Communication Breakdown

By: Wojciech Kic

I enjoy watching my no longer so little, little boy, play video games. Ever since playing the first game, he must have played literally hundreds of games, well over hundreds of hours. He is very good at playing video games. On occasion, he will challenge me to play with him just so that I can be beaten without mercy. My older son, now a college student, plays video games on par with the younger one, winning probably more often, but for sure not as decisively as I lose.

When analyzing my always surprising video game failures I noticed that my failure mainly has to do with my lack of direction in any one game. To put it succinctly, whether attacked by balls of fire or escaping a looney alien, my repertoire of moves, in these ever increasing in complexity games, is largely limited.

When sitting down to the landlording game owners usually over estimate the level playing field.They often assume that the mere ownership of turf instills a magic superiority over their opponent. But what a landlord overlooks is that his opponent is just as well if not better prepared to the game.Tenant’s challenges to the landlord, usually disguised as landlord’s gains, corner the landlord, causing repeated and frustrating losses.

The landlording game is usually won and lost in the realm of communication.Tenant often makes the first move when meeting the landlord and securing the key to the property: “If you ever need anything at all, please, call me?” To the eager landlord, with the new tenant’s phone numbers in hand, future control of the lease seems now assured.

Tenants are happy to provide landlords with their phone numbers, often, several numbers to wit. Home, work, cell, and pagers. Why are tenants so willing to provide these numbers? Because it establishes the tenant’s control of communication with the landlord.The landlord’s IOU account grows each time the tenant answers the phone. The cash in the IOU account means that rent is now prepaid; late charges for late rent today were paid in advance with an answered phone call yesterday.

How does is happen? Tenants, who often have had more landlords than their landlord have had tenants, capture the essence of the lease agreement that all communication between the landlord and the tenant must be in writing. Landlords discount this clause because writing to their one tenant seems illogical and impractical; that’s not the way it is done, it is just rude. But in the process it becomes a tacit acceptance that the lease prepared by the landlord is just WRONG. So, tenants eagerly cooperate. Anything. Just don’t write me. No need for that. Be real. I will look after your property. Call!

Landlord does not have to cede the communication initiative to the tenant. But to enforce the written communication requirement of the lease the landlord must have an advance repertoire of moves when communicating with the tenant. Since the lease agreement prohibits verbal communication with the tenant the landlord’s communication moves with the tenant now include:

  • Regular mail – Send letters for most communication including notices of inspections, lease violations, and receipts.
  • Certified mail – Use it only when the proof of delivery is required for another party later. An example of necessary use of certified mail is an eviction notice.
  • Overnight mail – Use it when it absolutely, positively must be there overnight. For example, use it as a notice to stop nuisance.
  • Courier delivery notices – Use when it absolutely, positively must be there today. Consider it to return the tenant’s late partial rent payment received in today’s mail.
  • Internet – Avoid it as a communication medium with the tenant. Come again? This is the age of the Internet! The immediacy of the Internet creates a conversation with the tenant. The Internet should be used to facilitate one way communications only, please do not respond to typed messages, an example is a tenant’s report about the necessary maintenance at the property.
  • Phone calls – For emergency use only as a courtesy to the tenant. For example, after driving by a property, call the tenant to let them know that the door to their garage is standing open.The successful use of a phone call to the tenant requires you not to expect gratuity for such advice.

Tenants prefer face-to-face and verbal communication with the landlord because it corrupts their landlord with an illusion of power. With control of the landlord in hand tenants are now free to enjoy the landlord’s corruption and abuse the lease over the property at will. Giving up on verbal communication with the tenant is the most empowering aspect of good landlording.

The above examples are just a few of the landlord’s moves in the landlording game. The key to winning the game is the advice from the video game fans everywhere: you win by moving and not by responding. Asserting the communication initiative helps landlords know the difference.

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