Not long ago, a rental property owner went viral after she snatched some packages from her renters, which she claimed was payment for the rent she was owed. Unsurprisingly, her actions weren’t well-received online, causing her to quickly backtrack on her position.
A story like this is a great example of what NOT to do as a property manager. And although it seems obvious that you shouldn’t steal from residents under any circumstance, it’s likely this won’t be the last time we’ll hear a story like that on the news. So as a helpful reminder, here are some of the top “no-no’s” you should avoid as a property manager. Please keep in mind that this is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
Stealing from Residents
Although the pandemic is getting better, there are still many residents who are behind on rent. However, this doesn’t mean that property managers are entitled to take compensation however they please. Stealing mail, in particular, is asking for legal issues. Even if it’s a package left on the street, mail theft is a federal offense. It’s likely a jury wouldn’t be favorable towards you if you were to end up in court over the matter – not to mention, the property owner could fire your property management company.
Asking Intrusive Questions
When interviewing applicants, keep in mind that there’s a limit to the type of questions you should ask. Some common (and acceptable) questions include asking whether they smoke, if they’re employed, or if they have any pets. Don’t ask questions that could be seen as discriminatory, such as questions regarding their race, religion, sexual identity, or other personal questions.
If they have a service dog refrain from asking questions about whether the dog is actually a service dog or why they need one. Another example of questions to avoid is asking an applicant about their drinking habits or if they enjoy partying. Even though you may be wondering about any of these things, asking intrusive personal questions is a good way to find yourself in legal trouble.
Using Social Media to Vet Applicants
When selecting an applicant, it’s helpful to do your due diligence to make sure they’re the right fit. With the majority of people being on social media, it may be tempting to use these platforms to aid your vetting process. However, a person is not their social media account. Social media is typically curated moments; it doesn’t offer objective data to base a decision on. In addition, many people now have multiple accounts where they compartmentalize different aspects of themselves.
One person could have a professional account, a “family-approved” account, and another account they use only with their friends. Who knows which one you’ll stumble across? Not to mention, it becomes a privacy issue with legal implications. Social media won’t prevent you from seeing information that you’re not allowed to use in the decision-making process. The best way to vet applicants is to stick with the industry gold standard: tenant screening.
Some people claim they can tell everything they need to know about a person within the first five minutes of knowing them. While you may have a good sense of people, it’s best to avoid making assumptions of any kind. This includes things like assuming someone must be a hard worker because they’re wearing a button-down shirt, or assuming an applicant doesn’t have much income because their car looks older or dirty. The only thing you can know for a fact is that they showed up to the interview and are interested in renting the property.
Dropping by Unannounced
Plenty of property managers (and property owners!) would love to drop by to check on their properties whenever they want. This isn’t advisable, however. Tenants have a legal right to privacy and must be given reasonable notice should you want to stop by for an inspection or maintenance. The length of notice you’re required to give could vary depending on where your property is located, so make sure you’re up on the local laws to prevent any privacy issues.
When in Doubt, Put Yourself in Their Shoes
These are just a few things you should try to avoid in your property management company, and there are undoubtedly more. A good way to avoid making these mistakes is to see things from the perspective of the tenant or applicant. Would you want your property manager stopping by unannounced, stealing mail, snooping through your social media, or asking you invasive questions about your lifestyle? If it’s something you wouldn’t like if the situation was reversed, chances are the tenant wouldn’t like it either. Take a step back every once in a while and make sure you’re not accidentally crossing any lines!
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