Common tenant complaints and how to resolve them

"For a long and happy tenancy landlords should try and avoid complaints from tenants wherever pos...

“For a long and happy tenancy landlords should try and avoid complaints from tenants wherever possible,” says proprietor of Liverpool West Derby Adam Rastall. “A landlord needs to think of the tenant as a customer and remember that they must keep the customer happy if they want them to remain as a customer/tenant. Put yourself in your tenant’s shoes and think about how you would you feel if you had a complaint about where you lived... but were unable to rectify it without the agreement/involvement of a third party.”

Tenant complaints come in all shapes and sizes – from the subtle to the serious – and can range from opening the door to a dirty property at the beginning of a tenancy to lack of essential repairs during their stay...


Common complaints

“There are a number of things that can cause tenants to complain during their tenancy but the most common complaint has to be the length of time it takes to complete a repair,” says Adam. “Ultimately repairs need to be done within a reasonable time-frame. How would you feel, for example, living without any heating or hot water?”

Proprietor of Belvoir Bury St Edmunds Patsy Day agrees and says, “Things that don’t get fixed quickly enough is a common complaint from tenants, especially if they complain and complain and there’s no action from the landlord or agent.

“Another common complaint is that the house isn’t clean, or cleaned to the standard of the new tenant, at the beginning of the tenancy,” she continues. “One person’s clean is another person’s dirty and it’s important that the property is spotless from the outset. Remember it’s their new home and they will be excited about moving in. They won’t want to open the door and find they have to clean before they can move in their furniture – particularly if they’ve just moved from another rented property and left that clean.

“Cleanliness is so important and it doesn’t set the right tone for the tenancy if you fail at this first hurdle. The tenant might live there for a year, or two or three years, but when they come to the end of the tenancy they will remember that the property wasn’t clean when they arrived. This is unlikely to encourage them to leave it clean and take the time that they should to end the tenancy appropriately.

“Also it’s very important to look at the presentation and decoration of the property before the tenant moves in. They will have paid their first month’s rent and deposit and will want to walk in and feel that they’ve arrived somewhere that is now theirs.

“If the previous tenant has left scuff marks on the walls during their departure and the decor is looking a little tired, you should rectify this before the new tenancy starts. It pays huge dividends to go through the property and give certain rooms a lick of paint, if necessary, plus make sure all carpets are cleaned and kitchens and bathrooms are spotlessly shiny.”


Take action

Avoid complaints by ensuring the property is clean and well presented and by carrying out regular inspections to nip any maintenance issues in the bud before they escalate.

Also, think about the complaints previous tenants have made and aim to resolve them before they happen again.

“It’s easy to avoid repeating historical complaints by looking at what previous complaints you’ve had and then doing everything you can as a landlord to try not to repeat the same issues,” says Patsy.

“For example, if you’ve had a complaint about a window not opening or closing properly or something not working in the house, don’t just think that a new tenant is going to put up with it. Try and avoid that complaint by putting it right before the new person moves in.

“Also remember to sort out teething problems quickly, i.e. dripping taps or tricky locks etc. This will help build a good rapport with your new tenant early on in the tenancy.”

Clear communication is also key to avoiding complaints. Ensure you always communicate your intentions concisely in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. Clear communication will also help create a mutually approachable relationship so little niggles can be resolved easily and long before they grow into big complaints.


Simple solutions

Although it’s always advisable to stay one step ahead in order to avoid tenant complaints occurring in the first place, how should a landlord react if they do happen?

“Always acknowledge a complaint,” advises Patsy. “Have some empathy and never ignore it or downplay the impact that it’s having on the life of your tenant.

“It’s important to find out what the complaint is by getting to the bottom of it. Sometimes complaints mask themselves as something else. If you can get through the smokescreen and find out what it is that is upsetting the tenant you can focus on putting that right. Ask them lots of open questions to find out what the real issue is and what the impact the complaint has on them.

“If you want to keep your tenant – and you want them to look after your house while paying the rent – it’s important to try and rectify anything that is worrying them in the most efficient way you can.

“Always give realistic timeframes and don’t set yourself up for a fall,” she continues. “Don’t over-promise and then fail to deliver. If you really can’t resolve the complaint, be honest! And be aware that sometimes people hear what they want to hear and not what you’re actually saying. If you’re giving a possibility not a promise, then make this very clear.

“Promising the earth and delivering nothing is just going to add to your tenant’s list of complaints – and this is one of the reasons why people will move on.”

Adam agrees and says, “Obviously, it depends on what the complaint is about but you should always explain what you are going to do to rectify it and the reasons why you are taking the steps you are taking in order to do so.

“If you are at fault, then you could offer a gesture of goodwill to help make the situation better and in order to maintain a good relationship with the tenant.”


Whose responsibility?

“The good news is that not all complaints about your property are your responsibility,” says Patsy. “Think about drains, ants, noise nuisance, chimney sweeping or smashed windows – your tenant has responsibilities too!

“You may still chose to resolve their complaint but a good agent will help you decipher where the line is and ensure you don't end up paying for repairs that you don't have to.

“Finally, a word of caution ... watch out for the persistent complainer and the over-demanding tenant – every now and again someone comes along who you will never please. Recognise this tendency early on in the tenancy and deal with these people proactively and assertively – not easy to do, but a professional agent will be able to help.”


The most common tenants complaints – at a glance

  • Lack of essential repairs
  • Maintenance worries
  • Unclear communication
  • Poor presentation of the property
  • Lack of cleanliness at the start of a tenancy
  • Slow responses
  • Not being listened to
  • Complaints not being taken seriously


How to resolve complaints – at a glance

  • Never ignore them
  • Tackle them head on
  • Ask lots of open questions
  • Get to the bottom of what the complaint is
  • Have empathy
  • Be honest
  • Put yourself in your tenant’s shoes
  • Explain what you’re going to do to put it right
  • Give realistic time-frames
  • Don’t over-promise
  • Avoid repeating behaviour that has caused previous complaints
  • If necessary, offer a gesture of goodwill
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