When things get nasty: how to deal with aggressive tenants and landlords
While property management attracts highly passionate individuals, too many leave the sector early in their careers due to the personal impact of aggressive tenants and landlords.
“It can be devastating for some and that’s why we lose PMs so early in their career,” says Tammy Vitale from Vitale and Co Property Management Services. “The pressures we face each day are overwhelming sometimes and it’s important to have a support team or person to help.” Vitale says aggression can come from both tenants and landlords, and the reasons vary. “For landlords, the reason could be their property is not renting, and they blame you,” she continues. “But the biggest factor I’ve found is lack of communication which causes the most frustration.”
When it comes to tenants, defences can be high, prompting them to react negatively when given requests. “I’ve found what sets them off is the perceived tone of the PM,” notes Vitale. “Another reason is rent arrears. You’ve heard the same story over and over again and you call them out on it, or you’ve completed an unsatisfactory routine which results in the tenant being offended by the PM’s comments or request. Most of the time I’ve found the tenant is having a bad day and you happen to be the final straw.”
Sands Boutique Property Management’s Donna O’Shea agrees, adding property managers need to be mindful of personal situations. “Usually the reason is financial or personal distress for a landlord,” says O’Shea. “We as the agent don’t know what’s going on in people’s private lives and it’s usually us who bear the brunt of their aggression.”
Modern day aggression
O’Shea says aggression from tenants and landlords can come via many avenues. “Aggression can range from a snappy conversation through to threats,” she says. “In our modern world some tenants take to venting over Google or via other social media sites. This form of aggression is often damaging to the PM when they are named, along with their business.”
Vitale says some will bypass you completely and complain to either your principal, the RTA or the Office of Fair Trading. “You have no idea what has happened to upset them,” she adds. “Others may yell, swear and can be very aggressive towards you. And this can be the most damaging of all, particularly from a psychological level.”
Defuse the situation
“The effects can be numerous, including anxiety, panic attacks and questioning their choice of career,” says O’Shea. So, what do you do if a tenant or landlord does become aggressive? Put simply, it all comes down to their level of aggression and the property manager’s personal safety, so it’s important to use discretion depending on the situation.
“At all times speak in a low calm voice showing no aggression or tone,” advises Vitale. “Understand their problem, always listen, never interrupt, and then offer an action plan to fix the problem. If they’re aggressive and you’re unable to resolve the issue nor calm them down, simply tell them you will call them back so you can investigate and resolve the problem.”
Safety first – physically and mentally
If you feel you are in danger, are being sworn at or personally attacked, always remove yourself from the situation. Regardless of the level of escalation, report any issues to your supervisor. “This makes them aware of the incident so they may choose to contact the person and help resolve the problem,” says Vitale. If you’re left shaken by a particular incident, she suggests taking a break to collect your thoughts and regain composure. “It’s important to speak with somebody about it to debrief and calm down,” Vitale adds. “I like to take my girls out for a coffee to settle them down and reassure them.”
Overall, the prevention-is-better-than-cure approach should be taken in order to reduce the chances of encountering an aggressive tenant or landlord. “Over the years I have learnt to be respectful and listen to landlords and tenants,” says Vitale. “As a PM, in some cases you need to be firm but always fair and understanding. I’ve found some PMs feel privileged and empowered, and this is reflected in their attitude. “For me, treat people the way you want to be treated, and be kind.”
Developed especially for Property Management professionals, the REIQ’s Property Management Masterclass series will focus on the issues PMs face both day-to-day, and in their careers. We’re kicking off the webinar series with Handing Conflict Like a Pro, which will cover two topics – how to handle unlikeable, rude tenants and negotiation skills & conflict resolutions in property management. Register now.