On a daily basis we train our staff. This training focuses not just on renting units, dealing with tenant turns and handling maintenance and emergencies, but focuses most on how to effectively communicate and respond to tenants. This helps us head off potential litigation.
Yes, tenants are our customers. Not that landlords did not treat tenants like customers in the past, but with the advent of federally funded legal aid, Citizens Alliance of Tenants, Online Reviews and laws that reward tenant advocacy attorneys with significant fees, we have changed our approach to tenants. Tenants today have more resources and are much more aware of their rights than ever before.
Keeping good lines of communication and mutual respect with your tenants will protect you from unnecessary litigation over the occasional mistake, misunderstanding or miscommunication. Treating your tenants well will also pay off in customer loyalty; longer residency, less damage and referrals.
Laws Change Continually
Owning and managing investment property has never been so complicated. In addition to landlord tenant law, there are a series of local, state and federal regulations increasing litigation aimed at landlords. A variety of agencies from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Federal Communications Commission to the Bureau of Labor and Industries and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration now have restrictions in place which affect maintenance, staffing and documentation at every investment property. Below is a short list of regulated issues landlords need to manage on a daily basis:
- Handicap Parking
- Assistance animals
- Terrorism watch list
- Discrimination against tenants
- Swimming pool operation
- Underground Injection Control (UIC) Maintenance
- Material Safety Data Sheets
- Smoking Policy Disclosure
- Fire Codes
- Satellite Dish restrictions
- Lead Based Paint
- Meth labs
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Building Codes
- Confidentiality and privacy
- Smoke detectors
- Trip and fall , liability issues
Currently, in the Oregon legislature, new laws are being discussed and promulgated that affect rules for service and assistance animals SB 610. In addition there are updates being proposed to the landlord tenant act SB91, and House Speaker Tina Kotek is working hard on a bill that will prohibit landlords from discriminating against Section 8 tenants.
To avoid litigation, landlords must make a commitment to stay informed of the regular changes to the numerous local, state and federal laws.
Encourage Tenant Communication
We need to encourage tenants to let us know when there is a problem. Landlords and tenants must keep rental property in a habitable state, if they don’t litigation will occur. The vast majority of landlords and tenants understand this, but there are occasions when landlords fall behind in repairs giving tenants the right to object. More often than not when an owner over is leveraged, and does not have money to make repairs, or used the money for another property, tenants start to feel the pain of a neglected property. This occurs as well if landlords don’t screen their tenants, renting to tenants who don’t care for, or respect, the property. Typically this turns into a game of revolving tenants and litigation for un-inhabitability.
This leads us back to the beginning of this article. Teaching landlords and property managers how to respect, respond and communicate with tenants has huge payoffs. Tenants that are cared for and appreciated by their property managers will not typically sue at the drop of a hat. They will work with a manager and or landlord to resolve problems and, more importantly, bring problems to the table because they are comfortable knowing they will be treated well. That does not obviate the need to inspect rental units once or twice a year, but it helps us keep rental units in tip top shape and keep the tenants safe and happy. Tenants need to trust they will not be retaliated against for reporting maintenance to their landlord/manager.
If a tenant complains of mold, you need to see if it exists. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you can’t see it because it’s in a crawl space or an attic. You must take your tenants’ concerns seriously; otherwise you will end up in court, and that often costs much more than a simple repair would have.
Like a mysterious mold complaint, there are other tenant concerns which on the surface may or may not appear legitimate to you. Don’t ignore or diminish the importance of your timely, appropriate response to issues relating to Fair Housing practices, Service animal discrimination, andADAaccessibility standards. Sure, some tenants may abuse the system for financial gain, but it is far better to give every tenant the benefit of the doubt and work together to resolve an issue rather than end up in court…and, it’s the law!
Clifford A. Hockley is President of Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services, greater Portland’s full service real estate brokerage and property management company.. He is a Certified Property Manager and has achieved his Certified Commercial Investment Member designation (CCIM). Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services is an Accredited Management Organization (AMO) by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).