Tenant Tips for Landlords: Keep Your Cool When Answering Bad Reviews

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We’ve dealt with lots of tenants over the years as property manager and landlord for our real estate investor clients, so we thought we’d offer some of our best tenant tips for landlords who might be just starting out with a new buy-and-hold investment rental, or simply looking for some advice on dealing with a tough tenant issue.

Today’s issue of choice: bad online reviews.

If you’re an investor or landlord with more than a few rentals, then it’s likely you’ll have to deal with them at some point.

Bad reviews from tenants can range from getting one star on Google with no explanation and nothing for you to go on in your response, to a page-long diatribe about how your company failed them complete with myriad digital photos that really highlight their complaint for every other potential tenant in the world to see (forever!). We’ve had both kinds, and here’s how we’ve learned to respond to the ones that give us enough to go on.

Say you’re sorry. It’s Conflict Resolution 101, right? How many lawsuits might end if one person would just apologize? Even if you’re NOT really sorry, because you did everything possible to fix that broken toilet and their kid kept jamming a spatula down into it anyway, still say you’re sorry. “Dear Suzie, we’re sorry for your frustration” shows the rest of the world that you’re sincere (and Suzie, too, if she reads your response).

Research the complaint fully. Check all your business records and emails, or with your staff member who talks to your tenants and maintains the records or work orders to determine what happened on your end. We’ve gotten a few heated reviews where the tenant claimed we failed to answer requests for work orders, failed to treat a pest problem, failed to return calls or emails. When we did our research we found that the tenant had placed one request for a work order that we had handled, but not the other several requests he claimed to have made. And he’d never told us of a pest problem. When you’ve done your research you can say, “We don’t have records of that work order being placed. We’re happy to speak to our tenants directly about problems in their homes and look forward to your call”—or something that professionally says, Yeah, you didn’t call, so don’t say you did.

If the tenant’s version is the truth, own up publicly and to the tenant, and fix it right now. Then respond online when you’ve fixed it, too.

Don’t be argumentative. Yeah, just don’t go there. You’re speaking for the company or under your personal name as a landlord, so take your emotions out of your response. Write professionally and thoughtfully.

Call the tenant personally to work with them. If the tenant has used their name in the review, call them and talk about the issue. Sometimes tenants write the review to get attention in the first place. You should be giving your tenants the attention they deserve before it gets to that point, but if you’ve slipped, you need to show them you care about what they’re saying and you care about them as a tenant. Sometimes they’ll appreciate the call; sometimes they’ll dodge it. Either way, you can indicate that in your written response as well: “We called to discuss your review but haven’t been able to reach you. Please contact us so we can help resolve this matter as soon as possible for you.”

Keep your cool at all times when responding to bad online reviews, and if you’re especially upset by one that seems unfair, wait 24 hours until you write a single word.