By Tracey March
Tenant complaints can be either a glass-half-empty, or a glass-half-full situation: You may dread hearing tenants gripe, or you could look at their complaints as an opportunity to problem solve, create goodwill, and build relationships and loyalty. Below are five common tenant complaints, along with possible solutions for landlords and property managers. First, though, we make a couple of assumptions:
Assumption 1: Tenants satisfied with their rental situation make better tenants. They are more likely to pay their rent on time, rent your property longer, and follow rental policies.
Assumption 2: If you want good tenants, you need to be a good landlord. Among other things, a good landlord anticipates complaints and takes steps to avoid sticky situations before they happen. Good landlords:
- Try to avoid situations that give rise to complaints
- Acknowledge receipt of complaints or inquiries within hours
- Resolve the complaint or provide an answer quickly and professionally
- Follow-up with complaining tenants to ensure satisfaction
1. My apartment was dirty when I moved in. Clear move-in and move-out procedures that you actually follow make this complaint avoidable in most cases. There is no good excuse for having a new tenant move into a dirty apartment. The lease should require: (1) departing tenants to clean their apartments when they move out and (2) landlords to inspect rental units immediately after departing tenants move. Consider collecting a cleaning deposit or fee from new tenants and use it to hire a cleaning service if the tenant leaves a dirty apartment when the lease terminates (but make sure that you comply with state laws on refundable and nonrefundable fees). Many rental owners have a standard move-out policy of repainting walls, steaming carpets, and sanitizing all surfaces. Finally, require the new tenant to be present at a move-in inspection—this protects both of you.
2. My landlord takes ages to get back to me. Responding to your tenants in a timely manner is professional and lays the groundwork for mutual respect—it should be a top priority. Whether tenant communications are about emergency repairs or simple inquiries, your goal should be to acknowledge receipt of any tenant messages the day you receive them; ideally your tenants should hear back from you within hours. If a tenant calls you with a question falling outside your responsibilities, you should still return the call and provide any helpful information you have.
3. My neighbors are loud. Anticipate this common issue in your lease agreements (and rental policies if you have them) with a rule requiring quiet hours on weekdays and weekends, and stating that any tenant can be evicted for violation of the policy. Quiet hours policies have two advantages: (1) they set an expectation that tenants have both a right to enjoy quiet hours and a duty to respect other tenants quiet hours and (2) if violated, they allow the landlord to take action. Having a written and acknowledged quiet hours policy lets your tenants know you are concerned with the quality of their living situation. These policies attract good renters and may also reduce damage to your rental unit—your tenants are unlikely to throw drunken blow-out ragers if it is clear (in writing, signed by them) that they could be evicted if they do.
Acknowledge and respond to noise complaints soon after getting them. Determine if there has been a violation and if it is likely to be repeated. Talk to the offending tenant, using a copy of the signed lease agreement with the quiet hours provision as a reminder of the policy; and follow up in writing so you have a paper trail. If the noise continues, follow the steps set forth in the quiet hours policy.
4. We have pests! Sometimes pests are a problem, no matter how clean an apartment is or how efficiently a landlord manages pest control. Consider requiring in the lease agreement that tenants report pest problems in a timely manner—the sooner you know there is a problem, the sooner you can have pests exterminated before they spread too far. Let complaining tenants know you have received their complaints as soon as you get them, and contact your pest control service immediately. Always follow up soon after the problem has been treated, so that your tenants know you are concerned and willing to take further steps, if necessary.
5. My ______________ is broken. Inevitably, plumbing leaks, keys get jammed, fuses blow, and ovens stop working. Don’t assume your tenants are to blame. Arrange for repairs that you are responsible for as soon as possible, and always within time frames required by law, remembering to give tenants proper notice. If a tenant calls because a light bulb isn’t working, and light bulbs are the tenant’s responsibility, give a courtesy call to explain that obligation (and maybe keep a goodwill stash on hand, just in case).
These common problems can throw a monkey wrench in your daily routine, but they can also give you an opportunity to prove your value as a property manager or landlord. If you are polite, professional, responsive, communicative, and timely when you are responding to tenant inquiries and complaints, you will likely have better tenants.
If you are a landlord or property manager, what are your most common and unusual tenant complaints? If you are a renter—same question! For example, this writer has been temporarily forced out of two different rental units because of heavy smoke from grills used on adjacent unit balconies.
As always, any information provided here should not be considered legal advice. Keep in mind that state and local jurisdictions have different laws, rules, and regulations. Always consult an attorney before changing your lease agreements or taking any action.