Top 4 Tenant Complaints - and How Landlords Can Solve Them
The Rise of Savvy Renters and the Influence of Technology
Now more than ever, people are choosing to rent over purchasing a home, as evidenced by CNBC, Investopedia and MarketWatch. Renters choose to take this route not because of lack of money to buy a place for ownership, but because they want the flexibility and mobility that comes with renting. Generally speaking, the target millennial market frequently switches between jobs, cities and even countries. Life changes, such as marriage and children, also influences them to shift between residences at their convenience. With all this in mind, today’s average renter is wealthier, more educated and more tech savvy than past generations. When making a renting decision, renters compare far more than the traditional trio of location, size and price. They look into amenity packages, ask their friends about the building to see if they know anyone there, and yes - they read online reviews.
Landlords should be mindful of this change in expectations if they want to attract and retain quality renters while maintaining acceptable rent levels and low vacancies. Traditionally, this ‘pressure’ to provide excellent service and deliver a positive rental experience has been mostly felt on the luxury end where new developments and renovated buildings had to compete for renters. Increasingly, these principles are being adopted at all tiers of the industry, as the benefits of tenant retention and higher rents become more clearly tied to the overall living experience and service level.
It’s difficult to get into the minds of tenants to gain an understanding of what they value most firsthand, and most landlords only see a partial picture. As such, Obligo, a financial technology company that rids both landlords and tenants from the burden of security deposits, recently conducted a market research involving 500 NYC renters, with annual incomes ranging between $50K and $175K. The renters were asked about their biggest complaints concerning their landlords or interactions with management. The key insights are described below
Tenant Pain-Points That Landlords Can Learn From
1. Maintenance Issues
While there may be advances in many aspects of living in market rate apartments, maintenance issues continue to be the root of bad blood between tenants and landlords.
While tenants understand that apartments are going to have certain quirks that may require periodic visits from the super, they can feel extremely frustrated if the issues are not addressed quickly, not to mention ignored. Imagine how you would feel if you had to wait for a week with no A/C in August or no heating in January?
Tip to Landlords:
If your tenant puts in a maintenance request - get back to them right away with some form of acknowledgement. Tell them that you received their complaint, and that you are working to address it. While it might not be feasible to actually resolve the problem more quickly, it is surely possible to communicate, follow up, and show empathy towards the tenant and the situation. The more you reach out - the more it shows you care. Such simple gestures can have a dramatic effect on overall satisfaction and yes - renewal rates.
2. Waiting to Get the Security Deposit Back
The dreaded wait for the return of security deposits is another source of grief for tenants, and this is backed by countless reviews online, as well as the results of the Obligo survey. The wait is bad enough in itself, but to make matters worse it usually happens at the worst timing, considering the tenant is already dealing with the troublesome logistics and high expenses of moving at the same time. As we know from accepted psychology (see the Peak-End Rule), the ‘ending note’ of the tenant’s experience tends to dominate the memory of the experience as a whole. An otherwise great rental experience can end with a very unhappy renter, who won’t hesitate to be vocal about their negative experience across online platforms.
Tip to Landlords:
Everyone processes deposit returns differently, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at your specific process to see what’s causing these delays. Are the checks being cut once per month, or once per week? How are you getting the tenant’s forwarding address? Getting the wait times to under a month should be pretty straight forward. Once more, be sure to maintain contact with the renters while they are waiting. By opening a verbal line of communication, they can voice their frustrations with you privately, instead of bottling it up and putting everything on blast online.
Another option that landlords and management companies may consider is to nip the problem in the bud by eliminating the security deposit practice entirely. Companies like Obligo provide Deposit-free technology, which promises to keep landlords secure while retaining and even increasing tenant accountability. According to the survey report, 51% of renters across New York City metro area reported that they are ‘more likely’ or ‘far more likely’ to renew their lease if their landlord was to adopt Deposit-free technology and return their deposits in the middle of the lease. Deposit-free technology was the 2nd most sought-after amenity in the survey, just behind washer/dryer, so it has the potential to attract new renters as well.
3. Noisy Neighbors
Survey results indicated that many tenants had noise complaints about their neighbors, putting this at number 3 in this list. Keeping the peace between tenants is not an easy feat, and it takes a lot of effort to create a sense of community between tenants such that they all look-out for one another. It can be particularly difficult when particular tenants make a racket on a consistent basis and prove to be an actual nuisance. While this is not something landlords can have complete control over, it is something that can be managed for the sake of tenant relations.
Tip to Landlords:
If you are in the process of either erecting a new building or doing renovations on an existing one, keep in mind that a little bit of noise insulation can go a long way. For everyone else, the key is to approach the ‘perpetrators’ in a constructive, non judgmental way. Instead of vague threats to be quiet, mention to them that, in the past, some renters under similar circumstances were able to reduce neighbor complaints by installing rugs (or rug pads), or inserting draft stoppers under their bedroom door. While these small solution don’t always make a significant physical difference, the constructive tone will achieve a lot more psychologically than any threat.
4. Unfair Claims to Security Deposits
Nothing ruins the tenant’s rental experience more than a deposit deduction which is perceived to be unfair. Forget about online complaints for a moment - this is what lawsuits are made of.
Tip to Landlords:
The key, as always, is about timely communications with your tenant. Instead of waiting until they move out, provide your renters with a ‘cheat sheet’ well in advance, to help them avoid a potential deduction. A move-in tour with the super or property manager is probably the best way to give the renter a feeling that they are - and will - be treated fairly. These tours are often rushed, leaving the renter in a state of uncertainty. In the tenant’s welcome package, make sure to prompt them to take additional pictures and describe any issues in the apartment, even if the tour has already taken place. More importantly, describe what they should expect the check-out protocol to be like, and remind them of this protocol a few weeks before move out.
The more contact you have with the renter, the more they will feel that there has been an effort to avoid unfairness, which will lessen the likelihood of a deduction. If there is a deduction - the renter will be far more understanding as they have been given so many chances to handle it before.
Landlords stand to gain higher renewal rates - and even higher rents - by looking after their renters, providing basic amenities, and providing positive rental experience. From new technology like @Obligo to old solutions like having an occasional friendly chat, there are many zero-cost ways to achieve a strong impact on both your reputation, and your bottom line.