Apartment Renter Tip: Mom & Pop Landlord vs. Professional Property Management: Vol. 3 Resident Resolutions and Retention

Do Mom & Pop Landlords Differ From Professional Managers in Conflict Resolution & Tenant Retention?

Snidely Whiplash tying Nell Fenwick to the train tracks because she can’t pay the rent, is not quite what we have in mind here. In fact, some practices still in action today by both Mom & Pop shops and some Professional Property Managers can both borderline on some pretty unethical and unlawful resolutions. There are laws to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords on both sides of the tracks.

So if you cannot pay the rent and your landlord decides to change the locks, put your stuff in boxes on the curb, or decide to remove your toilet or front door to make “repairs“; then you probably should have done a bit more due diligence on the landlord BEFORE you signed the rental agreement for your apartment.

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Conflict resolution in a rental situation can be a slippery slope to deal with no matter whether you are a Lone Ranger Landlord or a Professional Management Agency. A lot of landlords miss the train when they purchase their first rental property. They think they will sit back, do nothing, and collect rents month after month into an early retirement. What many fail to realize is when they signed their name on the deed for their first rental property, that they have just purchased a customer service business.

So no matter whether you are a Mom & Pop Shop Landlord, or Property Management Firm, if you are focused on providing a “service” and not so much “You Must PAY the Rent”, I can assure you you will have far fewer sleepless nights and many more bright days ahead of you.

How Do Renters Decide on Which Track To Take?

Well, your first day meeting your new potential landlord is going to be your first clue. This is more or less a first date where you are just getting to know one another. So there needs to be a lot of discussions, conversations, questions, and answers that happen here. Questions like, “What happens if something breaks?“, “Who shovels the snow?“, “Where can I park?“, “How do I tell you if something is wrong with the unit?“, and a host of other “what if” scenarios will give you a clue as to how these discussions may be handled down the road when situation may have a bit more drama on the line.

Open communication is going to be the key here. How well can you communicate back and forth? This comes down to one of my pet peeves where ever I go. Whether I am shopping in a store, eating in restaurant, or at the DMV, I am always aware of the operation systems of that business. A good business can make a sale and get you to buy their stuff, or in this case rent the apartment. But a great business will treat you like a valued customer and build a relationship with you through their brand. If the landlord has an operation system, you are more likely to have a much more pleasant experience in the resolution of future issues in or at the apartment down the tracks.

You may have noticed we have not mentioned much about the difference between Mom & Pop Shops and Professional Property Managers yet. Well, you are right. In the decades we have been in this industry we have seen and learned from both types of landlords. Here, it is not so much which team does it better, but who has the better playbook while playing the game. Some Mom & Pop Landlords may offer that personal touch, like giving you fresh baked cookies when you stop by to drop off the rent. Whereas a larger firm may have a monthly contest where you can win prizes or raffles. It is all about the operations and if they are prepared to handle every situation in advance.

When Trains Derail

Let’s say it is mid winter in New England and you have no hot water coming out of your faucet. I can hear all of the landlords gasp as they read this. Frozen Pipes! This is one of the most expensive and time sensitive repairs that may occur in a rental property. You being the resident call the landlord to explain, there is no water coming from the faucet. What happens next will be more revealing than the actual repair process. This goes for both types of landlords here without exception.

What is the landlords’ first response when they hear the news? What is their demeanor on the phone? Are they beginning to placing blame? Are they accusing you as being a part of the issue for not doing “X”? Do they accept full responsibility, or do they handle this a bit differently?

We have been on the receiving end of this call and albeit and uncomfortable situation, we must portray a responsible confidence that this is an issue we can resolve. Of course there is a series of questions we need to get through as quickly as possible before matters get worse, or become more expensive; but we need to rely on the information coming from someone who is probably already pretty upset because they cannot, cook, clean, or feed their children without clean water.

Think of first responders here. They are trained to remain calm, navigate through a series of important questions as quickly as possible, and not get you too excited in the process. They need you to remain calm as well to be able to communicate all of the details in as clear an audible fashion as possible. Their reassurance here will go along way in decreasing the drama of the emergency situation and move towards a resolution.

