Safety isn’t just about the lessor and tenant – what about you?

Property Management,  Property Managers

Each and every day we as property managers take on the task of ensuring that the properties we manage are fit and safe to live in for the tenants and to ensure minimal risk of liability for our lessors – very rarely do we stop to think about the safety of ourselves.

As property managers, we’re responsible for assisting in the provision of a home for these tenants and therefore we become involved in the tenants’ everyday life in one way or another.

We are collecting rent from the tenant so that they have a roof over their heads. We are also inspecting the premises to ensure that the property remains maintained by the tenant. It doesn’t sound very risky at all.

When things change

Things appear to be on track but something suddenly changes. The tenant who has never been behind in rent suddenly appears in arrears – what do we do?

We call them and tell them that they are behind in rent. Imagine if the tenant has just suffered a traumatic experience such as a loss of a job or the loss of a loved one. In fact, anything could have happened to cause the change in the tenant’s behaviour.

What we all need to be aware of is that mental health is an illness that can affect anyone at any time. It can affect individuals in different ways; including depressive states and aggression.

Therefore, at all times it is mindful to consider how you approach a person who is in rent arrears. You must consider that this might be very embarrassing for them. Choose your wording carefully – giving respect and direction at the same time.

You could perhaps say something along the lines of: “Hi Mr Smith, I do hope you are well. I’ve been a bit concerned about you these last few days because you have appeared on our arrears list. Is everything okay, is there anything I can do to assist?”

Offering to pass on a message of apology to the lessor could be a way of ‘assisting’. Also knowing what organisations are available to people who find themselves in hard times could also be viewed as ‘assisting’.

Remember though, you still have your obligations to the lessor. Explain to them in an empathetic tone that you still need to issue notices and follow procedures as per your arrears plan or in-house structure.

Taking a caring approach could be the difference between having the tenant do their best to right their wrong as they won’t want to let you down, as opposed to an agitated aggressive tenant who strikes out at you and potentially the property, causing injury or damage.

Be mindful of safety when conducting inspections

In addition to approaching tenants regarding rent payments, we also need to conduct inspections of the property. The reality is that we cannot know what kind of domestic situation exists on the day of the inspection.

Always be conscious of your personal safety and consider the following:

*Knock loudly, wait , knock again

*User the buzzer or intercom where there is one

*If there is no response and you are using your keys for entry, open the door slightly and call out in a clear voice who you are, your agency name and that you are there to complete an inspection

*If there is no response, fully open the door and call out again before stepping inside

*It is worthwhile making a quick check of each room before inspecting each room in more detail, to ensure that there is nobody home who is in the shower or asleep

*Shut the front door during the inspection

*Don’t take risks with dogs even if they appear friendly

*Where a tenant or their guest is home at the time of inspection, be conscious of who is near you

*Be aware of where your nearest exit is

*Always have your mobile phone charged and with you – you may wish to have the office or police on speed dial

*Have an internal plan in place – for example, the office is to call on you every hour or you are to call the office when you are out on inspections

*Ensure there is a copy of your schedule in the office showing your intended whereabouts.

When entering a property for the first time

Appraising property for rent is another situation in which you are entering someone’s home where you are not familiar with the person or the surroundings. It is important to have a safety plan everyone in the office is aware of.

Consider the following: Your whereabouts must be known in the office and your approximate time of return is good practice.

This way, if you are not back, the office can call you and, if need be, send someone to check on you if there is no response.

*If you are at the property and become uncomfortable, or feel intimidated, and can’t exit the property for any reason, have a plan in place to discreetly advise your office you’re in potential danger. This plan could involve advising the ‘prospective client’ that you have forgotten some important documents and need to call the office.

In this instance, your office must be aware of the ‘red flag’ that identifies you are in danger.

In this example the ‘red flag’ is a ‘red folder’. When you call the office you would say the following: “Hi Jenny, Its Debbie – I am just at 79 Brick Street for my appraisal and in my haste I forgot to bring the ‘RED FOLDER’, could you be a dear and run this over to me please?”

This ‘red flag’ identifies to your agency that you are in possible danger and they can send staff to your location for assistance or the police if need be.

Always be professional and courteous and trust your instincts.

Further reading: What to do if you suspect domestic and family violence in a tenancy