The best way to resolve tenant complaints is to deal with them head on and to not let the cut deepen. It is also important to allow the tenant to explain their complaint fully and in detail, honestly assess how the complaint came to be, and find a win-win situation if at all possible. If a win-win solution cannot be reached, then it is important to fully explain the positives in the resolution and why it is fair. Also, sometimes how you say something is even more important than what you say. If you communicate to tenants with respect and honesty, often times that message is better received.
If you are in the property management business, you will receive tenant complaints that are downright tricky to resolve. The key is to not panic or avoid the complaint. If you panic, they’ll smell your fear and attack! Not really, but if you’re not confident or decisive it will translate to the other side. If you ignore them, the complaint will only get BIGGER and WORSE, because the tenant will get angrier the longer it takes you to respond back to them. It’s basically like a festering wound that keeps getting more infected if you don’t address it. There are some tried and true steps to problem-solving and conflict resolution. The first step is to listen to the entire tenant complaint.
Let Them Vent
Why do people pay hundreds of dollars to talk to therapists, psychologists or counselors? Because talking things out helps and it makes people feel better! Once you get a tenant complaint, give them a call or meet with them even if you know the situation and allow them to explain the entire situation to you in their own words and allow them to vent their emotions or frustrations without interrupting. It provides therapeutic relief to the upset party and helps them feel like they were able to fully tell you everything they wanted you to know. You might fully know the situation but if this tenant is really upset then you need to give them some of your time so they can fully explain their complaint in the way that makes them feel heard.
Acknowledge and Take Time to Think
Once the tenant has fully unloaded their complaint, you do not have to a solution for them right there and then at that moment. You can collect all the information they want to provide you and then let them know that you will deliberate and look into everything that has been discussed. What you DO need to acknowledge is that you heard everything they said, you understand why they are upset, and you promise that you will do your best to resolve the issue to the best of your ability. Also, this is now the best time to make sure that you got all the questions that you have answered. Asking questions about the situation or complaint will show them that you not only listened but that you care.
Gauge Your Tenants Expectations
The next suggestion comes as just that – a suggestion. Try to understand what that tenant is hoping to accomplish by complaining about the situation. Also, try to see if you can understand what they feel would be reasonable compensation for the issue. Sometimes, it is appropriate to simply ask them and sometimes it is better to try and feel this out by asking questions indirectly. If you know what they see as the best possible outcome for their complaint then you will have a better idea of what the tenant’s reaction will be when you do present your solution.
Stick To The Lease
When coming up with the solution, it can get daunting, especially if that solution is NOT what the tenant wants. At the end of the day, it is your job to be fair both to the tenant and to the property manager. You manage the situation but you do not get to make the rules up as you go. There should be company policies on what a standard response should be to MOST situations. If you feel this complaint outlines a situation that is not covered under any company policy you may need to examine what is fair from a contractual and business ethics standpoint. You may have to read what the tenant lease states, the owner’s management agreement states and find a solution that allows you to best keep your promises in those contracts. You may have to bring up a situation with a property owner and see what they are willing to do in some situation, but ultimately, you need to come up with the fairest solution for all parties involved and that’s not always what makes the tenant happy. However, as a property manager, it is vital to understand that when breaking the bad news to a tenant sometimes it is not what you are saying but rather how you say it that makes all the difference.
This brings us to our next big point. Any solution you come up with needs to be presented in the best light possible. Try to present the solution as a win-win if at all possible and you will get a much better response back then if you were to just “lay down the law.” When you give them the solution try to present it as if they got a little of what they wanted or won in some sense. If the tenant feels like they took their complaint to the property manager, battled it out, and won due to their own efforts then they are usually really happy. So anytime you can portray a solution in a way that makes the tenant feel successful in their efforts, even if it wasn’t everything they wanted, then you can usually close the case on that complaint with a content tenant. However, not only do you need to present your solution in a positive light. You also have to make the resolution feel fair. You need to explain why the solution you present is a fair outcome.
Fair Solutions and How to Properly Present Them
If the tenant didn’t really get anything they actually wanted when detailing their perspective on a fair outcome, it may be that they did get something good that they didn’t realize. Sometimes there are really bad alternatives that could have played out instead of the solution you ended up reaching. Most leases are designed to protect and favor a property owner so tenants could get stuck with some pretty tough scenarios that can’t be fought legally if that situation is totally in line with the lease. Your job is to highlight what the tenant didn’t know and let them know the positive twist to any situation. View the example below.
The tenant is experiencing no A/C. They feel like the only fair outcome is to have one day of rent accredited back to them since they can’t enjoy the home when it is so hot. The solution you come up with is that you find someone to go fix the A/C quickly but do not plan on compensating for any days of rent. The reason for this solution is because in the lease you promise the tenant that you will address maintenance concerns in a timely manner and owners cover costs of wear and tear on the property not created by the tenant. The management agreement to the owner says that you have the ability to schedule maintenance in a timely manner and will bill the owner back for those costs if not due to tenant negligence. The solution you present should be, “Hey Mr. Jones, I wanted to let you know that we have someone on their way to fix the A/C unit in your home. They will be there this afternoon. Some maintenance repairs get charged back to the tenant if they are at fault, however, because it was not anyone’s fault we will completely cover the cost of this repair. We definitely understand why you are upset and I’m sure it is really difficult to enjoy your home when it’s so hot so we are going to fix this completely. We don’t feel like it’s fair to compensate you with rent for one day because like I previously stated; it was no one’s fault. Sometimes repairs just have to be made, and we are responding to your maintenance issue promptly.”
After this direct response is the tenant happy? Probably not but at least you have presented the information to show that you are being fair and that you have a solution to the complaint. You also highlighted two positives. There is no such thing as making every single person happy. However, you did just fully handle an upset tenant asking for one day of rent. If a complaint has been fully resolved and the tenant still continues to complain then it is important to communicate with them what limits you are working within and why you are not able to offer anything else.
Overall, you need to address complaints quickly; don’t let them fester. You need to let the tenant fully explain their complaint so they feel heard. Once you show them that you can sympathize with their situation, give yourself the time you need to present a fair solution. If you already have a company policy in place, then maybe you don’t need any time but don’t feel like you have to fix everything the second you talk to the tenant. Finally, present a solution in a positive, informative way that illustrates how you are being fair. You can’t please everybody but you will have much better results following this step then being hard line with a tenant complaint from the start or by avoiding it altogether.