‘Us’ vs. ‘Them’: Rent Issues Are Heating Up. We Need to De-Escalate.

It's getting tense between renters and property managers. Here are some suggestions to keep the peace.

Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor

Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor

Now is an unprecedented time.

Saying this is not only an understatement, but at this point, it’s cliche.

According to the most recent data when this was written, 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment now, which, according to CNN, equals about one in four people, nationally.

Because of this, some renters are calling for rent strikes.

“Greedy landlords! Demanding money when we have no way to make income!” is their rallying cry.

We of course know this isn’t true—property managers are not taking their rent, cashing the checks and then filling bathtubs with the money and swimming around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

After all, property managers need to “keep the lights on,” vendors need to get paid, maintenance workers and other employees helping keep the property afloat need to be paid, mortgages need to be paid, and so on. Don’t these renters know that profit margins are razor thin to begin with?

Obviously, people are incredibly stressed now.

Luckily, some areas are slowly reopening. Maybe as businesses try to get back up and running and people start going out again, there will be less job loss. And, despite fighting on social media, 88 percent of renters paid rent in May. But even as places reopen, there will be many who are still out of a job, and who still might have difficulties making rent payments. Unfortunately, we all might be dealing with the aftershocks of the pandemic for a very long time.

And, look, not to get all “Kumbaya” on you all, but we need to come together to work this out, especially now, when tensions are running so high. Taking an us vs. them stance will help no one, and hurt everyone.

So, what to do? Here are some suggestions to keep the peace.

Host town hall meetings with your residents. A lot of the time, your imagination is much worse than the reality. And, even if the reality is bad, at least you can start making a plan. Take Jaws, for example. That music, before you even know how big the shark is, is way scarier than seeing that kind-of fake-looking robot, Bruce. And when you did see the shark, you could stop imagining, and get to work on getting a bigger boat. Anyway, your residents might be getting anxious not knowing what the rent plans are and what will happen if they can’t pay. If you can gather everyone together (being cognizant of social distancing, of course), or even host a Zoom meeting, and go over any new procedures or information you have, you’ll go really far in helping ease tensions. Renters can then also ask you questions in real time, and everyone will hear the answers.

Keep communication lines open. Respond to emails. And social media posts. And in person visits. Make sure there are ways for residents to contact you. And have it work both ways. Keep your residents informed.

Send emails, or post flyers, breaking down where their rent is going to. How much of the rent money is actually profit? A big percentage is sure to go to property maintenance, amenities, salaries, etc. But many renters might not realize that. So let them know! Not that you need to fish for sympathy (and the residents certainly won’t feel bad for you and promise to pay extra), but mutual understanding is never a bad thing.

Be willing to compromise. Even as states roll back stay-at-home orders, and even when evictions are allowed again, you don’t have to—and shouldn’t—take the nuclear option right away. If someone if still out of a job, maybe you can work out a rental payment plan. Some rent, after all, is better than none, and a filled apartment will net you more than a vacant one. Of course, if there are other issues with the resident that might not be an option. But for a generally good renter, it might be worth it to be flexible.

What are some other suggestions? Post your comments on our Facebook page or send a tweet to @MHNOnline or @jfiur. Stay safe, everyone.

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