Tenant relations: An attitude, not a program

Brian Dodd
Brian Dodd | 5 min. read
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Published on February 7, 2014

A property owner recently emailed me to send them our tenant relations program. I started my reply this way:

“Our tenant relations program? We don’t have a tenant relations program. It is not a list of tasks that we do. It is more foundational than that. It is who we are and permeates all our relations with tenants.”

All of our service staff who relate to tenants have a service rather than a sales orientation. Melanie, for example, has a psychology degree from Rollins College, and her last job was representing Sea World in a public relations position as a liaison with non-profit organizations. Luis, one of our two in-house handymen, is a paramedic/firefighter and spent seven years working for ServPro doing the same kind of work he assists us with. Patricia was a physicians’ assistant for many years. I was a pastor for 20+ years. We are all people people.

Happy Tenants Make Happy Owners

Our understanding and commitment is that tenant needs and requests are in the best interests of the owners. Here’s why:

  • The requests usually are protecting the asset and equity of the owner

  • A tenant’s happiness dramatically affects how long they stay (directly affecting the owner’s annual income).

Give Tenants and Owners Many Ways to Get in Touch

We follow the old principle “a stitch in time saves nine,” and encourage tenant communication with us via the Internet, email, text, phone, or cell phone. Tenants (and owners alike) are able to submit requests or report maintenance or repair items online 24/7 through their rental account. These requests are conveyed to us through email and text, and the tenant, us, and our assigned vendor are able to track the progress (and receive daily email updates) until the repair is completed.

Why You Should Respect Your Tenants

We do everything based on deep respect for our tenants (it is a given that we have deep respect for our owners, for whom we work). Here’s why tenants deserve your respect:

  1. They pay the bills. We understand that a tenant who pays $1000 a month to be a significant, financial business partner with us and the owner, contributing personally and directly $12,000 a year to the owner’s bottom line and long-term equity.

  2. They deserve quality housing. We choose to view tenants as magnificent human beings who need a good, safe, clean home for themselves and their families, and providing such a home is a basic, foundational principle of a just society and a sound economic base that supports us all.

  3. They can keep churn low. We see a long-term tenant as the goal, since turnover combines the three most expensive events for an owner: vacancy, renovation and new tenant procurement.

  4. They’re a great source of referrals. Tenants—like everyone we deal with—are all actual clients, potential real estate buyers, and they all know someone who needs to buy, sell, or manage real estate. They often refer their friends, co-workers and relatives to us because of the skill, respect, and stellar service we offer them. Service built and keeps building our business. It’s about service, not sales.

When Tenants Go Bad

We have a limit to our super-service orientation. We do not think the customer is always right. We give them the benefit of the doubt, but when a tenant is violating the law or their lease, we have no problem being “bad cop” and enforcing the legal and lease-agreed limits. Every tenancy has a high point and a low point, and any time a tenant stops paying rent or destroys an owner’s property, it strains our service orientation. Even then, though, we prefer and choose collaborative and communicative solutions to problems and see eviction as a last resort. We serve people, but we do not merely seek to please them or have peace at any price.

Here are three sayings we keep in mind around the office, especially when there is tension with a tenant:

  • “Don’t get mad at your money.” We say this to remember that tenants are a main business partner for our owners and ourselves, and not to descend to a condescending or superior attitude toward tenants. People respond best when they feel they are taking seriously and respected. I know I do.

  • “I am your servant, but you are not my master.” We say this to ourselves to keep our service bearings, particularly when someone has become overbearing or dominating. We try not to respond in kind, anger with anger, but to remember that we can serve without giving over the reigns.

  • “If you help enough people get what they need, their business will be adequate for you to meet your own needs.” Service, not sales, is our main orientation.

I ended my email to the owner’s query by apologizing that “we do not have a ‘tenant relations program in place, and hope that you find our DNA approach rather than programmatic approach to be adequate to assist you in managing your property.'”

We grew 50% last year. We are trying to keep it to 30% growth this year, by weeding out owners and prospective owners who don’t get the win-win of good service and providing a quality home for a family to live in.

Read more on Resident Management
Brian Dodd

Brian Dodd is Broker/Owner of Sparrow Property Management in Orlando, Florida.

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