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How to improve the way you handle difficult tenant situations

Published: 17 March 2007.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every tenant and landlord wore a happy smile, agreed with everything we had to say and never complained about our service? The reality in Property Management is, we are dealing with people and their emotions, and sometimes things can go wrong and sometimes people can complain about our service.

Managing clients can be frustrating and demanding on our time, sanity and stress levels. We can often become so consumed in our daily processes and take the approach of “Clients are an interruption to our business? rather than; “They are the reason we have a business?. They hassle us about maintenance, they get irate over small niggly issues, we have to constantly explain ourselves, they interrupt us when we are trying to work and they can be rude.

So how do we manage these difficult and demanding clients?

When dealing with difficult clients, it is important that we do not get defensive and put on our hat of authority and control. We are working in a “people? business and need to learn how to manage the relationship when things go wrong. If a client is upset, it is for a reason. It doesn’t matter if you agree with their reason. What does matter is how you handle your responses to their concerns and issues raised.

It is not a contest of who is right, who is wrong or who the winner is! If they lose, we generally lose! Think about it…
Your objective is to make the client feel as though they are right.

NEVER GET DEFENSIVE… Defuse the situation

Tips on how to defuse a difficult client

Put yourself in their shoes
How would you feel if it was you contacting your managing agent with the complaint or issue?

Change your behaviour pattern to avoid getting defensive
Always think before you act or react. Your sole objective should be to turn the situation around to make the client happy. Don’t focus on what has gone wrong. Focus on what you can do to make it better. The cause can often be forgotten, if you delight them with your prompt solution.

Moderate your voice
Be as calm and patient as possible. Don’t come across as condescending, bossy, mechanical or scripted with your words.

Give total attention and listen, listen and listen some more
When a client is voicing their concerns, don’t appear to be distracted. Don’t interrupt them - let them finish what they have to say. Often the key to defusing the situation can be a simple act of listening. Interrupting the client can also inflame the situation.

Don’t make excuses, provide solutions
The client does not want to hear excuses. The client does not want to be told, “That was Jane’s fault? or “I was not responsible?. They want you to tell them what you are going to do to assist or resolve the situation – “I will look into the matter as a priority and get back to you? or “I will solve this for you and let you know?.

Remind them that they are valued and important
If they are upset or have concerns, they probably don’t feel important at the moment. Always state “This is an important matter?.

Thank them for drawing the issue to your attention
Courtesy and manners will work wonders to calm a difficult client. During your conversation, take the time to say, “Thank you for drawing this to my attention?.

Empathise, reassure & apologise
Take the time to connect and let the client know that you care – “I would feel the same? or “I would be annoyed as well?. Reassure the client that you understand by simply stating, “I understand your concerns?. Apologise that the event has occurred, even if you don’t know the facts. “I apologise that you have had to raise this matter with me?.

Follow up & keep in constant communication with the client
If you say that you are going to take action, make sure you do and follow up to ensure the client is happy with the outcome.

If all else fails…
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how polite you are or how accommodating you are to their needs - they are still difficult and demanding. Nothing you say or do makes them happy. If you have applied all of the above communication tips it is time to get their feedback on what they would like you to do to rectify the situation. Your final words should be, “What would you like us to do, while being fair to all parties, to resolve this matter for you??

Author Debbie Palmer - Managing Director, PPM Group

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Reply from: El

12:31pm Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!oh please.
stop being so weak. if you behave like this the tenant will demand more and be more rude. Talk to the tenant, get their feedback and tell them how it will go. Don't ever apologize.
this is a terrible article.

Reply from: Julie

1:37pm Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!I agree with the previous reply. I've been a property manager for many years and if you are too nice the tenant will take full advantage of you and demand more. I started off in my early years as a manager trying to be nice to all my tenants. I was looked upon as weak. Now I distance myself and keep it strictly professional, I am cordial but always maintain control and force them to adhere to building rules and regulations. I don't ever apologize or admit to anything. When tenants insist on arguing with me I keep repeating the facts and refer them to their lease agreement. I have 150 tenants. 60% are decent tenants who never complain. the other 40% either whine and complain about everything or lie like the devil and never pay rent on time. You have to have thick skin to be in property management.

