What to Do and What Not to Do When your Resident Says, "I Can't Pay my Rent!!"

Article by Rommel Anacan, courtesy of Multifamilyinsiders.com "What to do and what not to do when your resident says, "I can't pay the rent!!"

I bet that you've been bombarded with emails, phone calls, messages and in-person visits (if you're still doing that) from residents saying, "I can't pay my next month's rent. What can you do??"

So....what do you do?

Before I go further, I want to say that this post is NOT about whether you should offer payment options, deferred payments, waive late fees or modify your lease agreement. I recognize every situation is different and there is not a "one size fits all" option that is going to work across the board. Some owners and operators are able to take a short-term financial hit while others are already running on slim margins with not a lot of room to maneuver.

Do: Start With Connection

If someone is contacting you to ask about what you can do to help them with their rent, what do you think they're feeling? They're probably scared, anxious, uncertain, angry, frustrated, and maybe even embarrassed. In other words they may be having "all the feels" right now.

So when someone connects with you, start with something like this:

          "Mackenzie-I really value you as a resident and I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me about this."

Whether you can help them or not, beginning your conversation with them with connection is always a smart strategy.

Do Listen

Listening might be the last thing you want to do right now-especially if you already know what you can or can't do and just want the resident to stop talking so you can say what you need to and move on with your day. However I'm telling you it's really crucial that you DO listen to their story and allow them to have their say. This will help them feel connected, seen and understood-which is especially crucial is you CAN'T do what they're asking you to do BTW!

Don't Interrupt

I am NOT saying you need to allow them to talk to you for hours on end! However if you keep interrupting, or trying to explain something before they're ready for you to explain, you're just going to prolong the conversation and make the resident feel like you don't care! Patience and understanding is your friend, and maybe spending that extra 10 minutes with your residents will save you hours on the backend.

Do Show Empathy

When your customer has shared their story unleash the power of empathy with a statement like this:

          "I am so sorry you're going through this right now. It must be really hard for you and your family."

We all want to feel seen, valued and understood. This is a basic human need. It's what we are all hard-wired for. Empathetic statements like the one above drive the point home to your resident that you CARE and you understand. It doesn't mean that you're going to give them what they want or that you even agree with what they're asking for. All it means is that you clearly communicate that you are validating their right to have their own story.

Don't Play the Blame and Shame Game or Minimize

When a resident comes to you asking for your help with rent, for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, do not say things like:

  • Don't you have an emergency fund?
  • This is why people should be saving money instead of wasting their money at Starbucks.
  • You should have been prepared for stuff like this.
  • This is why I don't eat out everyday like a lot of people do.
  • Your generation has no idea how to prepare for emergencies.
  • It's not that bad.
  • You'll be fine.

Even if any of the above statements are true, you are not the person that should be saying it to your residents!

Do Offer Compassion and Kindness

I say this in all of my customer service classes:

"You may not be able to do what a customer wants you to do...but you can ALWAYS show compassion, empathy and kindness."

I say it because it's true.

Don't Be Corporate Cold

If your first thought when you read the above quote was, "Yeah, compassion and kindness is great and all but we need people to pay rent!!!!!!!!!" I'm talking specifically to you right now.

You're absolutely right, people do need to pay rent. You need rent to keep the lights on, the toilets fixed, the grounds cleaned and the staff that takes care of the residents paid. Of course you do!

But remember, you're dealing with people. People in a crisis. People who are scared. People whose incomes stopped overnight. People who are having to make some very tough choices.

Do all you can to show warmth, compassion, empathy ... humanity.

Do Clearly Outline What You Can and/or Can't Do

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but make sure you're very clear with your resident on what you can and can't do. Use terms your resident will understand; avoid "shop talk" and industry lingo. Lastly, ask if they have any questions before ending the conversation.

Do End With Connection

You began the convo with connection-you'll want to end it with connection. Maybe something like, "Frank, thank you for taking the time to speak with me about this. I really appreciate you and your patience and understanding as we all try to get through this difficult season."

Trust me ... it's worth it!