Working With Residents “ How to Train Your Tenant
By Larry Cutting

I have discovered over the years “ sometimes the hard way “ that the more time and effort you spend in the initial screening process and lease signing appointment, the less trouble you will have in the overall tenancy.  I refer to it as Training Your Tenant.  Not always do prospective tenants come to you with good intentions or even what I would consider proper tenant etiquette.  It is very important from the start to keep a strictly business policy with them in order to ensure they know that you expect the lease to be followed at all times.
During the initial meeting with a prospective tenant, I always let them know what I did or didn’t like about the previous tenant.  They were filthy, or I didn’t appreciate the way they kept the yard, or They always paid on time.  At this point, they know that you are an active landlord and care about the property.  In the same sense I listen to what they have to say about their previous landlord.  These are CLUES!  Listen.  Things like, I can’t stand them, or They expect me to mow the lawn more than once a month.  If that is the case, you may want to keep looking.  It is one thing to have good credit, but a home or apartment must be maintained or it will start looking like trash and they will move, leaving you with the mess.
After you have screened them and are ready to sign the lease and do the walkthrough, ask them to set aside about one to two hours so you can go over the lease, rules and regulations and expectations at the same time.  When you do have that appointment, take your time.  Make sure you answer all their questions and that they answer all of yours as well.  This is when you become more than a person renting a house, but you become the Landlord.

Inherited Tenants
When I acquire a property with a built-in tenant, this is where I have the most problems.  They are used to someone else’s lax rules; maybe the previous landlord allowed them to consistently make late payments, not charge appropriate fees, or allowed pets without additional deposits.  They think of you as someone who is making demands without considering things such as how long they have lived in the unit, that they always pay on time, or that there were family members of the previous owner.  You can see where I’m going with this.  In my initial meeting with the new tenants, I explain that I have multiple properties and I am required to enforce the lease as a legal document and I may have different expectations.
I spend time with them, asking what they like about the property, the prior landlord and the rules.  They seem to be much more receptive to me if I bring a new lease and go over it as if they were a new tenant.  If they see that you are prepared and have much more appreciation of the property than the previous owner, they are more likely to follow your lead.

Continue to Train
The training continues.  After the tenant moves in, they will sometimes call you to ask you to put up a fence, make changes to the property, pay late or allow a new roommate to move in.  In all instances, when a tenant calls for something that I believe is out of the ordinary, I ask them to get a copy of their lease and go over it together with them.  Look for the specific section of the lease that covers the request and make them read it with you.  If you read to them that a late charge will apply in all circumstances and will not be waived, even though they called you in advance, they will know that you mean business and that you expect timely payments.  Eventually, they will begin to look at the lease before they call you or just stop calling you to ask for unrealistic things that you have no intention of giving them.

Be Consistent
The other pitfall is when they try to test you.  This is a test that you must pass in order to have harmony with them.  They will call out of the blue and request things just to see if you are a pushover.  And if you are, the next request will be even greater and it will not stop until you are forced to draw a line in the sand with them.
On the flip side of the equation, you have the responsibility to make repairs in a timely manner or they will not give you the respect that you have been requiring of them from day one.  A tenant will hold a grudge if they are without a dishwasher or if the take cold showers for more than a few days.  They want to rely on you just as much as you rely on them to take care of the property, make timely payments and be an overall good tenant.

Keep it Strictly Business
I have many long term tenants that a landlord would love to steal away from me but I really don’t have high turnover because of the respect I have built with each one.  Remember to keep it strictly business and not get too personal with them.  I would never allow a tenant to become my friend on Facebook or go to dinner with them.  It is a business and that is how they should perceive it.  Good luck and I hope you enjoy your tenants as much as I enjoy mine.

Larry Cutting is the owner/designated broker of the Renters Marketplace at American Classic Homes. Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound.

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