Treating Tenants Well Pays Off

Tenant Relations Team

A property owner recently emailed me to send them our “tenant relations program.” I responded with an email that began, “Our tenant relations program?” I asked. “Uh, we don’t have a tenant relations program. It is not a list of tasks that we do. It is more foundational than that. It is who we are and permeates all our relations with tenants.” The email went on to list what follows:

All of our service staff who relate to tenants (Brian, Ingrid, Sarah, Jessica, Julia, Marc, Luis, Matt & Kelly Kelly and the 30 vendors we employ on a regular basis such as plumbing or a/c service) have a service rather than a sales orientation. Jessica, for example, has worked as a genius at Apple. Luis, one of our two in-house handymen, is a paramedic/firefighter and spent seven years working for ServPro doing the same kind of work he assists us with. I was a pastor for 20+ years. We are all people people.

Our understanding and commitment is that tenant needs and requests are in the best interest of the owners that we serve, since such requests usually are protecting the asset and equity of the owner, and a tenant’s happiness dramatically affects how long they stay (directly affecting the owner’s annual income). We follow the old principle “a stitch in time saves nine,” and encourage tenant communication with us via the internet, email, text, phone or cell phone. Tenants (and owners alike) are able to submit requests or report maintenance or repair items online 24/7 through their rental account. These requests are conveyed to us through email and text, and the tenant, us and our assigned vendor are able to track the progress (and receive daily email updates) until the repair is completed.

We do everything based on deep respect for our tenants (and we have deep respect for our owners, for whom we work):
(1) A tenant who pays $1000 a month is a significant financial business partner with us and the owner, contributing personally and directly $12,000 a year to the owner’s bottom line and long-term equity.
(2) Tenants are magnificent human beings who need a good, safe, clean home for themselves and their families. In providing such a home for them we follow a basic, foundational principle of a just society and a sound economic base that supports us all.
(3) Our goal is to make every tenant a long-term tenant, since turnover combines the three most expensive events for an owner: vacancy, renovation and new tenant procurement.
(4) This also relates to Sparrow’s bottom line in that tenants—like everyone we deal with—are clients, potential real estate buyers, and all know someone who needs to buy, sell or manage real estate. They often refer their friends, co-workers and relatives to us because of the skill, respect and stellar service we offer them. Service built and keeps building our business. It’s about service, not sales.

We have a limit to our super-service orientation. We do not think the customer is always right. When they are wrong, they are not right. We give them the benefit of the doubt, but when a tenant is violating law or lease, we have no problem being “bad cop” and enforcing the legal and lease-agreed limits. Every tenancy has a high point and a low point, and any time a tenant stops paying rent or destroys an owner’s property it strains our service orientation. Even then we prefer and choose collaborative and communicative solutions to problems and see eviction as a last resort (though we are generous in serving 3 and 7 day notices warning of the eviction-consequences of inappropriate behavior). We serve people, but we do not merely seek to please them or have peace at any price.

Let me encapsulate our service-yet-careful-supervision approach to our clients with three aphorisms we often remind ourselves with around our office, especially when there is tension with a tenant:

(1) “Don’t get mad at your money.” We say this to remember that tenants are a main business partner for our owners and ourselves, and not to descend to a condescending or superior attitude toward tenants. People respond best when they feel they are taking seriously and respected. I know I do.

(2) “I am your servant, but you are not my master.” We say this to ourselves to keep our service bearings, particularly when someone has become overbearing or dominating. We try not to respond in kind, anger with anger, but to remember that we can serve without giving over the reigns.

(3) “If you help enough people get what they need, their business will be adequate for you to meet your own needs.” Service, not sales, is our main orientation.