How should we work with our new property manager to avoid further misunderstandings?
August 23, 2011 12:22 AM   Subscribe

How should we work with our new property manager to avoid further misunderstandings? (Many snowflake facets below.)

We recently moved into a duplex “condo” managed by a Prudential realtor who is a colleague of the owner, a realtor in the same firm. When we signed the lease the owner gave us his card and told us to let him know if we needed anything. He was very warm and seemed to mean it. The property manager consults him about everything and his dad lives next door. When, on our first day here, we discovered a large wasp nest in the drywall, we copied the owner in our email to the property manager and he later came to inspect the nest, which ran all the way out a utility pipe and required professional attention. A couple of days after reporting the wasps we could no longer deny the presence of Carpenter ants and emailed the property manager about them, knowing that they can seriously damage important wood structures and as an exterminator was coming out anyway. We did not copy the owner on this or any other email, just the one about the wasps. (The lease explicitly states against contacting the owner but this may be boilerplate.) Then while hanging a picture over the hearth we accidentally discovered that the glass doors on the fireplace were too hot to touch. Both I and my husband found them so and we’ve had two other gas fireplaces in the past ten years with no problems. Thinking that something might be out of adjustment we turned off the gas downstairs and forgot about it. Today we sent an email to the property manager to tell her of our arrangements for automatic rent payments and we remembered about the fireplace. We asked whether the repair contract with the energy company she’d mentioned included the fireplace. She snapped back—in a larger font for emphasis—“We have never had any complaints from any of our previous residents.”

We were shocked to discover that our emails had felt like complaints and re-read them to make sure they reflect the informative tone we intended. They do. We sincerely thought we were being responsible letting her know about things that could potentially hurt the property, with the fireplace email taking the form of a question. As a Communications major and the primary author of the emails I feel a little devastated by this failure and want DH to manage all future contact.

We’ve gone online to confirm our impression of what a property manager does and know we’re not mistaken. For concerning context, right after moving in we asked in an email whether she would permit an addendum to the “inventory list” we filled out in a rush as the movers were here and she did not respond. We have pictures of everything. Is it enough to burn these to a disc and send them to ourselves so the envelope is dated? She also ignored our very first question upon finding the property concerning what appeared on GOOGLE Maps to be dirt bike trails and later turned out to be. This and her reaction to our concerns feel like red flags to make us want to protect ourselves just in case. How can we best convey concerns about the property, including things we’re finding that we don’t want to be blamed for?
posted by R2WeTwo to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Many landlords and property agents basically want the rent to get paid, and have no other contact barring huge plumbing disasters and the like. You've contacted them like four times in what? A couple of weeks? That is pretty extreme and the property manager (correctly, from her perspective) has identified you as a pain the ass who is making her job more difficult.

Further, she is probably concerned that you have made her look bad to the owner. When he comes to inspect a wasp's nest that's obviously been there since Methuselah was a boy, it's highly likely he said or thought to the property manager something along the lines of "why the hell didn't you notice this? It looks like something from the end of Akira! I pay you good money to ensure my property is kept in good shape - along with its value. I can bloody do this myself if you're gonna ignore Mothra raising a family on the porch and the frass and associated signs of carpenter ants. Have you ever inspected this property at all? Did you get Stevie Wonder to do it? Remind me why I'm paying you a cut of all my rent again?"

Ironically, you guys are actually performing the role of property managers in a lot of ways. So, you are a problem tenant from her perspective complaining a lot, making her look bad, and generating extra work for her. You are, of course, entitled to do all of these things, but that's the end result. The owner may or may not share her opinion. That is all okay; you don't have to be best friends with everybody in life and you're entitled to do everything you've done. Maybe at christmas time drop off a couple of bottles of wine to thank them for their hard work etc during the year. But really if you want to get on the good side, stop complaining about stuff more than once every three months, and make sure it's serious stuff like burst pipes, no hot water, no power etc. Hot glass next to a heater does not count, I'm afraid.

To answer your other questions, I don't know how leases go in US, but in Australia, burning to a disc etc would provide more than enough ammo should things need to be disputed down the track. But really, it doesn't sound like you will get blamed for anything; these are obviously hands-off managers etc. They didn't notice a wasp's nest, they're not gonna pin you unless the place looks like the haunted mansion when you move out. So you need to decide if it's gonna be a business relationship, or a friendship.
posted by smoke at 12:59 AM on August 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

How can we best convey concerns about the property, including things we’re finding that we don’t want to be blamed for?

Depends how you're defining 'best'. Do you want the property manager to like you, or do you want her to fix the problems? Because it looks like you may have to pick.

I'm not in the US either, but I've dealt with a number of letting agents here (UK) and most of the time, they'd prefer it if you never bothered them about anything ever. Their ideal situation is to sit back and take their cut of the rent without ever needing to do anything else. For the bad ones, that means just this: ignoring problems you report, and getting snippy with you for continuing to report them. Getting extra-snippy with you for letting the owner know? Well, now the owner might be asking questions about why it wasn't noticed or dealt with before, plus she won't be able to shrug it off as 'the tenants never told me' if she doesn't fix it and he spots it himself later on.

We sincerely thought we were being responsible letting her know about things that could potentially hurt the property

You were being responsible. Her getting annoyed doesn't represent a 'failure' on your part, but on hers. If she thinks that absence of complaints from other tenants means it's unreasonable for you to report anything, or that carpenter ants and wasps' nests aren't the sort of things that can cause problems, or that you're being unreasonably demanding by expecting her to fix problems and of informing her about amendments to an inventory, that's not your problem. That's hers.

