Respecting the privacy of your tenants is mandatory – in most places there are laws which dictate how you must interact with respect to the tenant’s privacy. Aside from the requirements, its just good sense to respect the privacy of your tenants. Remember, this may be just your business, but it is their home – if you don’t treat it like their home, then you can expect to easily insult your tenants and invade their privacy (sometimes even unintentionally).
On a basic level, you must provide written notice whenever you intend to enter a tenant’s unit. This is the law in most states, but even if it isn’t you should do this at a minimum to preserve the happiness and respect of your tenants. Recall that your intention is to keep good tenants leasing at your property – you can’t do this if they feel you will enter their home whenever you feel like it.
This goes back to communication as well. Pay attention to what you inform the tenants in writing, and be sure that whatever time frames you claim are stuck with. An example of a negative experience I had previously (not the terrible property mentioned yesterday) – the property manager had notified everyone in the building that the decks were going to be cleaned and then refinished. A set time frame for this was announced via writing – so far so good.
The problem arose when the process took much longer than anticipated. The announced time passed and our deck had not been seen to. Two days after the end period, the maintenance crew came in at 9 AM – I woke up to strangers in my living room! In this particular case I was understanding about it and worked it out with the property manager – but most people are not so accepting of those sorts of problems. It helped that I liked our property manager (there’s a lesson there in treating your tenants well…when things go bad, they don’t always go bad).
Another element that you should consider is your rules/policies and how you enforce them. To create an environment that will encourage your good tenants to stay, you need to have fair/reasonable rules, and you need to enforce them equally – this is mostly the case for multi-family properties.
The challenge, especially in buildings with many units, is that while the tenant’s are creating a home, you have many different types of homes to deal with. The rules/policies established in your lease are important for making sure everyone lives enjoyably (is there smoking allowed? What about BBQs? Pets? Etc). You can very much expect tenants to become irritated if they find out other tenants are not being held to the same standard.
As an example – from my oft mentioned terrible renting experience in the past – in this previous apartment building (4 floors, many units), dogs were allowed under certain restrictions. One of the most notable restrictions was that you weren’t allowed more than 2 dogs, and you certainly had to have your dogs on leash. We had one neighbor who had an estimated 6 dogs living with her (she would often be out with 3-4, but we saw at least 6 different dogs over time) – in addition she would often just let them run around with no leash when she was out ‘walking’ them. Needless to say, those of us who respected our fellow tenants and followed the policies were irritated that management would do nothing about it.
Tenants talk to tenants – and when you don’t treat everyone equally, everyone else will figure it out.
You can tell from my stories that often (I would wager to guess ‘usually’) it isn’t one thing that sets someone off and causes them to want to move, rather it’s the cumulative little irritations piling up over time that cause people just say “I hate it here, and this is supposed to be my home.” If you want to keep good tenants, you need to think about these things…