Text messaging in a tenant or prospective tenant is a convenient way to communicate.  It can be done quickly without having to wait for someone to answer, leave a message or wait for a callback and without having to engage in conversation.  It can be done without drafting, printing and delivering a letter.  In short, you can pass the ball with minimal hassle. 

Receiving a text is also convenient.  Phone calls interrupt activities and checking voice mail requires dialing into a voice mail system and listening to the message.  A text message can also be saved, forwarded and easily accessed if it contains useful information.

Clearly texting has some practical applications for property managers, landlords and tenants.  However, the key to texting with tenants is to know when sending a text, rather than making a phone call or sending a letter, could get you in trouble. 

Establish Guidelines for Texting with Tenants

When you’re signing a lease, make sure to discuss your preferred communication methods, including texting, with your tenants, so that you’re all on the same page.  When it comes to texting, put the following guidelines in place. 

  1.  Make sure the tenant is able and willing to receive text messages.  Some people don’t have cell phones, or if they do, they don’t use them often.  Others have no texting plan.  And some people don’t want to communicate by texting.  If a tenant doesn’t want to receive text messages from you, respect his or her wishes. 
  1. Put it in writing.  The lease agreement or some other document signed by the tenant should contain a checkbox for the tenant to indicate he or she is willing to receive text messages and a section for the tenant to write in his or her mobile number.
  2. Specify what you will be texting to the tenant.  Put it in writing the information you will be texting to the tenant.   Text messages are informal.  Limit them to emergency repair situations when you can’t call each tenant or when you have reports of suspicious criminal activity in the area.  Also, use text messages for simple reminders about upcoming due dates, meetings or scheduled repairs and maintenance for which you have already given written notice.  Limit yourself to these situations – don’t send a text soliciting for donations to your favorite worthy cause and don’t overload the tenant with too many texts.
  3. Specify what the tenant can text to you.  Limit what information the tenant may text to you.  For example, texts requesting repairs or maintenance and consenting to allowing maintenance staff to enter the unit might be appropriate.

Know When to Avoid Texting a Tenant

There are some situations where texting isn’t the right tool for communication.  For example: 

  • Don’t text formal written notices to a tenant.  If you are giving a tenant a notice that is required by statute to be in writing, (such as a notice you need to enter the premises or terminate the lease), do not text it.  If a notice doesn’t meet the statutory requirements for proper form and delivery, the tenant can claim that the notice was improper and that he or she need not comply. 
  • Don’t text information if you might need a paper trail.  If you suspect that you may need to keep a record that a certain communication was delivered, make sure the communication is on paper and delivered appropriately.  Text messages are not legal documents.  They are easily (and sometimes accidentally) deleted.  Furthermore, text messages can’t be printed out and easily presented to a judge and they may not hold up in court. 
  • Don’t send text messages that convey anger or frustration.  Always keep text messages professional and devoid of negative emotion.  If you have a difficult situation with a tenant, a phone call or an in-person conversation is probably better than a short text message.  As with email, when you send a text message, the person on the receiving end doesn’t see your facial expressions or body language, which can give them an incomplete picture of the intent of the communication.  Remember that if you might need a paper trail, send the tenant a letter or follow up the conversation with a letter. 

Texting tenants can be an efficient way to communicate, saving property managers time and money.  If you know when and when not to use a text, it can be a valuable tool. 

Reprinted with permission of the Wisconsin Apartment Association News.