You're Going To Get Sued

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

Welcome to the rental industry. You are an owner or manager whose income is created by providing one of the most basic human needs: housing. Because it is so fundamental to our existence, housing touches hearts. It creates emotion. It brings out the best and worst. It is also a pawn in the political game that our government plays.

As a result, you are going to get sued. The sooner you realize that fact, the better. When you deal with issues that touch people’s hearts and arouses their emotions, lawsuits result. It’s just a fact. Expect it. And realize that you cannot control it.


What you can control, to a large extent, is why you get sued. You can either get sued as a follower or as a leader. You get sued as a follower because you don’t invest in learning. In the information age, learning is more convenient than at any time in history. Though more convenient, learning still isn’t easy. It still takes time and effort. 30 years ago, the difficulty with learning was the lack of information. Today, the difficulty is the abundance of information. There is so much information out there, but much of it is conflicting, so the difficulty consists of figuring out the information that is trustworthy. Leaders do it; followers don’t.


Followers get sued because they’re behind the information curve. Their policies and procedures, if they exist at all, are behind the current requirements. As a result, followers withhold security deposits that should be returned. Followers deny assistance animals when they should be allowed or allow them when they should be denied. Followers try to evict when there is no cause. Followers steer families with children to certain units or areas of the property. Followers cut corners. Followers create profit margins by asking for more from residents and giving less. Some followers live in fear because they suspect they don’t know what they’re doing. Other followers are blissfully ignorant because they don’t know what they don’t know. Followers get bluffed by tenants into bad decisions because the tenant either knows more or seems to know more.


Leaders find the cutting edge. They act with confidence because they know their policies and practices are in line with the law, to the greatest extent possible. They are always pushing the envelope on customer service. Their goal is to create a top-notch customer experience for their residents. They could not care less about power struggles with their residents and won’t even play that game. Their goal is quality. They are not content to do a decent job. They are looking for the next level. They give more than they take. Every interaction with their residents is for the purpose of creating a better user experience for the resident. They are looking to change the industry. As a result, they get sued. They get sued because they deny assistance animals for residents who are clearly looking to scam the system. They get sued because they give second chances to applicants with poor rental histories but who had shown signs of turning their lives around. They get sued because they think outside the box and it rubs some the wrong way. And they get sued because some people are just dumb.


So, you’re going to get sued. The real question is whether you get sued for being a follower or for being a leader. Why does it matter? Primarily, it matters because those who lead are far more influential and satisfied with their lives and careers. Secondarily, it matters because the biggest litigation losses for landlords come when they are followers. When a judge or jury hears that a landlord has been lazy, negligent, or careless (or worse), the landlord gets nailed. When the evidence shows that mistakes were made in the course of trying to create a user experience that’s second to none, there may be losses, but they’ll be minimal. What’s more, the sheer number of cases that get filed against leaders is dramatically less than against followers, for two reasons: first, leaders make fewer mistakes; second, resident don’t want to sue landlords who are leaders. They know the landlord is pushing the envelope on their behalf. Again, that doesn’t mean leaders don't get sued (they will), but it does mean fewer lawsuits.

In this industry, you’re going to get sued. To limit your losses, be an industry leader. To improve your happiness, be an industry leader. To be clear, being a leader has nothing to do with title or job responsibility, and everything to do with mindset and action. The leasing consultant may be the industry leader in an office, while the property manager may be a follower. If you’re looking for the cutting edge for your position and trying to take it to the next level, you’re a leader. If that’s not you, it’s time to start.

Where do you start? Small. Learn something new about your industry every day. Every. Day. Go. Right now. It’s there if you want it. Let me know if I can help.

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