How to deal with property management companies – the good and the bad

While not what tenants wanted to hear, it was a quick response to a difficult situation – something not all property management companies offer. And in these cases, life can quickly become frustrating for residents.

A quick search of review sites like Yelp yields scathing reviews of some property management companies, accused of everything from failing to do repairs to ignoring mouse infestations to refusing to return security deposits.

Property managers are meant to be a hands-on intermediary for landlords (signing leases, receiving maintenance calls) and for residents (repairs and dealing with emergencies). The industry has grown steadily over the past decade, but it does not require a state real estate license.

There are, however, state and local guidelines to protect residents from poor living conditions and lease violations. So how do you know if the company running your building is bad, and if so, what can you do about it? The first thing to determine is whether the management company is responsive.

“Residents should always get a response like, ‘Hey, we know you have this problem,'” Fallon said. “Things like cracked tiles and common areas that need cleaning, this should be done within the same working week [of the complaint]. Carpet replacement or painting will take longer. It kind of depends on what it is. But what you should always have is open communication.

At the same time, it is important for tenants to recognize that management companies deal with many issues on a daily basis. Tenants should be patient with non-urgent matters.

“Give them a week [to respond]. You should always hear from the management company telling you what the timeline is and when you should anticipate getting it fixed,” Fallon said. “Everyone wants to be recognized and know that we’re working on it.”

And there should always be a way to reach someone to respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said. Urgent repairs must be carried out immediately.

“An answering machine on the weekend won’t do you any good if you don’t have hot water or heat at 2 a.m.,” said William “Buddy” Christopher Jr., commissioner of the Department of Inspection Services. Boston. “The lobby should have a 24 hour number posted.”

His department has seen all levels of violation, from bicycles blocking exits to tenants with disabilities receiving buckets as toilets while waiting for bathroom repairs. In Boston, emergency numbers that aren’t manned 24 hours a day are a housing violation and warrant a fine, Christopher said.

Residents should contact Inspection Services whenever property management fails to respond to an emergency, such as broken windows or power loss, or to report unresolved health and safety violations, such as pest infestations or broken stairs, he said.

“We see the landlord as responsible – they have no problem accepting rents – all we expect of them is to provide a clean and safe environment for tenants to live in,” Christopher said. . “We don’t get involved in the relationship between management and the tenant. Our motivation concerns the health code and its respect. »

Some communities, including Boston, offer the 311 service number and apps that residents can use 24/7 to report a number of issues.

Boston also provides a checklist that renters can refer to (www.boston.gov/departments/inspectional-services/rental-inspection-checklist) of the most common apartment violations – from broken toilets to windows that don’t fit. not open without excessive force.

The inspection services do not get involved in tenancy disputes, which are dealt with by the Housing Court. Tenants and landlords should be aware of any “financial weirdness” coming from property managers, said Fallon, of Great Spaces ERA.

“You should be able to call your property management company and get your financial account status at any time,” Fallon said. “If you’re a condo association, you should be able to call and find out what’s in your reserve account and your operating account.

In a high-profile case in Revere, the property management company in charge of a beachfront apartment building was accused of failing to respond and return security deposits, in violation of state law. In these cases, residents have the law on their side, as long as the tenants haven’t violated the terms of their lease, including damaging the property.

The state and Boston provide guides outlining tenant rights regarding payments and fees.

Property management companies “shouldn’t play with security deposits,” said Benjamin C. Virga, owner of Bridgestone Properties in Dorchester, which manages about 400 apartments and condos in several Boston neighborhoods. “We pretend to be surgeons with that”, be careful not to make mistakes. If a management company is sued for breaching a security deposit, it could mean treble damages, he said. “It’s a huge red flag if they play with it. If you sue a landlord for a security deposit, you usually win.

Tenants should read a lease carefully before signing it, he said. And when it comes to property management for non-emergency issues, Virga recommends tenants use email or text so they can have a written record of how many times they’ve contacted the property. company about a problem.

Virga said landlords or condo associations looking for a property management company should determine what they need the company to do (services range from rent collection to repairs to snow removal), whether they can afford the services they want and if the company is a good fit with a good reputation.

But property management isn’t one-sided — tenants also need to weigh the urgency and timing of the issue they’re calling about, Virga said. If, for example, a tenant calls about a torn window screen while management is dealing with frozen pipe emergencies elsewhere, the tenant should expect an acknowledgment of the call, but not to an immediate response.

On the other hand, there are residents who avoid contacting management until it’s too late, such as with water leaks, which could lead to structural damage, he said. .

Then there are the calls that just shouldn’t be made.

“My favorite call from a tenant to our voicemail service was that it was an urgent matter that his son stole his salmon from his freezer,” Virga said. “We didn’t know what to do with it.”