P-E-R-F-O-R-M-ing So You Can Handle Difficult Residents

Multifamily professional tries to handle difficult resident


We’ve all had those customer experiences, the ones that we walk away from considering our sanity and wondering what we did to deserve them. They are the interactions in the leasing office or out on the grounds – even online – with irate or belligerent residents who seemingly want to punch your buttons to get their way or make a point. They’re also the tenants that seem to just get in the way, even though they have good intentions.

How you handle them can mean the difference between lost rents, bad ratings or recommendations or even a call from the corporate office.

Lia Nichole Smith, who is Vice President of Education and Consulting at SatisFacts and ApartmentRatings.com, knows difficult residents all too well. In her 17 years in training, property management and marketing, she sees the causes and effects of difficult residents through surveys and online reviews every day. Smith also has felt the wrath of some unhappy tenants during her days of working onsite.

“We have some residents who absolutely love us, they’re the ones who bring us gifts at Christmas time,” she said in a recent industry webinar. “Unfortunately, there is a flip side to that. You do have a handful that can make your life miserable.”

But there is hope.

Smith identifies seven types of difficult residents who can make a day at the office not so fun. While online reviewers are in their own class, those who wander or storm into the office make the most impact because they are live, breathing (or hissing) faces. They are the “Chatty Cathys”, whiners, busy bodies and the rarely seen, as well as the outraged, cursers, and bullies.

She says apartment industry professionals should P-E-R-F-O-R-M in an effort to sooth the savage beasts and redirect the interrupters:


All property staff should act professionally and resist getting emotional, as hard as it may be. “We have to respond instead of react,” Smith says. There may be a point when enough is enough with an irate resident, and that’s when she says to calmly suggest that the conversation be postponed until cooler heads prevail.

Multifamily professional expresses empathy to resident


Most residents aren’t born difficult, but have been created so by what’s going on. Show some empathy and try to understand what’s really going on with the resident. Put yourself in the resident’s shoes and see how you might react if you were told your toilet would be fixed two days ago and it hasn’t. Residents, Smith says, get especially frustrated when they feel management isn’t empathetic to their needs.


Reassure residents that management will address the issue and attempt to find a solution. If a resident is reassured and nothing is done, however, the apartment risks losing trust, which may take quite some time to regain – if ever. “You don’t want to lose that trust,” Smith says. “If we lose that trust, it’s going to be hard to bring it back again.” Give residents an expectation of response. Set a firm date of acknowledgement, don’t just say “let me get back to you”.

Follow Through

Once you resolved things with your residents, follow through to their satisfaction. Let them know you are interested that all of their concerns have been taken care of. Plant those seeds of loyalty.


Don’t take complaints or interruptions personally. Also, don’t vent your frustrations with a resident to members of your team. That could be an open invitation for them to bad-mouth residents, which tarnishes professionalism and could damage community relations. “It’s going to impact the rest of your team and how they work with those difficult residents,” Smith says.


Based on Satisfacts research, residents expect apartment management to respond within two hours of a request or notification – whether it’s an email, voicemail or office visit. “We have to make sure we are getting to those resolutions as quickly as possible,” Smiths says. “It’s a tough road. It’s no longer that cushy end-of-business-day. Resident patience has shortened.”

Moving forward

Move Forward

The most difficult resident could be your most tenured, so it’s important to learn to co-exist. The hope is that you and your staff will deal with difficult residents such that over time they become less problematic and don’t adversely affect your operation. Deal with and move on, Smith says.

Also, don’t forget about those residents who are rarely seen or heard from in the community. It’s important to reach out to them so they realize they are important to your community’s success.

“A lot of difficult residents are expecting knee-jerk reactions, whether it’s you yelling back or rolling your eyes or huffing under your breath,” she says. “Even your rarely seen residents are expecting you to ignore them. We want you to take a step back and identify these kinds of residents and work with them so they can be better residents.”

How do you deal with your most difficult residents?


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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