Property manager soft skills for tricky resident situations

Laurie Mega
Laurie Mega | 8 min. read

Published on February 14, 2019

Companies across industries are looking for employees that have more than industry-specific know-how. They want workers with the necessary soft skills to run a successful team. Those soft skills that are often the most difficult to master include conflict resolution, interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate (often in situations filled with conflict and stress).

These skills are particularly useful for property managers, who at times have to handle tricky resident situations. Let’s take a look at some examples and see how adopting these property manager skills can improve your relationship with your residents and help resolve conflicts — sometimes before they even arise.

Resident Complaints

Resident complaints can run the gamut, from real problems like torn carpeting in a common area, to issues beyond your control like the amount of time the elevator takes to get to the first floor.

The important thing to remember is to listen to your resident and to validate their concerns. Make it clear that you have heard and understood their concern.

If you can solve the problem, thank them for bringing it up and explain what you’ll be doing and when to resolve the issue. Encourage their input, as well. If they feel they have been a part of the solution, they will walk away happy.

If it’s something you can’t fix, explain why. Again, thank them for their feedback, but make it clear that there are some things beyond your control.

Missed Payments

This is one area where you’re just going to have to stick to your guns. You don’t have to be rude or confrontational, but you do have to be strict to keep late or missed payments from becoming a habit.

Most residential buildings have pretty clear payment regulations and strict rules for residents who miss payments.

The first time a resident misses a payment, it’s fine to simply notify them and include a copy of their lease or association agreement. If they are generally a good resident, you may even waive any late fees the first time.

But if it happens again, follow these three steps:

  1. Communicate to your resident that there is no more wiggle room for missed payments. Follow the guidelines to the letter, notifying your resident, applying any late fees outlined in the agreement and starting legal proceedings, if necessary.
  2. Remain professional throughout the process. Communicate to your resident via email or phone to notify them when a payment is late and the next steps you will take.
  3. Never confront them at their home or in common spaces, and don’t call or email more than you need to. You don’t want to make them feel harassed.

Undesirable Maintenance/Construction

Maintenance and improvement projects are inevitable. And we know you do everything you can to make sure they cause the least amount of inconvenience to your residents.

Still it’s important to communicate changes to residents at every step of the project.

To start, send out a notice through every channel available to you (especially through a resident site), and send it out well in advance of the project. Hang a notice on bulletin boards and mail areas. Send out an email blast and post it in community discussion groups and your social media channels.

Include a phone number or email address where residents with questions can reach you. And make sure you address those questions right away.

Be clear about what the project will involve and how long it will take. If there are changes to the plan, or delays, communicate them to residents immediately.

And don’t take the size of the project for granted. Something like changing the mats or seating in the entryway may seem small to you, but it could be a big deal to residents with limited mobility.

Residential Rule Violations

A lot of resident conflict comes from resident rule violations, whether real or perceived, especially in community associations and HOAs.

If a resident is breaking noise, storage, parking or smoking rules, there are, of course, steps you can take to resolve the situation.

Notify the resident via email and include a copy of the lease agreement or community rules. But talk to them, as well. Approach them in a non-confrontational way. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. There may be a reason they are breaking the rules.

Perhaps their parking space hasn’t been cleared of snow, so they took another one. Maybe they have a guest who comes in from work late and isn’t aware of the noise rules.

The important thing to remember is not to approach them as a violator of the rules, but as a person who possibly needs some help.

And, above all, if you were made aware of the situation through a complaint, don’t divulge the name of the resident who contacted you. Simply state that you’ve been made aware of the situation and you’d like to fix it.

Resident Conflict Resolution

There are a few ways to handle conflict resolution, and it all depends on the situation.

Of course, a lot of conflict comes about when one resident is blatantly disregarding the rules. So making sure association rules are clear in the first place, and then enforced, can help nip conflict between residents in the bud.

Some conflict comes about because of perceived violations. One neighbor feels that another is breaking the rules at their expense, and that can be challenging to decipher.

Recently, a friend of mine and his wife were getting angry notes from their downstairs neighbor asking that they don’t talk in their living room because they were making too much noise. The neighbor even confronted his wife while she was home with their child.

Clearly, this is a situation where a 3rd party should get involved. Because the neighbor is making accusations that seem unreasonable and confronting a neighbor, it would be in the best interest for the property manager to speak to her privately and calmly explain what is an acceptable noise level and what is not.

But there are conflicts that should be resolved with all parties coming together.  If you can get the two parties to do that, set some ground rules.

Inform both parties that you will be acting as mediator and that each party should have a chance to air their grievances calmly and respectfully, without interruption.

Hear out both sides and encourage them to come to a compromise. If one party has broken an association rule, help them to see why it’s important to stick to the rules laid out for all residents.

When Residents Are Angry

Of course, when residents are fuming (especially when the anger is directed at you) it can be hard to get them on board with anything, be that new construction or solving a dispute with another resident.

But there are steps you can take to mitigate the situation. The National Association of Residential Property Management (NARPM) recommends restating the problem back to your resident. For example: “I understand that the parking lot repaving project inconveniences you.”

Then, explain the reason for the situation: “The repaving project will smooth out the frost heaves and fill the potholes that are bad for your tires and front-end alignment. It will keep your car in good shape.”

Repeating a problem signals to the resident that you’ve heard them, and giving them a reason helps put the situation in context.

You can use this in conflict negotiation, as well, restating both sides of the issue to the parties understand that you have heard them.

Mastering the right property manager skills to handle sticky situations with residents boils down to a few basic actions. First, always listen to what your resident has to say and acknowledge their concerns. Second, communicate with them at every step of the situation, whether that be a change in the building, a rule that’s being broken or a conflict with another tenant.

Finally, treat everyone involved with respect in a friendly, professional manner. A resident may get confrontational with you, but that doesn’t mean you have to rise to the occasion. Take a moment to breathe. Try to understand their perspective and work with them to find a solution. By establishing yourself as a calm, voice of reason, you’ll create the best possible living experience for your residents over the long haul.

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Laurie Mega

Laurie Mega has planned, written, and edited content on a variety of subjects. Her work has been published by, The Economist, Philips Lifeline, and FamilyEducation, among others. She lives in the Greater Boston Area with her husband and two boys.

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