with permission from the AOA (Apartment Owner’s Association)
As a property manager, you receive more than your daily dose of drama. Much of it happens as a result of spontaneous combustion from angry occupants. Here are some ways to diffuse the situation, often ahead of time, and to keep things running smoothly.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “you can’t please all the people all the time.” That’s especially true for property managers when it comes to angry occupants. No matter how hard you work and try to provide a pleasant, safe, livable environment, issues will and do arise. The ultimate difference between the reality of the job and the nightmare of a bad experience: the occupant’s attitude, especially if they are angry — as well as your reaction to that attitude.
Being sensitive to occupants’ anger before the issue escalates may turn the heat down instead of up. Here are some of the four most common occupant complaints (but, as you surely know, there are many others): Note: These tips can be applied by both commercial and multifamily property managers alike. Because of this, we wanted to use an all-encompassing term for tenants/residents, so we refer to them as occupants within this article.
Make sure you have an efficient, airtight maintenance resolution system, that doesn’t allow for leaks or blockage — that means a system that is easy to communicate and follow. Be sure that the process for registering complaints is stated clearly in the lease. Maintenance requests should always be in writing. If you can’t fix the issue immediately, at least acknowledge the issue right away, and follow-up within a reasonable time. This shows the occupant that you haven’t forgotten about them.
A property manager who is hard to find ultimately translates to good occupants who are hard to find. In the digital age, a property manager who is difficult to track down is inexcusable. Always acknowledge an occupant’s issue, even if it’s by email (for example: “So sorry I was out of the office when you came by. I know of your problem and I am working on it. I’ll keep you posted.”). It’s tempting to try to avoid an angry occupant, but your absence will only intensify the anger.
In most cases, this issue is out of the jurisdiction of property managers, and not much can be done. It’s usually up to the occupant to resolve the issue (hopefully amicably), or call the cops. One good precaution: make sure your lease contains clear language about quiet hours or noise violations.
Non-negotiable: call an exterminator immediately. Cockroaches, spiders, ants, termites, mice and rats are nomads. They don’t set up shop in just one unit. Even better: treat the problem before it starts with regular exterminator inspections and treatments.
Here are some things to keep in mind (and body) when dealing with an angry tenant:
- Listen for a long time. This means until the tenant runs out of steam. What he probably needs, right from the start, is an ear, and you’re providing yours.
- Don’t get defensive. This is the most natural response in the world, but suppress it with every fiber of your being. Instead, practice empathy and concern. This by no means is an admission of guilt or failure. You are not required to bash yourself in the process. Instead, you are joining the occupant rather than beating him.
- Stay positive. All the negative words you know (including no) won’t help you in this situation. Avoid adding these words into the conversation (and it takes mindfulness and practice to do so): can’t, won’t, don’t, not. Instead of telling the occupant what you can’t do for him or her, tell them what you can do. Give positive suggestions of what can be done. This shows that you are clearly on their side and working to get the issue resolved. Say things like, “We’re going to find a solution,” and “I’m going to get you an answer.”
- Use body language to your advantage. Body language is key in getting an occupant to calm down and look at the issue rationally. Make eye contact while they are speaking, and show that you are paying attention. Nod your head. Lean in. Show concern and empathy. Don’t excuse yourself to answer the phone or a text.
- Repeat it back. Make sure you clearly repeat the issue to show you completely understand what is making the occupant so angry and frustrated.
- Avoid turning it into a pity party. Don’t try to make the occupant understand what you are up against, and what you have to deal with, and how the powers-that-be make your life a living hell. At first, it feels like a great way to make a connection and bond with the occupant, but ultimately, nothing will get resolved, and the occupant will ultimately realize that you are not all that interested in his issue and that getting the matter resolved is hopeless.
- Tell them what to expect. Report an estimated delivery time for a needed part, or the window of time when maintenance workers will arrive. Creating a mental picture of resolution will help the tenant feel less hopeless. Of course, continue to monitor the situation and follow up, and keep the occupant posted.
- Say what you mean and mean what you say. Let occupants get used to you being a property manager of your word. If the sink is meant to be fixed on Wednesday, make sure the plumber is there.
- Turn “no solution” into an opportunity to improve. If the occupant’s complaint is truly unsolvable (and we know how often this happens), consider it a chance to think about how your property may improve with an alternative solution.
Using these tips can turn an angry, frustrated occupant into a loyal fan who may even talk you up to other occupants and recommend the property when spaces become vacant. Calm always wins.
Dakota Thornton is the Business Development Coordinator, Manager of Kings III. For more information on how Kings III can help you with your property management communications solutions, visit www.kingsiii.com.