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The Complaints You Cannot Solve

Being Realistic About Problem Complainers

By John Hall - September 27, 2018

We have been talking about resident complaints - why they should matter to you, and how you can maximize the opportunities they present.

This post is about a different kind of complaint. These are the complaints that cannot be solved with a single meeting, or sometimes at all. Often, these complaints are more about the people making them.

What are we talking about? Let’s look at the more challenging residents that you will meet from time to time.

1) The Contrarian
Sadly, there is nothing in this world that is universally liked. Try and think of anything - pizza, Harry Potter books, cookouts, anything! - that you think everybody likes. Now, guess what? There are people out there who do not like those things. There are even people who absolutely and passionately dislike those things.

When you get complaints about things that you think all of your residents like, you might be dealing with a contrarian. Do not fear them! At the end of the day, most contrarians are likeable and interesting. They just seem to march to a different beat.

Strategy: Get to the bottom of things! What often seems to be irrational is, more often than not, really about something else entirely. Find out if there is a legitimate underlying complaint, and deal with that.

Contrarians want to be heard more than agreed with. They are used to their opinions being dismissed as outlandish. If you show them respect, they will provide a unique perspective that might help you see things in a different way.


2) The Aggressive Complainer
This person comes in with a head full of steam, looking for a confrontation, and will often say things that they later regret. Remember, most resident complaints are not about you, even when the frustration surrounding them can cause them to sound that way.

Strategy: Calm things down. Tell an aggressor that you want to be able to give them your entire focus, and schedule a meeting time that allows for a cooling-off period. Bring in reinforcements if you can, but make sure to let them know that you are doing so to better hear them - not to team up against them.

That said, personal attacks are forbidden. Abusive language or threats - against leasing staff or residents - are most likely prohibited by your lease agreement, and should always be shut down immediately.


3) The Chronic Complainer
Unlike the aggressive complainer, the chronic complainer is pleasant enough. You just see a lot of them. Chronic complainers don’t even know they are doing it. They think they they are there to help.

Warning!: Chronic complainers can be tiresome, but ignore their complaints at your own peril. You might miss out on information that is really important. Also, chronic complainers will not stop with you. If they are dissatisfied with your responses, they will make sure that everyone else knows about it.

Strategy: Wear them out! Know who your chronic complainers are, and check in with them from time to time just to see how things are going.* Let them know that you appreciate their input, and seek it out from time to time. Ask them for suggestions about things. Let them feel that they are a part of your team, and they will become your biggest advocates.

*Be careful, though. When you follow-up with any customer, avoid negative statements like “Is anything else wrong?”. Try statements like “How else can I help?”, or “I would like to get your input on something” instead.


4) The Discount Seeker
You know this person. They might have a legitimate complaint, but the solution they seek is always the same - money! This person might wait to report a problem in their apartment, in hopes that they can negotiate more taken off their next rent payment.

This can a tricky one. You need to be wary of complaints that are created in search of a cash break, but you want to avoid the trap of thinking that every complaint is an attempted con.

Strategy: Prevention! Your have policies about resident responsibilities in reporting problems in your lease. You need to make sure that those policies are reiterated throughout a lease term. If financial considerations are very seldom offered, there will not be an incentive to seek them.

5) The Lost Cause
Sometimes, the fit between a resident and a community is like a relationship gone wrong. It might have been great at first, but things sour, and you can’t seem to fix it. At some point, nobody benefits from trying to carry on.

How do you know when a resident relationship has gone toxic? Here are some of the red flags:
  1. They repeat complaints, and are dissatisfied with any attempted resolution
  2. They are surly and unpleasant with leasing staff and other residents, and create a bad atmosphere in which to work and live
  3. They are public with their complaints, posting negative reviews and comments about you wherever they can
  4. They seek allies among your other residents, by getting them to share in their dissatisfaction
Of course, you should make every attempt to turn things around. Always try to talk things out. Do not let a lack of communication be what leads you to determine that there is no way to mend things. However, if you have truly done all you can, it might be time to move on.

Strategy: It goes without saying that you can’t just get rid of every resident that you don’t like, and your residents have legal rights that you must respect. However, a toxic resident can have an adverse impact on your entire community, and you would be wise to do what you can to mitigate that risk.

So, how do you “break up” with your last cause? Schedule a meeting, and make sure that you have a witness present. Let the resident know that that it is your belief that they are unhappy, and offer to waive any penalties that might stand in the way of their leaving. Make it clear to the resident that they have the choice, but do what you can to make leaving a more attractive option. Put the entirety of your conversation in writing, and make sure that each of you have signed copies. 


Complaint handling is not always easy, and there are times when resolution does not happen. In those cases, it is wise to reflect upon your role in the situation, and use the knowledge you gain to do better in the future.

Go to Part 4: Your Complaint Solution Playbook

Catch up on our Handling Resident Complaints series: 
Part 1: Get Excited For Complaints!
Part 2: Crush Those Complaints