Let’s stop hiding behind the lease

 

Over the last past ten years or so the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) and the Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) have done some amazing work at raising the standards within our industry, bringing a level of professionalism which has been much needed. I have nothing but admiration for the work they have done.

However, while on one hand they have helped us understand leases and what things like a ‘parapet wall’ are, one of the unfortunate side-effects has been for property managers to use the lease as a pseudo parapet wall and hide behind it when dealing with lessees and residents.

I know that was never their intention. It is right that we should always refer to the lease when deciding how to deal with issues but property management is a lot more than simply managing an asset according to a set of rules.

The industry should look at itself and ask whether it has been complicit in creating an inflexible way of working that does nothing to help our customers, given we taught our staff to be like that.

When I first started in the industry providing great customer service was easy, probably because the lease didn’t seem quite as important as it does now. I always knew I had to refer to it but we never used it as an excuse not help a lessee/resident. I guess that’s because we hadn’t had high-profile ‘reasonableness’ cases or the education from ARMA/IRPM that went alongside our industry. We just did something until we found out we weren’t allowed to. No-one told us otherwise, as I suspect they didn’t know any better and being honest, I quite liked that way of working.

So, has the industry has gone too far the other way? Property managers now turn to the lease without first applying a bit of common sense. I suspect that’s because it is easier to give the quick ‘that’s what the lease says’ answer, safe in the knowledge their line manager won’t take issue with it rather than trying to find a solution that satisfies both parties. Have we therefore created an inflexible way of working that stifles initiative?

Maybe it’s time to pop our heads above the parapet wall and find ways of working that help the customer, yet still meet the rule books.

Take demised repairs (repairs inside the lessee flat). We all know they are not our responsibility to deal with but does that mean we can’t help? Perhaps we could arrange for them to be attended to, recharge the cost to the lessee and possibly even make a small admin fee at the same time? The lessee might prefer to avoid the additional cost and handle it themselves but that’s consumer choice. By offering the option we might already have improved their view of us.

The point here is let’s not turn to the rule books just because it’s easy. Customers expect more from their manager and frankly, they deserve it. They may never quite get what we actually do but perhaps we need to find new ways of doing things that provide added value and improve their view of agents.