“We Need to Talk . . .”
March 21st, 2019 | By: Rachel R. Dornbush, Esq.
As we’ve said many times before, landlords and tenants are in a relationship and the key to any good relationship is communication. Sometimes initiating a simple conversation can alleviate confusion, resolve disputes, and go a long way in fostering a good tone for the tenancy. However, the ways we communicate as a society are evolving and so the nature of the communication may change depending on the circumstances.
Most often, landlords speak with their tenants verbally – whether in person or by phone. For multi-family landlords, face-to-face communication usually occurs when the manager or maintenance person is out on the property or when a tenant comes into the management office. These are great opportunities for getting to know each other, as well as for management to answer simple questions or resolve minor issues. It is also a good idea to keep notes on what was discussed or log the conversation in the tenant’s residency file. By keeping the lines of communication open, this creates trust (another pillar of a good relationship) and promotes good relations.
However, if a conversation becomes heated or more significant issues are raised, it may then be appropriate to continue communications in writing. This may allow for a “cooling down” period, and it also then documents the situation. Additionally, considering this era of technology and that most people don’t leave home without a cell phone or other electronic device, property managers and their staff need to be mindful that face-to-face interactions can be recorded without their knowledge. As such, maintaining a professional and courteous demeanor at all times is vital.
Also, although communication by email or text is convenient, this can sometimes be perilous. For example, a heated dialogue could ensue, which might unnecessarily escalate a situation. Also, a hasty reply could misstate the sender’s intentions or be misinterpreted by the recipient. Therefore, sometimes responding by a formal letter may ultimately be better for the landlord. Likewise, considering its rarity, when a formal letter is received from a tenant or someone on their behalf, it should be taken seriously and responded to in kind.
Of course, all too common now these days are various social media platforms. Some tenants choose to communicate with management through these while others air their perceived grievances. Either way, the importance of being a proactive participant on social media cannot be overstated. Safeguarding the property’s message will help to promote camaraderie and a sense of community among the tenants.
Regardless of the type of communication – in person, by phone, text, email, formal letter, or social media – one should always take time to fully review and prepare an appropriate response before giving it. Moreover, a formal response can be used as an opportunity to address misstatements, misconceptions, and inaccurate information. Therefore, a property manager and their team should not hesitate to involve higher level management or their attorneys before responding.
The Bottom Line: Good communication is so important between landlords and tenants. Don’t wait to have “the talk” as by then it’s probably too late to salvage the relationship.