I’m having a bit of leasing-company trouble at the moment which made me think of a similar issue I ran into a few years back and an email I sent back in 2007. It’s a bit long, but I think it got the point across.
To the management of *** Apartments…
Hi there! My name is Tim Crockett, I’ve lived in your building since January of 2005. I think I’ve been a pretty good tenant, I’m usually pretty quiet and I always pay my rent on time. Except this month. I was very sick last week with a nasty flu bug and completely forgot to drop off my rent check. Today I was back at work and realized my mistake, and resolved to drop off a check as soon as I got home. When I did get home I found an envelope on my door.
It contained a very scary legal notice, which informed me that if I didn’t pay up in three days all manner of evil stuff would happen to me. It used lots of capital letters and was quite intimidating. “If you fail to pay … within THREE DAYS … OF THIS NOTICE, THE landlord will institute legal proceedings against you…” This was frightening. I had visions of my credit being ruined, having to go to prison, having some goons show up at my door and break my kneecaps with a lead pipe. Also – why was “THE” capitalized but not “landlord”?
All in all, a very intimidating move. I can imagine some vicious, flesh-eating lawyer chained up in the basement of your corporate offices, trying to come up with the perfect notice to make delinquent tenants shiver in horror at the thought of the life-destroying lawsuits that will befall those who don’t heed this warning. It also informed me that there was a $70 late fee tacked on. $70!!!
Well it worked, I don’t think I’ve ever written a check faster. I dropped it off in the slot since your office was closed.
Now I’m not saying I didn’t do anything wrong, I was certainly late with the rent and I don’t have a good excuse. I’m also sure you’re in your legal rights to slap me with a big fine and threaten to sue me. I probably signed a piece of paper that allows you to do it when I signed the 143,987,423,984 other documents during my last lease renewal. It was probably in between the “Promise Not to Raise Live Alligators Form” and the “No Electric Can Opener Running Between 2 AM And 6 AM Contract”. So I’m not saying you don’t have the right to fine me and threaten me.
But seriously, is this even remotely good customer service, or good business sense? I’m four days late with rent, and this is the first time I’ve been late with rent in the two years I’ve been living here. Four days late one time; $70 fine and a lawsuit threat. That’s crazy to me. Between that and the recent 10% rent hike, I’m really feeling that you guys don’t want me to continue living here. Maybe you’re hoping you can get me out and get a new tenant that’s even better, maybe someone who will drop by the office and bake you cookies.
I would suggest a more sensible approach like this:
Step #1 – Tenant is five days late, give them a friendly phone call. Everyone likes to talk to the attractive young women you employ in your leasing office, I’m sure that this friendly reminder would cause most late payers to pay up right away.
Step #2 – After 10 days, send a nice letter from you, the manager. You can be a little stern, but this kind of thing should come from you, not from a nasty legal notice.
Step #3 – After 20 days, then you can slap on the fine and unleash the legal threats.
Now if someone was late all the time, I could see you having to go with the lawsuit threat earlier, but for first-time late payments, doesn’t this make more sense? I work for a consulting company, and we occasionally have customers that don’t pay on time. Every once in a while we have to be a little harsh with them, and bring in the collection agencies and all that. But we give them a certain amount of leeway, because they’re our customers, and we like them and appreciate their business. Stiff fines and legal threats are a last resort, after we’ve tried collecting peacefully.
When I get this kind of thing in the mail, it just makes me feel like you guys couldn’t care less about your tenants, that we’re all just troublemakers that have to be slapped around when we get out of line. And that makes me want to move out.
Thanks for hearing me out, and have a great day.
P.S. Don’t let my disparaging lawyer remark make you think I don’t like lawyers. Many of my best friends are lawyers. If you end up forwarding this to your Legal Department, please convey that I think the legal profession is full of fine upstanding people that play a valuable role in society.