Are locked-out tenants keeping you up at night?

Loretta Morgan
Loretta Morgan | 4 min. read
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Published on June 26, 2014

It’s 11:30 p.m., and the phone has jarred me from the deepest sleep I’ve had all week. If you’re a property manager like me, you know it’s one of three things: a wrong number (grrrr), a family emergency, or a locked-out tenant. What do you do when a ring tone shatters the silence and on other end of the phone is a frazzled woman, in her pajamas, shivering on her porch, longing for the warmth of the logs crackling in her fireplace?

My informal poll of agents and tenants produced a lot of great feedback and some differing opinions about a property manager’s role and responsibilities in these situations. Not surprisingly, many tenants I spoke with thought it was good business and basic human compassion for a company agent to come to their rescue. Most also admitted, though, that a property manager or agent who helps them during off hours is operating above and beyond the normal call of duty.

How far will you go?

Property managers and agents who live near their buildings had few qualms about helping out locked-out tenants. In today’s mobile society, though, fewer agents live close to their buildings, making a call in the middle of the night extremely inconvenient. Take my situation, for example. I live 45 minutes from my office, so responding to a locked-out tenant is not trivial. I also have a young child, and waking her and loading her into the car for a 90-minute round trip in the middle of the night is fraught with drama. (Every try to find a babysitter at 2 a.m.?)

Because of the effort and inconvenience, I generally charge a $200.00 call-out fee, which falls in line with the fees charged by other property managers I polled. If a member of my team is near the office and available, we may waive the fee. At Jam Property, how we handle locked-out tenants is on a case-by-case basis. We’re flexible, mindful of our tenant’s safety, and really do love to help if we can. But if we’re not available, we call a locksmith, which typically costs the tenant about $150 less than we charge if we have to respond ourselves.

Spare tenants unwelcome surprises before they move in

A great rule of thumb is to bring up the policy when tenants sign their rental agreements. Additionally, our tenant welcome kit highlights our after-hours key policy, reinforcing an important point tenants might miss if they only glance at their leases. By being proactive, you can avoid an unpleasant confrontation with locked-out tenants, who are undoubtedly stressed out while figuring out how to get back inside their homes. (Although my natural attitude is helpful and sympathetic, that pre-dawn call isn’t much of a picnic for me either.)

I also encourage you to let tenants know what it will cost if they lose the key to the entrance way to an apartment building or multi-tenant property. Calculate the fee by finding out how much it will cost to replace the lost key — and to switch all of the locks to main doors and common areas. Even though this fee may be spelled out in the lease, call attention to it during the lease signing, and you may prevent a locked-out tenant from howling at you and the moon from her front porch in the middle of the night.

Read more on Resident Management
Loretta Morgan

Loretta Morgan is Managing Director of Jam Property in Caloundra, Queensland, Australia.

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