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Empower Tenants to Tackle Minor Rental Property Maintenance Issues

Educate your tenants on how to handle those small maintenance issues to help them address small issues faster.

As a property manager, tenants and property owners look to you to fix problems big and a small. Empowering your tenants to handle certain tasks on their own could lighten your maintenance load and allow you to focus on larger building issues.

Whether it’s replacing a blown fuse or watering the lawn, there are a few tasks your tenants can tackle themselves. But before your tenants put in a quick-fix maintenance request, educate them on how to handle those small maintenance issues, especially when you’re unavailable. 

Give Guidance to Tenants at the Beginning

When a new tenant moves into one of his properties, James Tungsvik, president elect of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, hands them a preventive maintenance guide. It takes the tenant through common maintenance issues, such as fixing clogged drains, handling termites and outdoor maintenance, and covers everything from preparing a property for winter by keeping your furnace functioning, to properly storing water hoses used for gardening and landscaping.

Although a guide like this is important, it’s also essential to take time to walk the tenant through the property at move-in to establish a reciprocal relationship, Tungsvik says. “That helps eliminate some of that angst of the tenant not wanting to call an owner or the landlord,” Tungsvik says. Plus, it also communicates to the tenant that “I may own the house, but this is your home,” which creates a good environment for the tenant and landlord, he says.

Encourage Tenants to Fix Common Maintenance Issues 

Between backed up garbage disposal to blown fuses, every property manager gets calls for non-emergencies.

Although it’s important that you are there for your tenants, telling them the measures they can take will provides the tenant a sense of ownership so they may fix these problems in the future, says Brian Sturgis, maintenance supervisor at First Light Property Management in Manhattan Beach, Calif. 

For Sturgis, the most frequent non-emergency phone calls usually revolve around a “running toilet.” It’s something that can be quick and easy to fix, he says. If a tenant contacts him through an online maintenance form via the company’s website, he suggests a tenant remove the toilet tank cover and make sure the float is in a downward position and to jiggle the chain connected to the flapper. By encouraging tenants to tackle common issues like this, Sturgis says they are more likely to fix it on their own in the future. 

For Matt Perry, a maintenance manager for Park Place Management in Meridian, Idaho, calls about malfunctioning furnaces in the winter always keep his phone ringing. As a simple first step, he asks tenants to change the furnace filter, a common solution that resolves many issues. Other tenants ask Perry to light the furnace pilot. It takes Perry about five minutes to do and is something tenants can easily do this for themselves, saving him time and avoiding maintenance fees for the property owner.

Pros and Cons of Involving Tenants in Maintenance 

Involving tenants in maintenance can be a double-edged sword, Tungsvik warns. You do want tenants to do minor maintenance, like changing the batteries in a smoke detector and checking the gutters, Tungsvik says. But you don’t want them doing too much because they’re not licensed and bonded. Landlord tenant laws differ from state to state, so make sure you review the appropriate laws specific to your area.

In Case of Major Maintenance Issues

Along with knowing when to be independent, your tenants should know they should call for big issues — something Tungsvik calls the “fire, flood or blood” rule, especially in a multi-unit property where multiple residents may be affected. For Sturgis, this means encouraging tenants to call if there are plumbing and electrical issues, gas and water leaks. “There really is a definitive line [between] what is a small maintenance repair and what is something that’s really big,” Tungsvik says. That’s why Tungsvik, Sturgis and Perry all provide an emergency hotline numbers that tenants can call outside of regular business hours.

All three managers also agree that the key to empowering your residents is thoroughly communicating important information. “You can’t hold a tenant accountable to something if they’re not aware of it,” Tungsvik says, “and once you make them aware of it and you have that rapport with them, then they’re educated and they’re going to take better ownership of it.”


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