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How To Create An Ideal Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Steve Davis is the CEO of Total Wealth Academy, LLC, where he mentors on how to use real estate to build wealth and create a passive income.

I once had a potential client come to me and complain that it was taking him 40 hours per week to manage his 40 rental properties. In response, I told him managing my 20 properties only took me six hours per month. Naturally, he wanted to know how I did it, and I told him he needed to be a bear first, then a bunny. What does that mean? Let me explain.

People naturally think that the way to be successful in sales is to be super sweet with the customer. In fact, they push it to the point of being almost saccharine. They want to come across as a bunny: showing the customer they care and that they will be there for them, no matter what the need. When there is a problem later, however, they tend to be a bear about making it right.

That was what my client did. He was a bunny to get tenants to sign the lease but would be a bear when a repair was needed. When a client called to say the AC had stopped working, he would question how they were using it. He would blame the breakdown on the tenant. What he didn’t know was that he was creating problems for himself.

I explained to him that the opposite approach is the one that works when it comes to rentals. Any landlord who wants to establish the ideal landlord-tenant relationship needs to come across as a bear from the beginning. There is a time to be a bunny, but it is not before the lease is signed.

Be the bear to protect the property.

When you are a landlord, you don’t want to attract just any tenant. You want to attract a tenant who will respect you, your property and the agreements that they made when they signed the lease. Unfortunately, not every tenant does that.

Some tenants are perpetually late with their rent. Others might damage your property and take no responsibility for it. Those types of tenants are looking for a rental because their last landlord kicked them out. Now, they are looking for a bunny landlord who won’t make trouble for them. But if they encounter a landlord who is straightforward, matter-of-fact and professional—a bear of a landlord—they’ll turn tail and run.

Be the bunny to retain good tenants.

When it comes to being a landlord, keep in mind that maximizing your profit requires that you maximize your tenant retention. Every time a tenant moves out, it costs you. Anything you can do to keep a tenant works in your favor. You might think that being a bear will work against you when it comes to tenant retention, but in actuality, the opposite is true.

Landlords who start out as bunnies will eventually need to play the part of the bear. There will come a time when they need to stand their ground, holding the tenant accountable to their side of the lease’s terms. At that point, the tenant will say, “He came across as a nice guy but turned out to be just the opposite.” Once that happens, they start keeping their eyes open for another place to rent.

Doing it the other way is much more likely to work in your favor. Start out by establishing yourself as a bear so the tenant knows they can always expect the bear. But if you can be the bunny when it is appropriate, the tenant will then say, “He came across as a real jerk at first but turned out to be a nice guy.” That’s a tenant who will stay.

I once got a call from a tenant who told me the AC in their rental had stopped working. I remembered that the renters were a married couple and the wife was pregnant. So, I told the man that he would hear from the AC repairman in ten minutes, and that if the problem could not be fixed, we would put a window unit in the bedroom to keep his wife cool. Do you think that tenant is ever gonna move out on me? Not in a million years.

Overall, you need to remember that a landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship. It won’t work well if you don’t set boundaries and establish expectations. A tenant can expect that you will keep your end of the contract as long as they keep theirs, but they should always expect that you will do it like a bear first.

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