Reply from: Nick Buick

12:23pm Thursday, 20 August 2009

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!I have to say I totally agree with both of you. We get mountains of complaints and requests for legal advice from tenants here all day long despite the gigantic notice on the top of our contact us page telling them we cant help. The nature of complaints extend to
'how dare my landlord want to inspect his property while I'm renting it? ' to
'I moved into this house, now my agent expects ME to mow the lawn!? Surely not??' to
'I spilled ten liters of red paint all over the carpet and now they want to take it off my bond, surely this is fair wear and tear?'. 9 times out of 10, the tenants that contact us are simple minded degenerates - I find them to be arrogant, indignant, ignorant and self-entitled... and I'm not even their letting agent. Heavens knows how he/she must feel about them... apologizing or negotiating with such people would be utterly futile and probably counter-productive in my opinion.

Reply from: Bill

6:11pm Friday, 04 September 2009

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!El, You can maintain a strong and assertive position with Tenants - that's fine but you do owe them an apology for describing the article as "Terrible"! He was simply advocating a calm approach to achieving goals in people management.

Julie, I agree with both you and El about being rigid in your policing the terms of the lease.

I am about to take over the MR in a community in SE Qld. where there are already two such 'situations' we will have to deal with and manage.

One is a tenant alleged to be either a drug user or a pusher who attracted a police raid in the early morning, guns drawn, looking for a person of interest thought to be visiting the tenant. As the tenant had not been charged, the incumbent manager took the view that his lease could be renewed so as to avoid discriminating against him.

The other case is the wife of an immigrant worker (both recently arrived in Australia). Hubby is apparently away working on a project and has, for almost a year, been sending money back to maintain the lonely wife and pay the rent.

He used to be seen on return visits but hasn't been seen at home for almost a year and, for certain plausible reasons (that should remain private), it is feared he may be in the process of abandoning her.

What does the new Unit Manager do in a case like this. I have to protect the revenue of the owner and minimise any risk of losing money from the bond.

The tenant does not appear to be eligible for anything at Centrelink and apart from her local church, she is between a rock and a hard place and I'm not looking forward to playing the tough cop role.

Reply from: Benjamin D Banks

10:50am Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!I think it's important for onsite managers to establish a firm yet fair hand in dealing with tenants (and the odd owner who chooses to be difficult) but it is also important to remember that under the act you are not required to police and or put your self in a position of volatility.
When dealing with problem tenants I say to all my clients follow the rules, issue your notices correctly and if they want to pick a fight send them my way. My staff are trained and deal with these issues all day long.
This then allows you the manager to not have to deal with the emotion in the situation. Keep in mind that unlike the traditional property manager who has distance between them and the tenant you live in the same location

With regards to your situation Bill drop me line so we can discuss in more detail. But on the surface case 1 (possible drug pushier) the manager was incorrect they would only have been discrimination if they had said "we are not going to renew your lease for these reasons", if they had simply said that the owner does not wish to renew your release then things would have been fine. case 2 can you confirm who's name is on the lease for me please, if it is the husband and he has not been seeing for some time then you could look at a) have the wife sign the lease b) issue a notice of abandonment followed by a notice to leave and you may need to get a WOP (Warrant of Possession).

You need to keep in mind (and this is a worst case) that should the tenant named on the lease (assumption that it's the husband) not currently be in the property you need to get contact and postal details ASAP. The reason being that any damage caused by parties not named on the lease are going to be hard to enforce in the event the landlords insurer does not cover all damage and rent. Why? Only named parties can be held responsible for damage and rent owed above the bond. Your other issue is that I have been in numerous talk with agents over the past few months about QCAT and sitting members who are not hearing case due to the tenant in their mind not being informed. With no postal details it will be very had to track down your named tenant and have them served.

Reply from: J

11:30am Sunday, 20 June 2010

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Thank you for these comments. Sorry to say I also disagree with the article itself. It's a bit irrational.
Thank you for all these helpful comments again.

Reply from: Vic Crump

4:05pm Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Well .... is it just me!
I thought the CLIENT was the owner, not the tenant (who is the customer).
I read the article to be about the relationship with the manager and the landlord .... in which case I totally agree with it's sentiments. I'm not about wimping out, but our business relies on keeping the business in the first place.
Anybody got anything positive to contribute!

