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Is the Resident Ever Wrong?

Telling the difference between a resident problem and a problem resident.

Resident retention is the fastest and most economical route to higher occupancy and greater Net Operating Income. To KEEP RESIDENTS LONGER, the on-site professional must acquire the people skills to effectively handle the customers - the residents. Even those Residents who are chronic "problems" for the on-site folks deserve professional and caring treatment. This is the one of three articles that address the dilema of "problem Residents" and how to deal with them in a way that will maximize the income of the property while maintaining the on-site staff's sanity!

"This job would be easy if it wasn't for the da*n residents!" How often have you heard a frustrated on-site professional make that declration? In one way, the statement is true. Some of our customers do cause us considerable grief! Whatever the profile of your community, there is always a Resident or two who feel their "calling" in life is to give you heck. It seems their personal "mission statement" is to make you and your staff's life miserable. Unfortunately, these special Residents are often darn good at meeting their objective, and this part of apartment management has literally driven some folks out of the industry.

On the other hand, many of us have fallen in love with our career in property management largely because of "the people." It's the challenge of dealing with people - Residents, employees, supervisors, vendors and owenrs - that gives us our greatest joy and job satisfaction. Even dealing with these so-called problem Residents energizes us and adds some spice to our daily routines. Many on-site professionals view these Residents and their problems as just another aspect of their ongoing challenge to increase the value of the property. It doesn't drive them nuts or get them down.

So, why do Resident problems drive some talented professionals in this industry to burnout - and eventually out of the apartment biz - while others seem to take the constant and predicatable Resident abuse in stride? Why does one Resident Manager see a situation as a disruption and a hassle, while another sees the same situation as a challenge - a normal and actually enjoyable part of the job? Why do dome on-site employees see problem Residents, when other property management professionals simply understand that it's a Resident with a problem? And, how can you tell the difference?

Telling the Difference Between a Resident Problem and a Problem Resident.
many a talented and valuable on-site professioanl has reached the dangerous stage of burnout in this business because of their view of the customers. They fail to see the difference between a Resident problems and a problem Resident. All their dealings with the the customer become a gut-wrenching ordeal as they feel personally attacked daily by one or more Residents. Too often, the problem is not the Resident. It's the on-site individual's definition of both Resident and problem.

Some individuals spend years in the apartment business never understanding business never understanding that one of their major roles is "problem fixer" or "problem eliminator" and sometime "referee." The basis of good apartment management is to give our Residents problem and hassle-free living. We are paid to deal with our Resident's problems and to take them away, even when it's not our fault. These same on-site professionals never understood that occasional abuse by some Residents is just part of the job. They missed the page intheir company training guide that explained some Residents really are jerks and take out their frustration unfairly on the on-site staff. And while mistreatment by Residents is a reality, these on-site folks take the abuse personally and actually believe the Resident is angry with them, rather than at the problem the Resident believes the on-site person represents.

No wonder good, smart on-site professionals burnout from dealing with difficult Residents. They see all Residents with problems as problem Residents. They don't realize that only three items make one of our dear, beloved customers truely a problem Resident. The Resident becomes a real problem only when one of more of these three items come into play:

Definition of a Problem Resident
When the Resident is NOT right

  1. The Resident Does not Pay Rent - Yes, this is a problem! The deal we make with our Residents is to provide a hassle-free lifestyle in exchange for a monthly payment. No rent - no lifestyle. Get out!
  2. The Resident Damages the Property - Whether it's a cigarette burn on the bathroom counter top or complete destruction of their apartment home, a Resident is a problem when they destroy the property. Yet, there are "degrees" of Resident damage, and the staff's response must be tempered by the deed. A Resident that clogs up the commode with a diaper does not deserve the same response that might be used with a Resident who feels it is appropriate to break down and repair a motorcyle in the living room.
  3. The Resident is a Bad Neighbor - Any Resident who hurts themselves or another Resident is a big problem Resident. Whatever a Resident does that will drive away other good Residents, such as personal threats, loud music, noisy vehicles, drug traffic, etc., is a significant problem and should be dealt with swiftly by the on-site staff.
So, that's how we define a true problem Resident. If your Resident's situation does not fall in one of these three catagories, then they are not a problem. Rather, it is simply a Resident with a problem, a problem you must solve or minimize. That's your job!

