Nobody wants to be the mean guy. As humans, most of us have an innate desire to please people and get on people’s good side. We want to be accepted and liked by those we interact with. It’s just human nature. So, what happens when you’re a residential property manager and a prospective resident asks you to make an exception when they don’t qualify financially for your unit? What happens when your resident shares a sad story of why they are late on their rent? Do you make an exception? Should you be the proverbial “nice guy or gal?” My simple answer, for the most part is…no. Do not make exceptions. Here’s why.
If you do it for one, you need to do it for all
So, you go ahead and make an exception for your resident who wants to move in their boyfriend (who isn’t on the lease, and doesn’t qualify to rent your apartment). Now, what happens when the next-door neighbor asks for their unqualified friend or friends to move in? What do you say? They know you let the other guy in, so why not their friends? Now you’re on slippery ground.
How can you make an exception for one person but not the other? Where are your standards? If it’s not black and white, not only will you be faced with mentally and emotionally processing through all the “grey” decisions, but you also open yourself up to fair housing violations.
Let me explain. Everyone nowadays is a protected class. Whether you’re old or young, male or female, black or white, and everything in-between, you fall into a protected class. If you make an exception for one person (be it on screening, late fees, etc.) and you do not make the same exception for another person, you can be accused of violating fair housing laws.
The person whom you didn’t make an exception for can very easily say that you didn’t extend the exception for them because they are old or young, black or white, or any other class that they fall into. Because you can’t prove your motives, by your actions you could be perceived as favoring one class of person over another. It may not be true, but property managers are sued over fair housing claims all of the time. Sometimes it’s deserved, and other times it’s just because they made mistakes like the one I just shared. Either way, the best policy is to just stick to your policy and stay away from exceptions.
Exceptions come with big risks
There’s a reason you have policies. There’s a reason that you don’t allow people to rent your property with bad credit, no steady income, or bad rental history. The reason is because you don’t want to risk someone not being able to pay rent.
What typically happens is that a self-managed owner will listen to an emotional story as to why a previously unqualified resident should be able to move in. Owners with bleeding hearts have their judgement clouded by emotions and then make an exception.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen owners do this and it goes very well. Their instinct was right, and the unqualified person was allowed to move in and became a wonderful resident who upgraded the home and took great care of the rental property. However, for every story like that, I hear two more with an opposite story. You just have to know going in that if you make exceptions to your policy, you are taking on a big risk.
My recommendation is that if you’re prone to be swayed by feelings and emotions, then watch out! It’s always a safer bet to stick with your policies.
Exceptions can make messes
We had a resident give her 30-day notice at one of our complexes. We immediately started ordering all the vendor services for the turnover process, like carpet cleaning, painting, and house cleaning. Everything needed to go like clockwork in order to get one resident moved out and another moved in with the shortest amount of vacancy time possible.
In this case the resident made a mistake and asked for a few days of extension on her lease. She had a story, emotions were involved, and the property manager gave in and made an exception thinking that we could just run things a little tighter. There was already another move-in scheduled with the normal time frame that we allow for turnover work.
Well, a one week opening to do all the turnover work turned into just a few days. The resident left the place a mess, and our carpet cleaners, painters, maintenance guys, and cleaners just didn’t have the necessary time to get the job done with excellence. As fate would have it, we moved in a very particular, super clean resident who was not happy. Because of the huge mess, and the fact that they were rushed, the cleaning wasn’t up to standard and we were called out. It’s a painful story, but we got a bad review, a terrible first impression, and we had to eat the cost of all the additional cleaning that we should have done previously.
We want to care about people, but we also must stick to a policy and hold the line when it comes to our pre-approved standards. Our standards and policies are there for a reason, and when we make exceptions, we have the potential to make messes that will be painful to clean up.
A Clearly Defined Line
The motto of Hignell Property Management is Creating Caring Communities. It’s the entire reason that we exist. Like many investors, we are not just profit driven, but we truly care about people. However, there is a line, and the more clearly defined that line is the more people will respect it. It’s similar to being a good parent. You care about your kids, but there’s a line that you draw with them that they cannot cross. When that line is clear, it tends to be respected. Have your policies clearly defined. Nobody likes to be a bad guy, or to look like they are heartless, but your residents must know what is expected of them.
One more piece of parting wisdom. If you feel like you absolutely have to make an exception, then discuss it with a partner or another residential property manager. You can even call our property management company and talk to us about it. When you enlist a perspective that is not emotionally connected, it can help bring clarity. An ancient proverb says “Wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors.” I have found this to be true, so before you make an exception, get a second opinion.