A DIY Landlord’s Guide to Having Positive Tenant Landlord Relationships

Behind a “bad” tenant and Landlord relationship, lies a more nuanced story.

Two men talking.If you just cruise the Internet at random, looking at stories from landlords and tenants about the other, you rapidly come to the conclusion that the tenant landlord relationship is naturally one of mutual contempt and loathing.Very few tenants have a lot of good to say about their landlords, and the reason why is actually pretty obvious — but so is the solution.

The Reason Why
Every relationship in the world can be broken down (among innumerable other ways) into two categories: mutual relationships and transactional relationships. The latter group consists of any relationship in which someone ‘owes’ someone else something, and the point is to keep track of which is owed and how much for purpose of ‘calling in’ the debt later. The former group consists of any relationship in which the two parties pursue a goal that both share, and the point is to stay on the same page regarding that goal.

Literally no human being appreciates being part of a transactional relationship. Whether you’re the person who owes or the person who is owed, every interaction that occurs between the two parties reminds both of them that the imbalance is being tracked. The ‘weight’ of that imbalance causes both parties aggravation that goes up exponentially as the weight goes up. The only positive interaction that can occur as part of a transactional relationship is the paying-off of the debt, which also happens to be the end of the relationship.

Contrarywise, everyone likes being part of a mutual relationship (provided the relationship is going well). Humans are biologically wired for cooperation and teamwork — it’s how we survived the ancient wilds despite being soft and clawless. We get all sorts of positive internal responses from being part of a team (even a team of two).

But because the landlord-tenant relationship is based on a lease — a contract that is literally a list of obligations that each party owes the other — it’s impossible to have a landlord-tenant relationship that isn’t marked by each party keeping track of what the other owes them. Which means that every interaction between landlord and tenant will aggravate both of them, because both being owed a debt and owing a debt are annoying.

Sidebar: Transactional vs. Mutual
If you’re not sure whether a particular interaction is transactional or mutual, here’s a simple list of concepts you can use to differentiate. Each bullet point has two parts; the first part is a transactional element of an interaction, and the second part is the mutual equivalent.
• Professional — friendly
• Self-interested — mutually interested
• About what you get — about what you contribute
• Keeping in touch — staying on the same page
• Understanding the process — understanding the person
• Judging the results — evaluating the relationship itself
• Winning a conflict — resolving a conflict
• Reaching a compromise –coming to an agreement

The Solution
Fortunately, there’s a “secret” about transactional and mutual relationships, and that is that they are not mutually exclusive. It’s totally possible (and in fact normal) for a single relationship to have both transactional and mutual elements. And the amount of satisfaction that a relationship can provide is quite directly related to the degree to which a relationship is mutual.

Left to itself, the relationship between landlord and tenant is 100% transactional (and thus 100% dissatisfactory). So as a landlord, if you want your tenants to have a positive relationship with you (or your company), you have to look for opportunities to add mutualistic interactions to the relationship.

How? Well, that depends a lot on the tenant themselves. But in general, you can expect that any given tenant will have a few goals that the two of you have in common, each of which is an opportunity to connect and make progress toward those common goals. Two universal examples:
Paying their rent on time — Yes, this is actually something that tenants want to do! Right up until they can’t for whatever reason. As soon as they decide they can’t do it, they’ll find some reason to vilify you and use that an excuse to not do it. That means it’s your job to show them that they can pay their rent. Work with them to put together a payment plan, offer to pay them to do minor repairs you know the house needs, whatever it takes — as long as both of you agree that it’s helpful and useful to both of you. Just be sure all of this is clearly in writing and signed.
Keeping everything working — This is similar, but in general it’s the tenant that suspects you don’t want to keep everything in good, working condition. The tenant tends to think that you would rather not spend any money, ever…but you know (or should know) that a little money put into maintenance now saves a lot of money put into replacing broken things later. So, getting together with the tenant and having a good chat about the value of letting you know what’s up right away can get both of you working toward a mutual goal.

Other mutual goals will be a bit more personalized to the tenant, but the concept — find things you agree are valuable and work together on them in a mutual, non-transactional way — is a great way to keep those really valuable tenants that you want to keep renewing for years to come.

Posted in: 1. Property Owner Blog Posts, Detroit rental market, Managing Rentals

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