How to Handle Difficult Residents

September 16, 2015 |

Updated December 14, 2020

4 minutes

There’s a difference between problem residents and resident problems. Apartment community staff members should know the difference and be able to respond accordingly.

Apartment community management is one of the most people-intensive jobs in the marketplace. The personal nature of the service — providing customers with a place to call home — can lead to some very strong opinions and expectations that may not necessarily always be met. 

Rick Ellis, president of Ellis Consulting Group, has more than 30 years experience in apartment community management, and serves as a consultant and speaker on how to appropriately handle resident problems. In his experience, there are very few residents that are actually difficult. 

“Problem residents can be put in three categories, and if they’re not one of these, they’re not a problem resident — they’re a resident with a problem,” Ellis states. (Those three categories are those who are delinquent on rent, damage the property and/or cause problems for other residents.)

“People who pay the kind of rents that we charge in this country right now expect a lot of service,” he adds. “We promise all these things when people lease. We promise to have great service, we promise them a hassle-free residency … a lifestyle where you can come home and close your door and be at peace.”

And when those promises aren’t met, it’s reasonable for someone to get upset. Problems can include slow or incomplete service requests, conflicts with onsite staff, convenience problems (such as parking), noisy or misbehaving neighbors, and even crime. 

So how can onsite staff members resolve these problems and create a more satisfactory experience for the resident?

1. Be courteous. Ellis has an acronym he likes to use: FEP, which stands for friendly, enthusiastic and professional. This applies to any scenario, whether it’s collecting delinquent rent, dealing with misuse of common areas or addressing bad behavior.

“It doesn’t mean that you’re wimpy. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to handle the conflict,” he adds. “But there’s really no place in property management for the management team to be getting into conflict with a resident.”

2. Don’t take it personally. It’s easy for onsite managers to get flustered when someone is yelling and cursing at them. But the staff member isn’t the issue — the problem is.

“Your job on onsite staff is taking the hit,” Ellis states. “They can’t attack you personally because they don’t know you personally. Once you take it personally, that’s when people get inappropriate with a customer.”

One step he recommends is to practice saying “I’m so sorry.” Onsite staff are often reluctant to say it, because they don’t think the problem is there fault, but this harmless phrase can go a long way to creating a more productive interaction with the resident.

3. Don’t be judgmental. Onsite staff members have a tendency to be dismissive or callous in their responses, either because they don’t consider it to be an issue or don’t have all the information, which can be a very negative experience for residents. 

“Don’t focus on whether it’s really a problem or not,” Ellis suggests. “Focus on the issue and resolving it.”

Acknowledge the problem, and let them know what course of action will be taken to resolve it.

4. Do what you say you’re going to do. That includes being proactive to make sure the issue doesn’t occur in the first place. “The issue is not a certain kind of maintenance,” Ellis observes. “The issue is false promises regarding service issues.”

And, at the end of the day, it’s important to remember that, even though it’s a place where people live, it’s still a business.

“The basis of anything that we talk about [in my seminars] is how do we make more money for the owner,” Ellis explains. “And correcting an angry resident who has a serious problem that we caused — correcting him or getting offended because he’s upset is never a way to increase the value of the property.”

So remember to always maintain strong customer service relations and keep a level head to help solve resident problems — not problem residents.