Tales from the Rose: Every Detail Matters

How do you all deal with being a landlord when it seems that tenants are constantly angry?

Girl upset with someone on the phone.When you manage almost 400 properties spread across just under 200 portfolios, every detail matters. You get to see the kind of patterns that form from “big data” – but you also, just by pure statistical chance, get to witness one of those rare moments when one tiny detail that wasn’t attended to in the beginning snowballs against the odds into a big problem later. Let’s tell a couple of stories.

“Message not Received”
The Tiny Detail: One of our owners didn’t reply to an email we sent that announced the rent amount their property was being posted on the market.

The Result: Lawsuits were threatened, tears were shed, and our Marketing Team Leader spent nine hours on the phone going back and forth calling the owner, an applicant, our head Property Manager, and our lawyer and trying to negotiate amid a swarm of screaming and tears.

The Story: Our Marketing Department researched the market to determine the rent a property should be listed for and published it online. We sent out our usual email alerting the owner to the price we posted it for, and got no response, so we had no reason to think anything was wrong.

Within a week we had an approved applicant and alerted the owner that we had an approved applicant. It wasn’t until this point that the owner told us, “Wait, that rent’s way too low!” We pointed out that he had ample opportunity to respond to the email we sent that explicitly told him our target rent, but that wasn’t relevant to him – he just wanted a bigger number on those ads, period.

So, we ended up in a bind: on the one side, we had an applicant who had been approved and put a fee down assuming their rent was going to be as advertised, and on the other, we had an owner who was absolutely unwilling to accept that amount in rent. Our Marketing Team Leader showed the owner how we determined the rent amount, but the owner insisted he couldn’t afford it regardless of what we determined. So, calls were made back and forth and back and forth trying to get the applicants to agree to pay more and the owner to agree to accept less, but in the end no quarter was given.

Eventually, the applicants threatened to sue, and lawyers were called. In the end, it was our passion for documentation that resolved the situation in the owner’s favor. We had recorded every single interaction with the applicants (we always do), and we were able to show that we had never sent them any official document legally awarding them this property – we had only told them that they had passed our application process.

So, we put the property back on the market at the owner’s rent amount…where, predictably, it sat for quite some time before the owner lowered his ask. We finally rented it at an amount slightly above our original take, but by then the owner had lost more to vacancy than he gained in increased rent.

“I’m Coming to Kill You”
The Tiny Detail: One of our maintenance workers attached a City Repair Demands request, with a Notice of Legal Entry, for a duplex to only one of the units, instead of to both units of the building.

The Result: One of our contractors was chased for miles by an unhinged person and threatened with murder while waiting for a light to turn green. (Fortunately, the attacker was on the outside of his car and our contractor was on the inside, so no physical harm was done.)

The Story: After weeks of trying to arrange a repair appointment with the tenants on both sides of a duplex and failing, we arranged for Legal Entry. When our contractor, our locksmith, and the court officer got to the property, the officer checked the paperwork – which, because of the tiny detail above, only requested legal entry to one of the units. The officer monitored our locksmith legally picking the lock and granted the contractor access to that unit, and all was good.

…Except that the repairs the city was demanding required access to both units, so our contractor and locksmith knocked on the other unit’s door to request access. A woman opened the door, and graciously allowed them in to take care of the details they needed to address. Everything was fine…right up until her boyfriend arrived.

We’re not sure exactly what was wrong with the boyfriend, but he was extremely unhappy to find his girlfriend hanging out with two strange men in ‘his’ house. He chased our guys out of the unit, and then as they drove away, he got in his car and pursued our contractor for a couple of miles before getting out at a long red light and threatening bodily harm through a closed car window. Fortunately, the light changed and the contractor was able to drive away unscathed. The boyfriend then proceeded to call our Maintenance Department, where he opened the call with “Where are you? ‘Cause I’m coming to kill you.”

In the end, we were able to prove to the boyfriend, once he calmed down, that his girlfriend had allowed entry for the city required repairs and that everything was legit.

Ultimately, as much as it feels like there should be a ‘takeaway’ from these stories, errors are inevitable. You can layer on all of the safeguards and redundancies that you want, but just through sheer statistical probability, problems are going to arise eventually. All you can do is have processes in place that document as much as reasonably possible and a team that is alert and able to adapt, to keep the stress and the fallout to a minimum.

Posted in: 1. Property Owner Blog Posts, Hiring Property Manager, Managing Rentals

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