Managing resident requests (and in many cases demands) is a common challenge every property manager faces. The reality is that community managers, leasing staff, and office personnel are human, subject to the same time and space constraints residents are. And while you won’t always agree with a resident’s point of view, it’s important to at least consider it.

As you read through the following tips for managing disputes and requests for special privileges, remember to keep your cool. Train your staff to stay focused on resolving a tense situation and not trying to win the argument.

Saying “no” isn’t a conflict resolution strategy.

It may be appealing to immediately tell a resident he or she can’t have a rent extension, replace his car’s brakes in the parking lot, or bring a pet into his home temporarily. But, simply saying “no” is not an effective way to resolve an issue. When a renter comes to you with a special request, it’s critical to understand what he wants or needs from you before you respond with haste. Ask for more information; you might be surprised to learn that allowing the resident to explain why he has the need will take far less time and energy than listening to the demands and complaints that follow an immediate “no.”

Make it clear you want to help resolve the issue, within your limits.

Reassuring your resident that you understand his needs goes a long way toward defusing a tense, frustrating situation. Never over promise or build false hope. Definitely don’t apologize for something that isn’t your fault, as this creates an “I’m right and you’re wrong” scenario that is difficult to overcome as the conversation progresses.

If there are medical, legal, or policy impediments to carving out an exception for your resident, explain them calmly. Phrases such as, “Our owner’s won’t allow . . .” or “Our company-wide policy states. . .” isn’t enough for most people. Your staff should know why you have the policy in place, not just that it exists. Site safety issues, local regulations, or legal responsibility. These are more difficult for renters to create an argument against.

Develop standard responses to the most common resident requests.

A well-documented, written protocol covering common requests helps staff members prepare for the inevitable. The key benefit is that your staff can navigate these challenging times with less disruption to the normal workflow. This will also avoid renters receiving conflicting messages from two different staff members. Make a plan, write it down, and train your staff. It’s also a good idea to identify special circumstances where they should refer a resident to the final authority to discuss the matter.

Offer alternative solutions.

Here’s an example of where spending a few extra minutes helping a renter, rather than saying “no” and that’s the end of it, could be beneficial. Maybe your property can’t, or chooses not to, allow pets. In a case where a renter wants permission to provide temporary care for a relative’s pet due to a medical emergency, your staff may have a list of boarding facilities or vets in the neighborhood that may have solutions. Is there a pet rescue center in the area? Can you consider a 24-hour waiver as long as the animal is kept in a kennel at all times? Your answer may still be “no,” but working through alternatives will demonstrate your desire to help and make your resident feel heard.

Many times, the actual request isn’t the real issue; emotions may rule and create hostility and unrealistic expectations. Emphasize compassion, but maintain boundaries. And always respect your renter, even if he has outrageous demands.

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