I’ve talked before about high-maintenance tenants, but today I want to dive a bit deeper into when tenants hassle you about repairs, which is perhaps the second most frustrating thing about being a landlord. Here are some strategies that can help.
First, let’s define the problem: The tenant calls you about something being broken and wants it fixed, on their terms. And they have some terms. I’ve had tenants before tell me that I was too slow to get someone out for one problem, then complain I was too fast for the next one.
The real problem was they had a time in mind that they wanted the work done, and the time was pretty narrow and specific and I missed it.
I actually talked to a professional psychologist about this, because I wanted to make sure I was being reasonable. My wife and I don’t want to be slumlords; we provide housing we’d be perfectly willing to live in ourselves. And the people we call to work on our properties are the same people we call to work on our own home.
The psychologist said all of that is reasonable. Perhaps generous. He agreed that you generally can’t call someone and dictate to them the date and time they will come to fix a problem. There are people who specialize in emergencies and will give you a shorter response time, but even those probably won’t guarantee a tight timeframe, and you pay for the privilege.
His professional advice was to offer a choice. He suggested two choices.
Option 1: We handle the repair. We call our people, and they get there when they get there. If the tenant is unavailable to let them in, we come over to let them in. We pay the bill.
Option 2: If our person can’t get there quickly enough, they call an emergency specialist to come in, and, since there will be a higher cost involved, they pay the bill.
Note the difference in the two options. In the first option, we take care of everything, including paying the bill. In the second option, they take care of everything, but they pay the bill.
This second option is important. There’s a neighbor near one of our properties who used to love to come over and nitpick about things, then offer to fix it for $300 plus parts. Generally these were $30 repairs. I didn’t want this guy working on our property, but I knew the tenant wasn’t going to pay him $300 to fix these things either.
The prospect of $300 repairs scares off most tenants–part of the appeal of renting is to not have to worry about paying for repairs.
A shrewd tenant may go into negotiation mode and ask if they can call their guy and pay the difference in price between their guy and yours. The psychologist didn’t recommend negotiating. His reasoning is that we teach people how to treat us, and if we stand our ground on things like this, it establishes healthy boundaries.
When a tenant demands to dictate all of the terms of a repair, it raises a legitimate question: What don’t they want us to see?
Tenants do hide things. I’ve seen tenants have other people not on the lease living there, and I’ve seen plenty of tenants sneak in an extra pet or three. These problems can be remedied. There’s a section in the lease that specifies a list of people allowed to live on the premises. Add that person and you’re done. Pets are tougher since they’ll have to pay a pet deposit, but they agreed to that on the onset. You agreed to make repairs, and you’re living up to your end of the bargain. They need to live up to theirs as well.