Getting Better Tenants Starts with Being a Better Landlord
Just because you own some rental property doesn’t make you a better person.
It’s easy, when you’re a landlord, to think of tenants as sources of rent money that sometimes uncontrollably damage their environments with their own stupidity or ignorance. That attitude leads quickly to a situation where you as the landlord are basically spending your time either trying to squeeze money out of your tenants, or trying to blame them for things that are going wrong with the building. That, in turn, leads to treating your tenants like everything they want from you is a burden and everything they’re providing you is to be expected. In short, it leads you to take your tenants for granted.
But that’s a very shortsighted view to take. Here’s why.
Mutual Respect is the Currency of Success
The single easiest way to make certain that a tenant’s time in your property is a pain in the butt is to have a tenant that disrespects you. And the single easiest way to make certain that a tenant’s time in your property is easy on you is to have a tenant that respects you.
But respect is a reciprocal, earned trait. You don’t get respect just because the tenant signed a lease — all you get is a legal relationship that obligates both sides to do certain things. And the easiest way to make anyone disrespect you is to show them that you don’t respect them.
So how do you show a tenant that you don’t respect them? There are a trio of very simple rules you can use to decide whether or not an act is disrespectful:
• Are you trying to control their behavior using force, or the threat of force?
• Are you choosing your actions based on a feeling of contempt, disdain, or condescension?
If either of those things are true, you’re building a relationship of disrespect between you and your tenant.
Sometimes Force is Necessary!
Don’t get us wrong, we’re…let’s say extremely well-versed…in the need to bring the threat of force to bear on a tenant who isn’t paying, or who is deliberately destroying property, or any number of other similar situations. But those situations only arise if the tenant is having a financial crisis (acute or chronic), or if the tenant already doesn’t respect you as their landlord.
If the latter is the case, you’re probably best off just bringing the force, because someone who doesn’t respect you and owes you hundreds of dollars isn’t going to do the right thing in the timeframe you need them to. And if the tenant is stuck in a chronic state of financial crisis, you’re probably not going to be able to help them out of it by forgiving a month’s rent — you’ll just end up repeating that charity loss in the future.
But if the tenant is having an acute financial crisis, you have an opportunity. That’s when working with the tenant to help them figure out their way through their crisis may increase the mutual respect between you and your tenant. Helping them build a budget plan, allowing them to pay off their back rent in small amounts each month (as they keep up with their current rent, naturally), or otherwise giving them a hand, can be a massive relationship-builder. Of course, you don’t want to be taken advantage of, so you should clearly communicate any repayment plan has to be realistic and supported with documentation to support the income required.
Respect Means Understanding How Humans Work, and Working with That
One of the most common ways that landlords use force is by announcing ‘bad-news’ clauses from the depths of the lease in a way that catches tenants off-guard. Their excuse is always the same: “It’s in the lease, they have no excuse to not know this was coming.”That’s disrespectful.
Here’s why: contracts are incomprehensible to most people — and deep down, you know it. There’s a reason the term “legalese” is synonymous with “unintelligible.” If you want to build respect with your tenants, give them their normal lease and then also give them a “How to Tenant” guide — a summary of their rights and responsibilities written in plain English. And give it to them before they sign their lease. We’re posting our version of exactly that for our Tenant-side blog post this month.
Finding ways to work with the human brain instead of trying to abuse its weaknesses for your benefit is the responsibility of any landlord who wants to have a respectful relationship with their tenants. And respectful relationships mean more on-time payments, more open communication, more timely returned security deposits, and more positive reviews.