with you. Now they want a dishwasher replaced and new countertops. Not going to happen. While we will replace the dishwasher with one of our choice, I’m not going to keep remodeling a house they are not taking care of. There is currently too many people living in too small a house. Husband wife son, baby, niece, and supposedly occasional son by former marriage. What constitutes repair vrs cosmetic enhasment? And at the end of their lease can we raise their rent and how much? It’s single family home

    • SUSAN: You’re asking a lot of rather vague questions and this may not be the forum to address them all in detail. I’ll try to cover the basics a bit…

      How many people does your lease allow to be in the property? If they have moved in more people than the lease allows, most states allow you to start eviction for lease violation.

      Not sure why the windows were replaced unless there was something wrong with them before the tenant moved in. A well written lease would allow you to fix the windows If the tenant damaged them and bill the tenant for those damages. If the tenant refused to pay, it could be a legal reason to evict them. This applies to all damages by the tenants, not just the windows.

      Depending on what your lease states, you should be able to raise the rent to whatever you feel is justified as long as you serve the tenants with proper legal notice.

      Be sure to check all your state & local laws. Hope this helped.

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