I'd make all the amendments you need to the inventory list, and keep, date and send her a copy of any photographic records you have of damage etc. that wasn't recorded on there. Here, it's fairly common for letting agents to have a policy that if you didn't inform them of any outstanding problems within X weeks of moving in, then they'll assume those problems were caused by you - even if she doesn't have that policy explicitly, you'll have a hard job saying 'that was like that when we moved in!' if you never let her know. And alas, in my experience, it's not the case that hands-off letting agents can't be bothered to blame you for problems at the end of a tenancy (especially if the owner gets all 'wait, when did this get damaged?').
posted by Catseye at 2:32 AM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Former property owner/manager here.

It is common and expected that when a new tenant moves into a unit, HEAPS of small repairs come to light. The old tenants knew they were leaving and didn't want to notify management -or- management was notified previously and wasn't responsive/forgot.

Politically I have no idea how you want to handle this. Just giving you a firm data-point. Also, her response to you was 100% unprofessional. Also were the doors hot enough to burn you? Call the city. Yes. Your gas fireplace may just have cheap doors (but if it can burn you, a pet, or a child it is 300% against code - Building and Safety. Or it could be a problem with the gas burner - Building and Safery) In either event, the manager's response was unprofessional at best.

Keep everything to email from now on. These are legal and admissible in court, btw. Good rule of thumb? Never write anything in an email you would not want a judge to read.

Keep it professional with this person and you should be OK, even if they blow up from time to time.

(I'm not saying you'll end up in court! But you should always transact with trouble landlords like it is an imminent possibility. Keep pics, emails, follow up phone conversations with emails which document what's been discussed, etc.)

Good for you keeping eveything to email.
posted by jbenben at 5:29 AM on August 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a Communications major and the primary author of the emails I feel a little devastated by this failure and want DH to manage all future contact.

I think you're being a little sensitive here. This isn't a reflection on your communications skills, this is about the property manager not caring. The property manager, like others have said, wants to collect your rent and then not hear from you again until it's time for the next month's rent. You, on the other hand, keep emailing her with helpful information and each time she sees your name in her inbox she thinks NOT THESE PEOPLE AGAIN. Perhaps you could group correspondence that is not about imminent safety issues and send a single email monthly or quarterly or whatever.
posted by crankylex at 6:00 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

That is pretty extreme and the property manager (correctly, from her perspective) has identified you as a pain the ass who is making her job more difficult.

For telling them about a wasps' nest, carpenter ants and a badly-installed gas fireplace? Please. Everyone's a pain in the ass who makes your life difficult if they want you to do your damn job and you just don't feel like it.

OP: Escalate to the property owner. They might be interested to find out that their property manager's neglect is threatening to dramatically devalue their investment. You can't rent out a place that's been eaten by bugs before it burned to the ground.
posted by mhoye at 6:27 AM on August 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

As mentioned by jbenben, when you move into a new place there can be lots of small things that need to be dealt with and good property manager knows this.

I just moved into a new apartment; two days after moving in I contacted management because the ice maker didn't make ice. It was quickly fixed in 10 minutes - the problem was caused by the person who'd installed the new flooring. Two days later I contacted management again because the now-working ice machine was dripping water into the fridge. Again, it was quickly fixed. The first time I went to pick up mail, the door to my mailbox fell off. I took said door to the management office, which was right next door and said, "I think I need a new mailbox door." They apologized and while I was using a computer in their business center gave me a new key and said the mailbox was fixed. None of these were major items, just a bunch of small nuisances that needed to be dealt with and the apartment manager quickly took care of them without complaint.

I would reply to the manager and cc the owner apologizing for having issues likes wasps, ants and defective fireplaces that are beyond your control but that these problems still need to be handled regardless of whether the previous tenant reported them. I would put that last part in bold. The owner needs to know her manager-friend is an ass.
posted by shoesietart at 9:11 AM on August 23, 2011

i'm very surprised that most people are saying, "bother her less!" these are all serious problems that present a possible danger to people and property and should be fixed in a timely manner. this person is not doing her job.

i would write back and say, "i apologize that your previous residents haven't been keeping you informed about possible hazards. it's always been our intention to inform you of any hazardous situations on the property. what is your action plan for fixing these things?" if i got further pushback, i'd escalate to the owner.

once things are fixed, send wine/cookies/a thank-you note to whoever actually solved the problem.
posted by woodvine at 9:12 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think sending 1 email with all the stuff at once is better than lots of quick emails, each with its own problem. She's probably not sitting at the computer all day and may freak out when she comes home, logs on, and sees 5 emails from you in her inbox, all with a different complaint/request.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:09 AM on August 23, 2011

My GF and I have a landlord who fixes our problems, but also likes to complain about how hard it is to fix things. My GF figured out a genius strategy to deal with this.

1. Call on the phone - save email for when you really need to document something.

2. Politely make your request.

3. Let the other party do their thing - in this case, give you a song and dance about how nobody else complains.

4. Brightly and politely acknowledge having heard her, then ask, equally brightly and politely, when the problem will be fixed.

5. There is no step 5. If she wants to get pissy about this, it isn't your problem. Just stay cheerful and don't let her off the phone without an answer to your question.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:33 AM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are all amazing. Thank you so much.
posted by R2WeTwo at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2011

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