Compassion after the storm: Four ways to be there for tenants

Written on October 30, 2017 by , updated on November 30, 2017

expense trackingWhen you’re a landlord, you can feel like everything and everyone is depending on you. You’ve got windows to glaze, plumbing to fix, endless requests to fulfill, and a quickly approaching hurricane to worry about.

Wait, a hurricane? If it happens, you could get a call no landlord wants to receive: Your tenants report that their house is uninhabitable, and their lives are turned upside down.

No matter what the season, Mother Nature can cause natural disasters, which can put you in some tricky situations as a landlord. When they occur, don’t forget that you’re running a business. Your tenants are your customers, and you’re providing them with a product and a service.

A good chef brings out another dish after a customer complains, a reputable store manager takes back a defective product, and a responsible landlord fixes a damaged rental property. It’s a landlord’s duty to take care of their customers. While the product (your building) may be a wreck, your services are needed.

When landlords lose perspective

Although landlords also have a tough time during natural disaster recovery periods, refusing to help tenants is a horrible business practice—and people will remember.

If a disagreement gets heated, the parties in question may find themselves in court. And once a judge hears the situation resulted from a hurricane, can you imagine the judge deciding to evict the tenant?

When tenants and landlords disagree on sensitive matters like this, the consequences can be heartbreaking. As a property manager, I received a lot of calls during Hurricane Harvey. Tenants were pressured to pay rent when they were struggling to simply find a place to live. The situation was so dire that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared that, by law, private landlords must waive tenants’ rent. And he asked them to do so for three weeks.

Related: What makes a rental property habitable?

Four ways to practice compassion during natural disasters

How can you show compassion and help your tenants when catastrophe strikes? Here are four approaches that won’t break your back or your bank:

1. Waive rent

This can take a huge burden off your tenants. Do you really want to be known as the landlord who demanded rent payments after a destructive hurricane? Or the one who evicts flood victims, takes them to court, and tries to convince a judge they owe you money?

Yes, taking a loss on overdue rent payments can put you in an uncomfortable financial spot, but it’s not forever. Income from your other properties can keep you afloat during this critical time.

2. Help tenants find temporary housing

You don’t have to pay for five-star hotel rooms or offer up your own bed. Simply make some phone calls to see whether you can find temporary housing for tenants in need of dry accommodations.

Call in a favor from a fellow landlord who might have vacant properties, or check to see whether any local hotels or motels are running extended-stay specials for hurricane victims. Send a list of options to your tenants, and show them you have their best interests in mind. 

3. Conduct repairs with urgency

Giving your tenants a rent break puts extra urgency on you to quickly fix the property and get it back into livable condition. Obviously, it’s not going to be a breeze to find the tradespeople you need at a time like this, so be relentless.

The quicker you assess the damage, the faster you can fix it, and the sooner you can feel better about collecting rent again.

4. Give them a call

For the first few weeks after the disaster, give your tenants a daily check-in call to see how they’re fairing. There’s no need to show any elaborate displays; just reaching out to see how your tenants are doing shows you care.

Checking in also gives tenants a chance to vent and get some much-needed comfort. After a disaster, when everything is lost, sometimes the best comfort can come from your presence. Let tenants know you are both in this together.

Anyone who’s lived through a disaster won’t be forgetting the aftermath anytime soon. These memories are like flashbulbs—everything is illuminated. They can haunt or bring joy. By showing compassion, you can be the lighthouse in the storm.

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