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?
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.
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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.
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!