Reply from: margaret

10:56pm Sunday, 17 July 2011

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!I do no feel that you should be very nice to difficult tenants. The way they cannot get free fuel, gas, stores, etc is the same way they should deal with timely payment of rent. A landlord is not a loaning institution. A tenant who cannot raise a one months' rent is better evacuated to avoid the risk of them leaving the premise in the middle of the night having a rent arrears of several months. Also the landlord is servicing morgage and other loans and fees and late payment is a rel inconvenience. Being nice to difficult tenants will not influence the bank to refrain from auctioning your property in order to raise the due fees.

Reply from: Sam R

8:13am Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Very interesting how we react when we feel we are wronged. The difficult tenant can turn nasty and it appears that the "professional" property manager can too. I agree with the writer of the article. Shutting down an unhappy customer in any business is unwise. Best to listen, address, and act if necessary. BTW, the landlord may be the client, but how long will they be in business and you in a job by following the tips offered by some of the repsonders. I have been in PM for over 25 years and I have learned that we can all learn something every day. A good friend that helped me when I started taught me that 10% of the people in any group love to be unhappy and happiest when they make others unhappy. The inexperienced manager will spend 90% of their time with this 10%. I prefer to focus on the 90%, but that doesn't mean I would disrespect or shut down the 10%. When you do, they win. Note the article, she never said-Give in to the tenant. She said-Maintain respect, listen, act if necessary and maintain control. If you do this, I bet you will see smaller "mountains" of complaints. Also, you will be a better and happier managing agent.

Reply from: Loz

9:44pm Sunday, 07 October 2012

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Thanks for the article, but the comments raise a good point about tenants simply taking advantage. I'm in a situation where i am a tenant and another tenant upstairs had lied through her teeth to the landlord about my outside lights in my courtyard (little fairy lights, only 20 tiny butterfly bulbs), being on down the side of the house under her window. thing is they're close to the ground and she's on the 2nd level so i dont see how they keep her awake all night. they are solar powered so turn off an hr after sundown as they don't store energy well. additional to that i only turned them on ONCE to see how they looked and they've been switched off since! how can someone complain about lights keeping them up that were never even on!? Simple: she lied.
I 'd like some good advise on how to handle this. the landlord asked me to take them down for the reason that they're apparently on. I said if its ok I'll keep them switched off. i only want to sit out there in summer at dusk when they're on and turn them off before sundown.
If there anything else I or the landlord can do? or are we just meant to change very little thing she complains about? its hard coz she's a cranky old lady. But I don't think she should get away with it. At the same time if she confronts me i don't want to get angry as it may add more fuel to the fire. if she gets upset again would it be worth me approaching these other tenants directly?
Thanks for any advise :)

Reply from: Nick

8:12am Monday, 08 October 2012

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Welcome to being a tenant :(. The Land Lord can issue a Notice To Remedy Breech if you're breeching a by-law (such as affecting someone else's peaceful enjoyment of their apartment - or leaving something in a common area that causes a nuisance, hazard, etc). Your balcony is probably deemed a exclusive use common area... They can probably tell you what to do out there. Heck, I've even known land lords to make tenants remove curtains from their windows because they weren't to BC spec. It sounds pretty petty, but as far as what you can do about it... You could explain it to the land lord, see what they say, if they have a valid reason for removing them, I'd do so, but if you feel they don't have a valid reason, and you refuse to remove them, they can issue a notice to remedy breech. You can dispute that with the RTA through a mediator... but do you really want to make waves with your land lord? Whatever path you take, good luck.

Reply from: Loz

4:17pm Monday, 08 October 2012

Just click here to upload your profile portrait now - its easy!Oh no don't want to drag it out like that. I ended up moving them quite far down on a wall no where near any of their windows so they can't see them at all unless they enter the courtyard. I've just been informed they have free reign of my courtyard as they have storage under the house. I guess that's fine but would prefer to have been informed prior. There was no mention of it in the lease agreement, and the real estate agent never even mentioned tennants upstairs. Should I have been informed of this earlier?

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