Dealing with long lists of complaints from tenants

I talked last week about setting boundaries with tenants. Today I’ll talk about a different problem: long lists of complaints from tenants.

This problem certainly can get under your skin, but when you dig into the problem, the solution can be surprisingly simple.

Several years ago, I started renting to a tenant, and things got off to a rough start even before move-in. Every time I heard from the tenant, he never had one complaint. He had several, and he would usually dredge up things I’d already fixed.

I was so irritated that I offered to let him out of the lease. Then things were OK for a while, until the time the dishwasher started leaking, and I heard about it again, along with everything else I’d ever done wrong.

This second time, I took a step back. Two things were clear: The dishwasher was leaking, and he wasn’t happy about it. Both are reasonable things.

It occurred to me that he wasn’t sure that I thought they were reasonable things, and he was trying to get leverage.

So I did something to prove he didn’t need leverage. I didn’t go look at it myself. I called a plumber–a licensed, professional plumber–and got him out that very afternoon to look at it. He found the dishwasher had been improperly installed, but he had the parts to fix it correctly. He assured us, and the tenant, that the only way the home inspector would have found this would have been if he had taken out the dishwasher, which most inspectors, even the super-picky guy we use, won’t do. He fixed it quickly and courteously and the repair has indeed held up.

The tenant was happy.

And a funny thing has happened since. Each time I heard from him, the list got shorter, and now, when I hear from him, he just brings up one thing, which is whatever it is that he wants. Now that he knows he doesn’t have to wheel and deal when he wants something fixed, he doesn’t waste his time trying. He’s happier, and we’re happier.

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