Doing repairs on rental properties and interacting with tenants adds a whole new component to maintenance. Vendors who recognize the intricate skill and experience required to get the job done are an asset to rental property owners. If you master these five areas and consistently perform them well you will make yourself more marketable.

 1.   Documentation is Critical (and useful if the matter goes to court):

  • Dates and times of when you received the call and performed the service
  • Who got in touch with you – the tenant, management, or the landlord?
  • How were you contacted by phone, text, or email?
  • What was the initial complaint reported?
  • Give your best price – no hidden fees, be reasonable
  • Photographs are extremely helpful
  • Describe the action taken or attempted
  • If the repair was not done as promised immediately notify the owner why.  Was the tenant uncooperative or a hindrance? Did the residents refuse to let you in? Had they forgotten about the appointment? Did they not return your phone calls to set up an appointment time? List the dates and times you tried to reach them. Were you unable to reach them for the scheduled confirmation call? Always keep the owner updated of any problems

2.   Helpful Observations

  • Being an extension of the owner’s eyes and ears makes you valuable
  • When you got there what were your observations? Were there violations or other matters that need to be brought to the landlord’s attention? Smoke/Carbon Monoxide detectors disconnected or missing?  Evidence of an unauthorized occupant/border or pet?  Safety issues – hoarding, removal of fire extinguisher, loose step, etc.
  • Is the repair cost a result of the tenant’s actions? Was a toilet stopped up by a child’s toy belonging to the tenants?  Is an entry door broken because of a fight the tenants had with each other? Are corrections needed because the residents made improper modifications to the unit?  Is there a bug infestation due to unclean conditions, old/spoiled food left out, unkempt premises or piles of dirty dishes?

 3.   Professional Interaction with the Residents

  • Discuss only the job you are sent there to perform.  Don’t get personal.   Refrain from giving any advice outside your scope of hire.  Try to cause the least bit of disturbance as possible.
  • Come prepared with your own tools.  Do not bother or ask to borrow the tenant’s property.
  • Avoid confrontations, arguments and volatile situations – do not engage
  • Treat everyone fair and equal.  No flirting.  No preferential treatment for those you have a romantic interest in.
  • Follow the rules/policies for vendor conduct.  No wandering into areas work is not being performed.  Clean up after yourself, don’t leave a mess.
  • Handle the call in an expedient and proficient manner.
  • If residents try to get workers to do other work not reported to the landlord.  Politely explain you are only authorized and paid to be there to address that particular issue. Suggest they follow the repair policy and go through the proper channels

 4.  Assess a Diagnosis of What Caused the Problem and Options for Repair. Explain that it is: 

  • an inexpensive fix but it’s temporary (band-aid solution)
  • what it will take to remedy the situation without getting a brand new replacement of equipment
  • your recommendation on how to handle it to get the owner’s desired result and resolution

 5.   Pay Attention to Detail and Follow Orders/Instructions

  • Prioritize the repair – how emergent is it?
  • Abide by and be familiar with changes in the law affecting your trade (RRP rule – http://www.epa.gov/lead)
  • Are there any special instructions?

           o The tenant has an indoor pet, be careful it does not get out

           o Tenant has an outdoor pet be sure not to let it in

           o Tenant left dog locked up in the garage do not enter

          o No smoking on the premises

          o Don’t leave doors wide open unnecessarily

         o Tenant wants to be present

         o Be careful not to move/rearrange items inside (The owner may not want to disclose that the tenant may be visually impaired)

         o Follow the parking rules and posted signs

 Situational

At a Fair Housing Workshop, an investigator relayed a case where a tenant complained her landlord was biased and discriminatory toward her and refused to make needed repairs because of her familial status. Management was asked for their side of the story so they reviewed the documented reports of their maintenance crew that showed they responded quickly to the request. They noted upon arrival no adults were present and a young girl answered the door in a towel after just exiting the shower. The girl was directed to have an adult call to reschedule and the workers left. It was against their written policy to be alone with a child who was not dressed. 

Maintenance made the effort twice to reschedule and the tenant cancelled the appointments and did not initiate another visit.

Management sent a letter to the tenant articulating the attempts made to investigate and resolve the repair request and asked the tenant to contact them in writing at their earliest convenience for follow-up.

The tenant stopped paying rent and called Fair Housing in hopes it would persuade the landlord not to pursue an eviction. Once Fair Housing heard management’s side and saw they had supporting documentation they re-contacted the tenant. The tenant admitted she was behind in her rent, had received management’s letter, acknowledged being contacted by maintenance and confessed to not responding or cooperating. She also verified her daughter was home alone and had just come out of the shower when the maintenance workers arrived for the initial scheduled repair appointment. Fair Housing dropped the matter and saw no reason for further action.        

Why I believe the complaint was deemed unfounded by Fair Housing:

  • The company kept good records that provided a reliable account of what occurred
  • Management showed they were not trying to avoid their responsibilities
  • Both maintenance and management’s actions were reasonable
  • They made good faith efforts to address the repair in a timely manner
  • The workers behaved appropriately and followed written policy
  • The procedure maintenance adhered to was in the best interest of all involved

A vendor who follows proper protocol and does not require a lot of supervision or to be told repeatedly what is needed of him or her are sought after workers in this business.

Teresa Billingsley is a third generation rental property owner. She has owned and managed for over twenty years and may be reached at tbillbooks@yahoo.com. After seeing landlords unnecessarily expose themselves to problems she wrote the book A Learning Stage: for Property Owners & Managers.

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