Communicating With Your Tenants

Charley“Your tenants are your customers so good, clear communication is critical especially when they are dissatisfied.  This article includes suggestions for effective ways to address sticky issues.”
Charley Staab, CIC


By: Sandy Adams

Shortly after speaking to a group of investors I received an email from one of the attendees, which said, “My tenant wants to break his lease. How do I ruin his credit?” This seemed like an absurd response to me. In further emails with this woman I found that she had not made any attempt to discuss the lease break with her tenant. It’s not often a tenant wants to terminate their agreement early. But when it does happen, the more open you are to working with the tenant, the more cooperative the tenant will be with you.

This year I’ve had two separate tenants break their lease. One had purchased a home and the other had accepted a job in another state. By working with the tenants to market and show the properties, I was able to find new qualified tenants to take possession within a few days of the old tenants vacating. It didn’t cost my clients, the property owners, one cent in turnover costs or lost rent. The old tenants were extremely happy that they could move on knowing their expenses to break to the lease had been minimal.

Since all landlords are rich, or so many tenants believe, I sometimes receive unreasonable requests for unnecessary alterations or upgrades to the property. I’ve had requests from tenants for such things as central air-conditioning, home alarm systems, copper repiping, water filtration systems, double-paned windows and new appliances just because the appliances looked old. While these may be upgrades that an owner would consider doing, they certainly aren’t entitlements due the tenant. But pointing out to a tenant how unreasonable their request is will get you nowhere.

After a couple of unusually hot days, I recently had a tenant with a newborn request approval to remove a stationary window above her sliding glass door and install an a/c unit. She clearly had not thought this through as to what it would take to achieve this task. This was my response to her:

“Yes, it’s been unusually hot this week. I don’t have a/c myself and didn’t have it when my children were babies, so I do sympathize with you. That said, I don’t allow alterations to be done by residents. Taking out a solid pane of glass and installing an a/c unit and then patching the sides to make it fit with a cord running to the closest outlet is definitely an alteration that I can’t approve. I have a portable a/c unit in my home. It doesn’t require bolting it to the structure (inside or outside) or even removing my window screen. Because it’s on rollers I can move it to other rooms and roll it away at the end of summer. I suggest you explore this option. I’ve seen them for sale on line at Target, Best Buy and Orchard Supply Hardware.

It looks like we will be back to normal summer temperatures for a while. It should be a little more comfortable for everyone and give you time to consider other options.

“The tenant responded with a nice email stating they would explore the option of a portable a/c unit. I have received very positive responses from tenants when recommending this alternative to a window unit.

Remember your rental property is a business. Your tenants are your customers. They pay you a monthly rent for well-maintained housing. Some tenants will be unreasonable and demanding. Ask yourself if the tenant is making a reasonable request. If not, find something to say in your first few sentences that will put the individual in a positive, more accepting, frame of mind before you tell them no.  Too often an owner or tenant starts out confrontational, which makes it very difficult to regain that original connection you had with the tenant when they moved in. How you respond to certain challenges can set the tone for your relationship throughout the tenancy.

It’s human nature for people to want to feel as though they’ve won or at the very least, that they’ve been heard. The point is not to react to unreasonable demands, but to reply to each inquiry as though it were a valid request. As Dale Carnegie says, “The only way to win an argument is to avoid it.”

About the author: Sandy Adams is President, Rental Housing Network. The Rental Housing Network is a resource center providing guidance and industry information to owners who manage their own rental properties. For additional information visit our website at

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