Many investors think that the hardest part of becoming an investor is searching for and finding the right investment property.
In reality, that’s only the beginning. Once you own an investment property and become a landlord, you have to learn how to effectively manage it – and a huge part of this is ensuring that your tenants are happy.
After all, if they’re not happy living there, they’re going to move to greener pastures pretty swiftly.
In this article, we look at the most common tenant complaints about those living in apartments and how to overcome them.
It all begins with CLAP: Children, Landscaping, Animals and Parking.
Children running around in a unit complex without much adult supervision are likely to attract the attention of other tenants, and not in a positive way.
We’re not talking about kids who like to take a scooter ride after school around the complex – but the cheeky children who shriek around the complex and go ‘door knocking’ (purposely or intentionally knocking on other tenants’ doors and then running away for “fun”, a game that can be very irritating and frustrating for neighbours).
Complaints regarding children can be targeted at those who live on the premises, or children who are visiting the complex temporarily. Importantly, a body corporate can’t refuse to let a dwelling to certain groups of people such as families, and complaints regarding children can be very difficult to manage. Children are, by nature, noisy little critters!
The quality of landscaping in common areas, as well as the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of said areas, can result in tenant complaints.
It’s not uncommon for a body corporate or owners corporation, which manages all of the owners’ in a building or complex, to receive complaints about lawns not being mowed, hedges not being trimmed or tree roots causing damage to paths.
For tenants, this can become a problem when trees or vegetation impacts their view or ability to use their home.
The issue of animals being kept in units or apartments has long generated heated debate amongst tenants, landlords, property managers and the wider community.
Anyone who has been stuck living near a heartbroken dog left locked indoors all day knows only too well how frustrating that can be: a constantly barking dog can be hard to ignore.
Other common complaints in relation to animals include toileting – as some owners don’t pick up after their pets – and damage to common property.
Tenants parking in another tenant’s parking spot… tenants parking regularly in the visitor bays… tenants parking in the wrong spots altogether… visitors who overstay their welcome by using a parking space as their own private space… even tenants who make up their own parking spaces on grassy areas.
These are all potential causes of dispute between residents in a strata complex and could see your tenant making contact with you if they’re getting fed up with others doing the wrong thing.
5. Maintenance and upkeep
As a landlord, it’s up to you to ensure the property you are renting out is in good condition.
However, it’s the body corporate’s responsibility to maintain the building and ensure the upkeep of common areas – which means you don’t always have control over how well this is carried out.
Problems such as water leaks, mould build-up, pathways requiring repair and locks to mailboxes being broker can be the subject of a lot of complaints.
This is why it’s a good idea for you (or your property manager) to develop a good relationship with your strata manager – so you can ensure any issues are raised swiftly.
You may even choose to join the management committee.
This is a big one!
Excessive noise is one of the most common complaints that tenants can have, and for good reason: no one enjoys trying to fall asleep against a backdrop of a neighbour’s loud dance party music.
Your tenant’s noise complaints may be the result of just one regular offender, in which case it may be a little easier to address the issue.
Generally, most unit complexes don’t have more than one tenant repeatedly making excessive noise and complaints are often because of a party.
However, if the problem is ongoing – they constantly practice the drums at 10 pm, they hold regular parties, they stomp around the apartment or they watch television with surround sound as if it's their own personal theatre, then it may need to be addressed.
If your tenant complains of an odour coming from their plumbing or bathroom, then it needs investigation fairly quickly – it could be the case that there is a blockage or other issue causing a build-up.
Also, when a tenant is living in closer quarters with others, it isn’t uncommon for strong cooking odours to be shared.
They might waft through mechanical ventilation systems and impact larger areas, or they might just be living so close to a neighbour that they constantly smell what they’re cooking up.
Containing or preventing this from happening is extremely difficult in a strata living situation, so tolerance is the key when people from different ethnic origins are cooking foods that have strong odours.
On the topic of smells – smoking is another major area of dispute amongst tenants.
Under the Tobacco and Other Smoking Products Act 1998, smoking in enclosed areas of a common area is prohibited, so if your tenant complains of another resident smoking in the car park or the front entry, that can be addressed fairly quickly.
A tenant smoking in their own apartment, on the other hand, is much trickier to manage.
There have been some legal rulings over the years regarding smoking within units, where the smell escapes through the balconies, under doors or into the extraction system.
These rulings have found that a body corporate doesn’t have the authority to prohibit smoking within a unit, including on balconies as these are private homes.
However, somebody corporate schemes have passed by-laws that state residents are not permitted to smoke on their balconies, where it causes a nuisance to neighbouring units.
As you can imagine, these by-laws can be very difficult to enforce – so this is an area you need to work very closely with your property manager and body corporate manager on.
9. Damage to common areas
When many different people use a communal area, there’s an expectation that everyone will do the right thing to maintain and present these locations to a high standard.
Of course, this isn’t always the case.
Strata managers and property managers report that the most common complaints regarding communal areas often stem from issues with people using pools and barbecue areas, and not cleaning up after themselves.
It can also create problems if tenants attempt to use common areas for their own private use on a more regular basis when they are designed to be shared by all of the residents in the complex.
