This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
The relation between a right-minded agent and his tenants should be pleasant. When any considerable number of the latter are saying harsh and discreditable things, there is something wrong. An agent condemned by any large proportion of his tenants is not in a position to serve his principal to the best advantage. Some have conceived that the interests of the owner and the tenants are opposed to each other and that the only way to be loyal to the one is to antagonize the other. Other agents fully intend to be just and considerate, but permit themselves, under the stress of business, to forget and to neglect that which they fully intended should be done. The agent occupies a difficult position between the owner and his tenant. In times when renting is bad landlords bid high for good tenants, and thus inculcate in them the notion that they must have many indulgences and much attention. Thus, to deal fairly between the landlords, both the greedy and the reasonable, on the one side, and the tenants, both the wasteful and the worthy, on the other side, is no easy matter. You will find it of great advantage to look differences and obstacles squarely in the face, and if you can decide promptly what should be done, and live up to it, much trouble will be avoided. To pursue a waiting policy is ordinarily worse than useless. A prompt "No" with a fair statement of the reason is infinitely better than a hope encouraged only to be finally denied. Your time and thought are too valuable to yourself to use them over and over on the same small matters, and your tenants will soon discover in you and greatly appreciate a business-like treatment of every question.
A very important part of the work of the agent is the collection of the rent. If you have to do the collecting yourself for a few months or years, it will be an experience that will be valuable to you ever afterwards in the management of property. A skilful collector can make a good payer out of a poor one, and a neglectful and foolish collector can bring forth a new brood of bad payers in a very short time. Not all tenants can pay on the first of the month. If you have many, you cannot reach all on the first of the month.
You should reach all within a very few days of that time. After that, it is chiefly a matter of knowledge when the tenant can pay, of her knowing when to expect you, and of your always being there at the appointed time. Let poor payers know long beforehand what they are expected to do, and your way will be easier and your success surer.
Teach your employees to be what you want to be yourself, and to follow your methods and ideals. Your janitors, cleaners, engineers, hall boys, elevator runners and clerks, all ought to work for your success. If they are wisely selected, treated with respect, rightly supervised and encouraged, they will presently like you and work for you. Since so much of what is to be done depends upon them, let them feel their responsibility. Help them to magnify their positions if they are worthy to hold them, and repress those that are too officious. The janitor is a very important matter in a tenement house. The tenants should like him and use him well. The janitor joke, like the mother-in-law joke, is badly overworked. It is possible to get painstaking men and women in these positions. In a cheap tenement, where the rents are, say, $10 to $15, your janitor will sometimes be the best man or woman in the house, economically and socially. It is a good thing if it is so. If he has some executive ability, it will be of value to you. He ought to have some mechanical sense, and be handy at repairs. If you can get work done by employees paid by the month, and thus save mechanics' day wages, it will be of considerable advantage to the property.
Enough has been said to make it plain that the business of managing tenement property will bear some study, and that it is worth undertaking for its rewards and emoluments. Do not let the small cares and burdens of your business, no matter how successful it is, consume all your time and strength. Save some portion of your office hours for attention to larger things than these that press immediately upon you. The agent can be a slave to the petty exactions of his duties with no wider horizon than the farmer who only plods. Take time to see what is going on about you, what others are doing, what new thing you may try for. Catch the movements of trade and improvement in the whole town, and in other towns, try to discern their causes and find some place in them for a new effort of your own. Take the Record and Guide and read not only its gossip but its discussions; meet with other men in the trade, and find out what they are thinking about, and what your own opinions are on these matters. In these things there is for you business enlargement and growth, and also increase in all those qualities and acquisitions that challenge the esteem of men.