Stay On Track

The Boy Scouts have the motto. “Be Prepared” and you should too. Being able to listen is absolutely a critical virtue in this situation. Listening, even on the smaller issues, can mean a lot to you as a resident as well. The diamonds are in the details. Being able to walk the resident through a step-by-step process until help arrives through effective communication can be priceless in fortifying the resident/landlord relationship.

Little details like “open the cabinet doors under the sink“, “turn on the faucets in the whole apartment to allow a steady drip of moving water“, or possibly providing simple instructions on how to temporarily use a blow dryer, or space heater to thaw pipes in an emergency, will allow the resident some control over the situation until a professional contractor is on the scene.

Open communication, asking questions, and truly listening are essential keys to conflict resolution and resident retention. Again, this all comes back to operation systems. A great company whether a smaller landlord, or a larger firm, will have considered all of these “what if” scenarios and have a standard protocol for operations in an emergency.

Any landlords, large or small, when things go bad, can rely on a procedure to resolve the conflict when it arises. It should not be about “what the resident did, or didn’t do“. The resident is the one calling you in the first hand because there is a problem, whatever it may be. They are already feeling at a disadvantage for some lack of service or compromised living conditions. The landlords response should be one of sympathy and concern asking “How can I truly help and be of assistance here?” Think of it this way. Let’s say your “grandma” is your resident. She calls you after hours to explain that she has no heat. Are you going to tell her “Sorry, the office is closed?” Definitely not! You are going to do everything in your power to get grandma warm and comfortable as quickly as possible. For us, this is the normal standard of operation. That resident is someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, and they deserve the decency and respect you would give to your own Mom.

Keep The Engines Running

Of course this all applies to resident retention programs too. Is the landlords’ idea of a retention program to raise the rent and say here is your increase? Or are they engaged with you as a resident as much as that first date? Are they listening to your concerns? Do they make you feel like a valued resident? Have they ever spoken to you after that day you first signed the lease? Do they make you feel special?

These are all small steps in building and maintaining the relationship. But so many landlords miss the train here. Again, it still all comes down to operation systems. I do not mean that fake superficial interaction because a reminder that pops up on a calendar somewhere to remind you to say “Hello” to apartment 3B today. But is your landlord genuinely interested in your experience in the rental community you call home? Do they take the time to ask you how things are going? Do they have any resident retention incentives for you if you stay?

We have had scores of residents stay with us for years, even if not in the same apartment. Their occupancy needs may change and we would never know if we did not have a ongoing relationship with them. By staying in touch and having open communication, we know their needs, what their future living situation may be down the tracks, and we can respond to those needs because we are listening.

Final Destination

So whether a small or large landlord, what does matter is how they handle situations like conflicts or even keeping thier residents happy to stay with them. We started out as a Mom & Pop shop and decided way back when to do things a little differently. It is not always about the rent, but more about the long-term relationship.

We have found if we offer a high-quality apartment for our residents to make their home, and have the operation systems and contractors in place to handle emergencies, then we are meeting, at the least, the minimal expectations any decent resident should come to expect for turning over their hard-earned money for a place to live. It is the least we can do. But we always try to do a little more having a plan in place when things go wrong. We also try to respond immediately to resident repair requests and concerns. Again, it is not that hard to do at all. Just be accessible as you would to your own grandma, listen, and then take action.

So to sum it all up whether large or small, here are some of our standards we have adapted when we were small and now keep in focus as some of our core values as we grow our business:

  • Listen to Resident’s concerns
  • Keep an open line of communication
  • Treat the residents with mutual respect
  • Have operational systems in place for contingencies
  • Keep good relationships with contractors
  • Keep our units in tip-top condition
  • Have incentives to stay on for years to come
  • And always, “provide a beautiful uplifting experience”

We hope you have enjoyed Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 in our blog posts  discussing the differences in Mom & Pop vs. Professional Property Management landlord series. We truly hope that you, as a renter, have found this information enlightening and can use what we have presented to find a better place to call your home.

Do you have any other ideas on this topic you could share to help our online community? Please chime in to share a comment or review. All feedback is welcomed!

Warmest regards,

Brian Lucier
Belaire Property Management
Regional Property Manager
(978) 448-0669 office

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