Advice: Handling Tenant Complaints

Complaints from Tenants can be a frustrating and ire raising issue for Landlords. However, with proper planning, procedures and the right approach things can run more smoothly.
Rental Contracts
The very first issue for those looking to rent property is ensuring you have a well thought through Rental Agreement and supporting documentation is a good place to start with. Your rental agreement and documentation when you start the relationship with a new Tenant sets the tone and should cover how complaints are dealt with clearly.

A good rental agreement should be couched in easy to understand language and should outline clearly what the responsibilities of both the Landlord and the Tenant are. A well worded agreement will reduce problems and eliminate misunderstandings between the parties. When things are clear between Tenant and Landlord from day one via the auspices of a good contract the need to deal with "irritations" or small unclear areas (and are what often become disputed points and temper raising issues) is reduced and as a Landlord you will not find yourself having to deal with ongoing minor problems.

What often does lead to a poor relationship is when a Landlord is unavailable or impossible to communicate with. If you are assuming this role you need to be available to your Tenants (all within reason naturally!) if they have complaints or matter that require resolution. Inevitably there will be the odd Tenant that may abuse this; however this tends to be the exception as opposed to the rule.

Landlord Contact information

Make sure your Tenants have a number and email address on which they can reach you, and make sure you respond quickly. Landlords failing to respond can turn a good Tenant into a nightmare when there is reasonable cause or an issue which requires speedy resolution. As a Landlord, responding and dealing with your Tenants complaints or problems promptly is a sure fire way to keep your relationship with your Tenant on track.

Records of Complaints
It’s always good practice to ensure that you run (and update) Complaints records on each rental property and Tenant as a Landlord. Part of the information you provide to your Tenant on your letting of the property to them should be a Complaint Form and a process for reporting and following up on complaints.

All complaints together with a note of any agreements, the actions taken and dates of the likes of repairs etc should be recorded and filed. In this way you ensure that not only is your Tenant clear on how Complaints need to be lodged but also that you have an up to date record on what transpired that you are able to refer back to at any time should the need arise. Accurate records are useful if you ever have to refer back to a prior problem which was resolved with your Tenant, and are also a blessing should matters ever require legal action.

Speedy Resolution
When it comes to handling Tenants complaints, Landlords will always be well served by trying to resolve them as speedily as possible.
As a Landlord you need to ensure you have a list of reliable preferred Contractors and Suppliers at hand, folks you know respond and resolve speedily. Very often fast intervention on a repair issue is in your own interest as preventing a problem getting worse is far less expensive than sorting it out later. The old adage that a "stitch in time saves nine" was never truer than when it comes to effective rental property maintenance and repair!

Respectful Relationships 
The manner in which you deal with your Tenant communications is also important.
If there are going to be delays on the likes of repair issues, let your Tenant know what to expect and why there are delays.
Whilst some Tenants can be demanding, it's important to remain professional in your dealings and communications with Tenants and don’t ever lose your temper, however inviting this may seem on occasion!

Treating your Tenants respectfully will almost always pay dividends. Remember they are living in and maintaining a valuable asset, and fostering a good relationship will ensure both your asset and revenue stream is maintained!

Worst case scenarios

If things do turn sour and Tenants complaints for whatever reasons result in breaches of the agreement or non-payment, remember to always abide by the terms of the agreement.
As a Landlord, never resort to any “cowboy” tactics to resolve matters, under any circumstances.
Again, as mentioned earlier, ensuring you utilised a well thought through rental agreement and had a clear complaint resolution process when matters go awry is critical.  
The laws around property rentals in South Africa are both complex and myriad and failing to follow the correct processes as a Landlord when rental agreements are breached can have unpleasant and expensive consequences.
As a Landlord, ensure you never fall into the trap of seeking “kangaroo court” justice. Employ the services of a legal professional to assist you and follow the provisions of the Rental Agreement and the letter of the law to the tee.
At the end of the day, handling Tenant complaints is part and parcel of letting property. For those Landlords who don’t fancy the idea of dealing with complaints and the day to day Landlord/Tenant issues select a knowledgeable and experienced Chas Everitt Property Rental Agent to manage your property portfolio – it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind!

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