Expectations and Demands: Three Things Every Landlord Should Remember
How many students does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because apparently, that’s the landlord’s job. If you’ve never been called late at night to come and change a burnt-out bulb or fuse, you’re either incredibly lucky or you don’t rent off campus housing. Welcome to a whole new level of tenant expectations.
All tenants, regardless of their age or occupation, will have complaints. In most instances, they’re reasonable and dealt with by either the landlord or the property management company as an expected and acceptable part of being in the business. Student apartment rental, however, may raise some unexpected issues that are a lot easier to deal with if you keep the following three things in mind.
1. That’s Not My Problem
Because most students have never been homeowners, many have absolutely no idea of the basic anatomy of a house or apartment. They don’t know how to flip a switch on a fuse panel, much less locate one. They don’t change washers on leaky faucets. What do you mean nail the picture hanger into a stud? It’s all new, and you’re going to have to be patient.
Take the time to show your tenant what you’re doing if you are called in to fix something that you believe the tenants should have been able to handle themselves. Consider leaving a toolbox with basic tools in each student house for rent. Sure, some are going to go missing, but it’s a lot cheaper than having to come over every time a knob comes loose on a kitchen cupboard.
2. My problem is Your Priority
Students tend to expect that their issues will be dealt with immediately, no matter the complexity or time of day. One of the most common complaints about landlords is that they don’t respond in a timely manner or fix the problem quickly enough. But what, exactly, is meant by “timely”?
In many instances, students believe that landlords should respond to a cry for help as soon as they receive it. This, after all, is what they tend to do within their own circles. A typical student will have a minimum of five ways to connect with someone – calling, texting, Facebook, instant messaging, twitter – and some will use many more. As a result, they simply don’t understand why you didn’t immediately grab your mobile device, which you have surgically implanted in the palm of your hand, and get right back to them.
Make sure that you define expected response times whenever you talk to students looking for housing. Be specific about what constitutes an emergency, and list what you believe to be routine maintenance issues. Let them know exactly when, in each circumstance, they can expect a call or email to be returned.
Student tenants have the right to have their complaints attended to within a reasonable timeframe, and you’ll avoid problems down the line if both sides have a common understanding of what is “reasonable” under the circumstances.
3. You Owe Me
Rightly or wrongly, landlords who deal in off-campus housing often don’t have a great reputation. This is a constant source of frustration for the majority who take pride in their properties and have a particular attachment to the students who rent them. To be blunt, most students assume their landlords will try to rip them off.
Sure, we’ve all met plenty of bad landlords and heard the urban legends about the condition of apartments for rent for students. But the problem doesn’t necessarily stem from a glut of bad experiences. Rather, most students are woefully ignorant of how things like leases, last month’s rent, and security deposits work. If you want to maintain good relationships with your tenants, you’re going to have to shoulder some of the responsibility for educating them.
Always explain any potential fees or expenses beyond the tenant’s monthly rent, no matter how remote. Make sure they fully understand what costs they will be responsible for if there is undue damage or if the lease is broken. This is particularly important if the lease is only under one name. Students tend to think their roommates will be equally responsible for additional expenses, and when the roommate disappears, they’ll blame you for insisting on full payment.
We don’t want to leave you with the impression that student complaints are somehow frivolous or without merit. Students are certainly no different than any other tenant in having a reasonable expectation that the landlord will keep their residence in good order and repair. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded, however, that students are just getting started in the world and that the learning curve can be a little steep at first.
Be guided by the knowledge that student tenants may not have any experience in basic household maintenance, that they will likely have a heightened sense of immediacy, and most will be naturally suspicious of their landlord. Clarity, patience, and a touch of understanding will go a long way to easing potential tensions, especially when things break down – as they inevitably will, sooner or later.