Written by David Lowrey, Owner of Stress Free Property Management
Running a Clearwater Property Management Company for the last 19 years has taught me a great deal about frustration. More specifically, the frustration tenants get when things go wrong. If you are a landlord, you are the obvious target. The real question is should you take responsibility.
For example, as a Clearwater Property Manager, I’m representing an owner whose septic tank has collapsed. The home’s bathrooms and tubs are backed up with sewage. The home is unlivable, and the septic companies are refusing to give us a quoted price. They want an open checkbook, and I guess they are busy as hell.
So, what do you do? As a landlord in Florida and I assume most states, you are not responsible for Acts of God. You are under no legal requirement to put them up in a hotel. You should know this. Have this defined in your lease, and mentally rehearse these scenarios in advance.
What you often will find out in these situations, is the tenant expects you to put them up in an expensive hotel, pay for food, give them free rent, and have everything fixed tomorrow. This can get expensive really quick.
My goal is to behave in a reasonable manner. We gave the tenant $300 for three days at a hotel. Three days were needed to figure out what was wrong (since it happened on a Friday night), and how long it would take to fix it. We quickly determine this would not be fixed anytime soon, so we got permission from owner to let the tenants out of their lease. If they leave the home in good condition, we will refund all their security deposit and the rent they paid for what remained of the month, immediately.
However, here is the important part of the story. It is critical, you take time to think about the situation. Don’t commit to anything during a conversation with a tenant, who often is understandably hysterical. Even if you know the answer, take an hour and mull over possible solutions. In this case, I told my staff member we would pay $300 for hotel (if receipts were provided), but to make it clear this is not required by law. The owner hasn’t authorized this, so we are paying this out of our pocket and hope we get reimbursed.
Problem one is solved. On Monday, we had a good idea of the extent of septic issue, and it was going to take awhile to repair. So, I got to thinking and came up with this idea. Offer the tenant to re-rent the home to them once the septic is replaced, if they can vacate the home and stay with friends or family. The tenant’s belongings could stay in the home, until we had a firm date on the septic replacement. At that point, they would need to sign a new lease or vacant within 7 days. We would verify the water was turned off, and cap plumbing lines, so the sewer doesn’t overflow onto the floor.
Will the tenant take this offer? I don’t know, but it is a reasonable scenario, if they can’t find another home quickly. It clearly communicates that we are trying to make things right, but we are not coughing up huge amounts of money for food and shelter, for an Act of God that we did not cause in anyway. Is it a perfect scenario? No, of course not, this whole thing sucks for the tenant, but it is a tight rental market, and it might be a better situation for them if they can’t find another home right away.
Navigating these difficult and often rare events is challenging and requires the willingness to take time and think about the situation. Avoid getting caught up in the emotional pressure and try to brainstorm at least 3 different alternatives. Wait at least 30 minutes, before you decide what to do. Reread the Landlord Tenant laws of your state. Talk to a mentor, or just jot ideas down on paper. You will be pleasantly surprised with the quality of your decisions as a landlord, during these situations.