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How Much Is My Rent? And Answers to Other Important Questions

property operation questions
May 2018

The Apartment Management & Maintenance Support Group (AMMSG) is a Facebook group with nearly 30,000 members who share operational challenges and solutions. Following are the five recent discussions and selected posts.

1. Every month we take resident phone calls, “How much is my rent?”

What is your policy about giving the amount of rent due over the phone?

  • It would take you longer to tell the person to go online and look it up than to just tell them what the rent is.
  • We’re in a customer-service profession. Part of that means answering annoying questions with superb service.
  • Unfortunately, it’s your job to answer those questions.
  •  Just be glad they called and asked, rather than chasing down the $20 balance left from their partial payment.
  • We always say, “You know you can always check your balance through your online portal” as we are looking up their amount or “have you set up your resident portal yet?”
  • Always make it easy for people to give you money.
  • It is super annoying, but I don’t mind doing it so we are sure to receive the correct amount. Too many people round out the amount and end up being $10 short.
  • We treat it like any other bill you pay over the phone. If you can identify yourself via the information we have about the caller/resident on file we will give the amount.
  • We take credit cards and personal checks over the phone so this question is common.
  • Fortunately, we require all rent payments to be paid online so we don’t get these calls. Yea!
  • It happened frequently enough that I started telling residents that we no longer give that info over the phone and that they are welcome to come to the manager’s office and review their tenant ledger.

2. What are ideal questions to ask when interviewing for a maintenance supervisor position?

  • Termination. Coaching. Write-up. What is your definition of each and what warrants what?
  • Start doing something.... if the job candidates stand there and “watch,” then they are perfect for the position.
  • What do you think of duct tape? If they answer, “I love it” then fire them before you hire them.
  • Ask how many work orders or turns they can complete in one day. What number they give does not matter, but if they scoff at having to do turns and work orders, then that tells you a lot.
  • How would you plan out your first day on the job?
  • If you walk by something on the grounds that needs to be done but is technically someone else’s responsibility, would you do it, or would you call the person who is responsible.
  • Place a bucket, a pair of channel locks and a bottle of Drano on the table. Ask them which he would use to clear a clog in a vanity. If he picks the Drano, keep looking. 
  • What does the white wire usually do with a thermostat? What is the normal number for a pH level in a pool? How many wires/leads are in a three-speed ceiling fan pull chain switch? 
  • What is the difference between a single-pole light switch and a three-way light switch? How do you open a flue on a fireplace? How do you drain a water heater before replacing it? On a forced-air furnace, what does a roll-out switch do? On a water heater, what does a flame-vapor sensor do? In a refrigerator, why would a freezer compartment work, but the refrigerator compartment isn’t cold? Which section of the property will you take for doing grounds in the mornings? (This is an attitude check.) And, if any of your reports don’t know any of these things, are you willing to train them so they can? 

3. When Residents complain about rent hikes, who’s being unreasonable? Me or my resident.

We are an all-utilities lifestyle community. Market rent for a 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath is $1,135. A current resident’s lease was up Feb. 28. We gave notice to move on March 16. We then extended the notice to March 31. She was paying market plus $100. She had a lot of things that she asked to be replaced or repaired.

I walked her apartment and discussed with the supervisor what we could do to keep her. She was offered three new ceiling fans, two new framed mirrors in the bathrooms, two new vanity light fixtures, a new dining room light fixture and a new Vent-a-hood. And, we’d replace her kitchen countertop and resurface her refrigerator (which was in perfect working order). We’d resurface her bathrooms’ tub and tile. For that, her rent would increase from $980 to $1,050 (which is still below market).

She was not happy with that. She wanted us to replace her refrigerator, rip out and replace all of the tile and the tub in the bathroom, as well as all the things previously mentioned. When I mentioned her renewal rate, she looked surprised. Her facial expression said, “Oh, my rent is going up?”

4. How Long Should it Take to Paint a 3BR, 2BA Apt?

  • Eight to 12 hours. Spraying would take 2 hours or less.
  • Three to five days... that’s a lot of work for one person.
  • Three to five days, as long as you don’t pull them off the job to do other jobs. Painting a ceiling without a sprayer: Man, that’s brutal.
  • I’m a firm believer that it takes two days for a one-bedroom; and add a half-day for each additional bedroom.
  • Two, eight-hour days is more than enough time to roll and cut-in that apartment. I do it regularly and usually average six total units per month, but I have done as many as 13 jobs (described like that), which does not count painting inside the cupboards.
  • No less than 3 days.
  • My painter can probably do it in two or three days, but my tech would take five days. 
  •  If it takes more than two days to complete, it would be cheaper to outsource the job.
  • When I started as a painter, I was given 12 hours to do any job. For any hours needed beyond that, I wouldn’t get paid.
  • Three days at minimum. If you want the job done right, then don’t rush it.
  • Check on the employee’s progress several times during the day. People work at different speeds. If you are not seeing progress after a few checks, then you know it’s a productivity issue. If you see progress, keep checking on the employee. I bet the job gets finished quickly if you spot-check.

5. Best Strategies for Converting to a Smoke-Free Community

  • We provided a smoking area with a picnic table and a smoking pot. A 30-day notice and lease addendum was signed by all or they could break their lease with no penalty. A few threatened to leave, but only one moved out and that was at property for elderly residents.
  • For us, it went horribly. You’ll never be able to fully enforce it.
  • It was easier than we expected, but it takes time. [We informed the residents it was coming] and had every resident sign an addendum at move-in or renewal. That way, if they wanted to move out, they wouldn’t renew. Once everyone had officially acknowledged it, we went non-smoking. We banned smoking within 25 feet of any building or common area. Most of our residents don’t smoke, and those who did were thankful for us giving them reason to quit. However, we still allow e-cigarettes, and some took that up instead.
  • I would love to do this because since I took this job, which requires performing inspections, I’ve developed a serious allergy to cigarette smoke and other airborne irritants.
  • I did this for a senior tax-credit property. I first met with American Lung Association in Oregon, which sent a representative who offered guidance and pamphlets and stickers to post at the property. Out of 172 apartments, we lost only two residents. We also built a smoking shelter and moved all ashtrays 25 feet from the entry of our mid-rise building.
  • I converted my 176-apartment community and received more “thank-you” comments than complaints. As a matter of fact, no one complained! I was over-thinking what could happen if we did this and it turned out to be a piece of cake.
  • It just makes them smoke inside and hide it—frustrating for everyone involved.
  • A step-by-step approach can work. First, ban indoor smoking. Next, prohibit it within 15 feet of the building or windows (i.e., no balcony, doorways or entrance areas). Finally, do not allow any smoking anywhere at the property.
  • It wasn’t as difficult to do as I had thought. We started by including the no-smoking clause in new leases and then during renewals. We put into our lease addendum that residents smoking in their apartment would receive an immediate $900 smoke remediation charge. Our turn costs are minimal now. It’s the best thing we have done in a long time. 

 —The Apartment Management & Maintenance Support Group  (AMMSG)