10. Lack of privacy
When it comes to apartment living, most residents relish the privacy within their own four walls as they are sharing so much of their “home” with others.
As a result, tenants tend to become disgruntled if the landlord, on-site manager or property manager come knocking too often.
You can’t just drop past and visit your tenant or your property without warning: this is not just a matter of politeness, it’s the law.
You are required legally to notify your tenant at least 24 hours before entering, with the only exception being a direct emergency.
11. Pests and cockroaches
This is another problem that can be difficult to manage in a strata setting.
If you own a freestanding home and there is an infestation of ants or cockroaches, the solution is fairly straightforward: hire a pest inspector.
However, when it comes to apartment living, there’s no point in you getting a pest treatment on your specific unit if others in the complex don’t do the same.
Otherwise, you’ll clear the infestation from your property… and it will return within a week or two.
If your tenant complains about an ongoing issue to do with pests, it’s a good idea to chat to the strata manager to see if other residents are having the same issue, so you can investigate a more holistic solution.
12. Difficulty reaching you (or your property manager)
This last one falls on you as the landlord.
A difficulty reaching you (or your property manager) and a lag in getting a response is one of the most common tenant complaints, and for good reason.
It’s frustrating for anyone to feel as though they’re being ignored, but even more so when they’re trying to reach you about an issue to do with where they live.
It might be your property, but it’s their home.
Hiring an experienced property manager who has a reasonable rent roll (ie isn’t overworked) is the key to success here.
How to Resolve a Dispute
There are clear and straightforward methods for dealing with disputes, depending on your state and territory.
Generally, if an issue can’t be resolved verbally through open and honest discussions, the unhappy tenant and/or the property owner has the option to submit a form to the body corporate advising a breach has occurred.
If the body corporate is in agreement, then a breach notice is issued.
If the body corporate considers that a breach hasn’t occurred, then the party can make an application to start proceedings through court.
If your situation reaches this point, it is best to liaise very closely with your property manager for advice and guidance.
Whilst this can be a very stressful situation and is often new territory for you, this is all in a day’s work for property managers – they deal with disgruntled tenants every day.
Note that a body corporate can also seek an order from the office of the Commissioner of Body Corporate and Community Management, or approach the Magistrates Court.
An adjudicator appointed by the Commissioner’s Office may issue an order stating the tenant must stop the behaviour that’s constituting the breach.
Just because the breach has been issued, it doesn't mean the behaviour will stop.
However, the fines on offer might be a powerful motivator: if an order issued by the adjudicator is ignored or the breach continues, the body corporate can pursue the matter through the courts, which can impose a maximum penalty of $44,000.
The Magistrates Court can impose a fine if a party is deemed to be in breach of the by-laws, which can be up to $2200.
All of this represents the worst-case scenario and there is a conciliation process that usually helps avoid going to these lengths.
Most problems can be solved by having an independent third party assist with the negotiations.
Again, be sure to work closely with your property manager so you’re not dealing with all of this on your own.
How are By-Laws Enforced?
The body corporate is responsible for enforcing the by-laws of its complex.
The committee as the administrative arm is usually responsible for ensuring all owners and occupiers comply with the by-laws.
However, owners and occupiers can also commence with the issue of mandatory notices, however, there are limited circumstances in which the service of a notice isn’t required.
It’s a preliminary procedure that contravention notices must be issued before any formal enforcement action is taken.
The decision to serve a contravention notice can be made by the committee or by the body corporate.
Types of contravention notices
1. Continuing Contravention Notice
The body corporate may give a continuing contravention notice to an owner or occupier where it believes the person is contravening a by-law and where it’s likely the contravention will continue.
An example of this type of contravention is where an owner is parking a vehicle of common property without approval.
The purpose of this notice is to require the person to remedy the contravention.
In other words, you are letting them know that their actions are not permitted and you’re giving them the opportunity to halt the behaviour.
2. Future Contravention Notice
The body corporate may serve a future contravention notice if it believes the person has contravened a by-law and the circumstances of the contravention make it likely the contravention will be repeated.
This notice would be appropriate when an owner has a noisy party that contravenes the noise by-law, and they have demonstrated through previous behaviour that they are likely to do this again.
The body corporate may give the owner notice that if this contravention is repeated.
Proceedings can be commenced without any further notice.
The purpose of the future contravention notice is to require the person not to repeat the contravention.
3. Consequences of Failing to Comply
If an owner or an occupier fails to comply with a contravention notice, the committee, or the body corporate in a general meeting, can decide to commence enforcement proceedings in the Magistrates Court or in the Body Corporate and Community Management (BCCM) Office.
The BCCM Act empowers the Magistrates Court to impose a financial penalty for failure to comply with the notice.
Translation – you can fine another tenant or resident for failing to comply with the by-laws in your complex.
When an Owner or Tenant Complains
If an owner or an occupier reasonably believes another owner or occupier has contravened the by-laws or it’s likely the contravention will continue, he or she must take a preliminary step before taking action in the BCCM office.
The owner or occupier (‘the complainant’) must ask the body corporate to issue a contravention notice to the person who is allegedly contravening the by-laws.
If the body corporate doesn’t advise the complainant that the contravention notice has been issued within 14 days after receiving the request, the complainant may take action in the BCCM office.