Property Manager Skills to Handle Tricky Resident Situations (and Stay Calm)

Published: Nov 13, 2020

If you think tenant interactions are purely transactional, you will have a hard time as a property manager. That's because communicating effectively, particularly under pressure or with angry people, requires an emotionally intelligent approach. 

By treating your residents as people who live in your property instead of just sources of income, you'll make your tenants happy, your interactions easier, increase the odds of residents re-signing their lease, and stop incidents from going bad or worse. 

Resident Complaints

Dealing with angry residents

When you're listening to your residents' complaints, regardless of what they may be, validate how they're feeling first. This can be as simple as nodding along and saying, "That does sound frustrating," or, "Yeah, I'd be angry too." Going into problem-solving mode before validating someone's emotional state can be insensitive, dismissive, or alienating. Similarly, avoid saying, "I understand," or, "I know where you're coming from," since these phrases can elicit a negative response. 

Before going into problem-solving mode, thank your resident for sharing their complaints. Make them feel heard. If the problem can be fixed, walk your tenant through the solution and ask them what they think, so they feel included. That will lift their spirits even higher. 

If the problem can't be solved, explain why. Thank your tenant for bringing the issue to your attention while highlighting that there are some things that you cannot fix. 

Missed Payments

Just because you can't allow missed or late payments doesn't mean you have to be rude or confrontational. If your tenant is good, you can even waive the late fees the first time it happens. Good or bad, though, you should send the resident a copy of your lease agreement because it will contain the rules and stipulations of late payment, missed payments, and fees. You do, however, have to be steadfast.

If the resident continues to miss or be late with payments, you need to do the following three things.

  1. Begin a Dialogue: You need to clarify that your tenant has to follow the guidelines outlined in the lease agreement, that fees will be applied, and that, if need be, legal measures will be taken. All of this, still, can be done cordially. 

  1. Be Professional: Ask your residents if they prefer text, email, or phone calls to communicate. If they say phone and text or email, start with a text or email to document your communications. Technology has changed the role of phones in modern society. Phone calls are now a form of communication often used for high stakes communication. Not responding to a text or email about missed or late rent payments within 24 hours is high stakes enough to merit a phone call. 

  1. Avoid Confrontation: There's no need to confront your tenant at home or elsewhere. Nor is there a good reason to excessively attempt communication to the point of harassment. If your tenant is missing or late with payments, they may already know because something in their life is getting in the way of fulfilling a significant obligation. And if they didn't know before they know now because you told them. Be patient; it'll make everything easier for everyone, and may also encourage your tenant to be transparent and more willing to work with you.

Inconvenient Construction

If maintenance or renovation is underway or on the horizon, keep your tenants in the loop throughout the process. Begin by informing your residents via their preferred method of communication, send out an email, and post about it on any public online and offline channels, like an online forum, a physical bulletin board, a letter or flyer. 

Make yourself available to answer any questions your tenants may have and answer them quickly. Be clear about all the details and the time frame, and communicate any changes or delays immediately. Lastly, regardless of the size of the project, let your residents know a change is being made. Fixing a light fixture may not seem like a big deal to you, but someone who's been worried about entering their home in poor lighting conditions may value the change immensely. 

Breaking the Rules

If your resident breaks any of the rules or codes of conduct within your building, or their community or homeowners association (HOA), don't be hostile or confrontational. Do, however, send an explanatory email with the lease agreement and community rules attached. Speak with your resident as well to clarify the issue. 

There may be a good reason your tenant is breaking the rules or needing help of some kind. Maybe they couldn't access their parking space because of snow, and they took someone else's, or perhaps they got home from work late, and it's hard not to violate noise rules. As always, prioritize making your resident feel heard. And if you received the complaint from someone else, don't tell your tenant who it was. Just let them know you've learned of the issue and would like to resolve it.

Conflict Mediation

Calmly talking to resident about issues

There are several types of conflicts that may occur between neighbors that will require your intervention. One way to prevent incidents before they occur is by making the rules clear and enforcing them in a friendly, non-antagonistic way. 

Sometimes conflicts emerge because one neighbor thinks there's been a rule violation at their expense. Suppose there's a shared backyard, for example, that one resident is using more often than others. In that case, residents may complain that they don't have enough backyard access because they'd prefer to use it in private rather than in the company of fellow residents. The resident taking offense may even confront the other resident at their home. This is the situation that can be resolved by speaking to the complaining party in private and explaining the backyard rules in a friendly way.

Sometimes, though, there will be incidents that require all the people involved to come together. If that's going to happen, set the ground rules in advance. Let everyone know you'll be mediating and that all participants will have the opportunity to calmly, respectfully, and without interruption speak their parts. After listening to both parties, you may help them come to a compromise. If one party is in clear violation of a rule, you can explain why all tenants must abide by the code of conduct. 

Angry Residents

When dealing with angry residents, validate their feelings before addressing their concerns. One technique is to calmly repeat your tenants' complaints back to them before explaining the current situation. "I can see that it's frustrating to you that we're replacing your sink, but it has been damaged in such a way that it can no longer be filled with water. That's a big inconvenience if you ever want to do more than wash your hands." 

Re-stating the complaint makes people feel listened to while providing an explanation that gives necessary context. This technique may also come in handy if you're mediating a conflict. 

Bottom Line

You may have noticed that the skills necessary for dealing with your tenants are the same skills you'd use for dealing with anyone who's going through a difficult situation. It starts with listening, which means not only hearing the words but also hearing the emotion. 

Next, always keep your tenant informed of what's going on, whether it be upcoming maintenance, a rule violation, or conflict with a fellow resident. 

Lastly, always be friendly and professional. That may be difficult if you're dealing with someone angry, but part of what it entails to deal with a tenant well will also allow you to better empathize with them. As you validate your tenant's feelings, repeat back to them their complaint, and begin to work on a solution, you should be able to see the situation from their perspective more effectively. 

It's easier to remain calm when dealing with someone who's understandably angry rather than inexplicably angry. Bridging that gap will make things easier for everyone. Remember to breathe. People forget to breathe when they're worked up. And label your feelings internally. Studies show that labeling feelings lessen their severity.  

By remaining calm, attentive, appreciative, and solution-oriented, you'll make things easier for your residents and yourself.

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