Even the situations that do fall into one of our three problem catagories above must be handled correctly to avoid burnout and maximize property value. While these situations do make a customer truely a problem Resident, the on-site professional must not take personally the possible abuse. Don't be surprised by these situations. They are a predictable part of the job. whenever you put hundreds ofpeople together in close quarters - like an apartment community - there are going to be some problems. Sometimes, it's just people with honest and real problems trying to get along and make it through life. Yet with this many folks living together, there will inevitably be a few "bad eggs," Residents that fall into one of the three problem catagories above. Ths is to be expected. This is the norm. Learn to deal with it!

So ...Is the Resident Ever Wrong?
Absolutely! The old adage that "the customer is always right" is simply a bunch of malarkey! If any Resident on your community does not pay rent, damages the property, or becomes a bed neighbor - causing problems for other Residents in the community - this individual is wrong. There is a point when a Resident is not right. Yet, a Resident is never a problem simpl because they cause grief or inconvenience for the on-site staff. The Resident with a problem is the reason for our existence. If Residents didn't need us and our services often, we wouldn't have jobs!

Getting in the Right Frame of Mind to Effectively Handle Resident Problems and Problem Residents.
In dealing with Residents who are inconvenient, rude, time consuming, or even verbally abusive, much of the struggle comes from within. We choose a mind set or attitude that allows us to either appropriately cope with our Residents, or we choose to mishandle a situation by being rude or abusive ourselves. The beginning point in learning to better deal with Residents is in understanding the difference between a Resident problems and a problem Resident.

Once you realize that most situations are actually Resident problems, and that only in the three catagories above can an individual be considered a problem, a lot of the pressure is relieved. Now, the on-site professional can view these situations and conflicts as they are usually - a predictable problem for a Resident that gives the on-site staff the opportunity to solve. Indealing with the angry, frustrated, or impatient Resident in a professional, sincere manner, we actually obligate this person to us at a deeper level. Because of our ability to handle or deflect an unfair complaint, comment,or action, we show our Residents who we really are. Our message is clear: "Though you are an occasional rude pain-in the-butt, you will get consistent, high quality, and friendly treatment at this community ...even if I don't personally like you! you're not a problem unless you do one of the Big Three on the Problem Resident list."

The Resident is Not a Problem ...They are the Reason We Exist!
Let's get it stright. We;re here to serve our customers, the Residents - not the reverse! We expect three things from our Resident:

  1. To pay the rent
  2. To not damage the property
  3. To be a good neighbor

"Other than that, Mr. or Ms. Resident, you can do what you want ...including calling me up on the phone and yelling when your air-conditioner goes out in the middles of a scorching hot July." After all, we promised air-conditioninig if they gave us the three items we want. The Resident has a right to be angry when we don't deliver what we promised - even when it's not pur personal fault.

Decide today to stop taking your Resident's problems personally and begin realizing that these sometimes uncomftable incidents are just a challenging part of the job. Remember the difference between a Resident problem and a problem Resident and react in a way that is appropriate for the situation. When you realize that most of your Resident problems are just that - problems of your Residents - you will know the right thing to do. You'll also feel your blood pressure decrease and the hair on the back of your neck go down as you practice not taking a Resident's atttack so personally. Good luck!

Examples of Problem Residents
  • A Resident has visitors that are known drug dealers.
  • A Resident whose car is so noisy it wakes up other Residents.
  • A Resident who often gets drunk at the pool and picks fights with other Residents.
  • A perfectly-behaved Resident with teenage children that vandalize the property and terrorize your Senior Citizens.
  • A Resident with marijuana growing on the patio.
Examples of Resident Problems
  • The Resident who comes into your office shaking their finger in your face and calling you a bad name becaues someone is parked in their reserved parking space.
  • A Resident who turns you into city officials because of a tiny chronic roof leak and a perceived roach problem.
  • A single, female Resident who is afraid to have the maintenance technician come into her apartment, although she has requested and needs maintenance service.
  • The Resident who makes hanc gestures every time they see you, simply because they don't like you, but otherwise is a model Resident.

Rick Ellis, one of multi-housing's foremost consultants & educational speakers.

Rick Ellis' Biography and Article List
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