A writer for this parallel universe we’ve found ourselves in
According to Mashivor, 50% of tenants move out because they are not happy with their landlord. The landlord-tenant relationship is more often than not a contentious one. It features two sides with similar intentions but entirely different priorities. Both parties are interested in peaceful, fluid, and uneventful correspondence and both are wary of being cheated, ill-treated, and misinformed.
The fear on both sides is further propagated by the consequences of the relationship failing; a terrible experience at the very least, or an expensive lawsuit at the very worst. This issue is so deep-rooted and prevalent that governments the world over have put mechanisms in place to protect these two groups.
Bay Area real-estate law firm Bornstein Law, in an effort to protect their clients’ interests, even went as far as categorizing tenants into five distinct profiles: the political tenant (always suspicious), the silent tenant (completely unresponsive), the passive-aggressive tenant (quick to turn hostile), the dysfunctional tenant (too embroiled in crises to fulfill their commitments), and lastly, the oh-so-elusive perfect tenant (personable and reliable).
On the other side of the spectrum, tenants’ tales of woe have become so frequent and, in many cases, extreme, that they gave birth to an entire internet genre of “horrible landlord stories” detailing the misadventures of tenants who were misfortunate enough to have criminally-negligent property managers.
The Not-So-Secret Ingredient
Everyone seems to be looking for the storybook landlord-tenant relationship. The question is, how do you create an environment that feels safe for both parties? What’s the magic trick that keeps an inherently challenging balance of power, stable and even harmonious?
The answer, according to our research, is communication. Timely, responsive, ongoing communication.
Maxine Lester, one of the U.K’s leading property management companies, advises the following to future landlords: “Above all else, tenants want a landlord who is responsive, approachable, and easy to reach. Responding quickly and effectively will increase the chance of tenants wanting to renew their lease or recommending the landlord at the end of their contract.”
Echoing this sentiment, Julie Aiello of
Zumper writes: “One of the worst things for a landlord-tenant relationship is radio silence. If you’re not answering your tenant’s inquiries in a timely fashion and addressing their concerns, they may grow frustrated and distrusting of you as a reliable landlord.”
To top these off, Nadia Abulatif of
Mashivor equates the landlord-tenant relationship to the ones we share with loved ones: “Just like any relationship, the landlord and tenant relationship is no different. Two-way communication is a must to avoid any misunderstandings. Moreover, as a landlord, you should always listen to the tenant’s expectations and do your best to meet them.”
If the solution to creating idyllic coexistence between landlords and tenants appears to be so clear, how is it that it is hardly put into practice? How is it that Zillow’s 2019 Consumer Housing Trends Report found that 71% of renters who inquire about a listing expect to hear back from the landlord or property manager within 24 hours, but only 51% of renters say they receive the timely responses they expect?
The Landlord’s Achilles Heel
In the U.S. today, there are about 8 million individual landlords, also known as mom and pop landlords, who typically own between one and ten properties. They own and manage half the rental properties in the nation and house about 48 million renters. The other half is owned and operated by over 50,000 residential property management companies and 70,000 lessors of residential buildings and dwellings.
Whether it is the mom and pop landlords, struggling to balance their day jobs with their custodian responsibilities or a property manager working for a large company, responsible for dozens if not hundreds of properties, landlords often find themselves unequipped to handle the constant flood of tenants’ requests and complaints.
This problem is made worse by the slow adoption of technology by the real estate industry. In a recent REALTOR survey, 48% of all real estate firms cited keeping up with technology as one of the biggest challenges facing their firm in the next two years.
This contrasts starkly with tenants’ preferences according to the 2017 American Renters Survey, which found that when it comes to receiving important messages, most tenants would prefer that a property manager email them (53%) or text them (53%). Another 41% indicated they’d prefer a voice call over options such as a visit (23%), a note (20%), or a letter (8%).
Bridging the Gap with Conversational AI
Tenants’ requests and complaints are, for the most part, uniformly similar. The National tenants’ rights organization Rental Protection Agency released this year’s apartment complaint trends report detailing tenants’ top 10 complaints. Deposit Refund Disputes’ came in first with ‘Bed Bug Infestations’ grabbing the second place, ‘Repair Problems‘ in third, and ‘Apartment Noise Complaints’ in the fourth spot.
If you’ve ever rented an apartment, none of these complaints should surprise you. And yet each such complaint requires a landlord’s undivided attention. When coming all at once from many different properties, it’s easy to understand why landlords feel overwhelmed, and tenants feel unheard.
Conversational AI was created to tackle these sorts of challenges by automating repetitive conversational interactions. Coupled with powerful NLU capabilities, conversational AI can even comprehend and respond to queries that far extend the “please-come-fix-it” scope.
Five Different Ways Conversational AI Can Streamline the Landlord-Tenant Relationship
1. Rent Payment – 60% of tenants would like to be able to pay their rent online, and yet staggeringly 50% of all tenants are still paying their rent with checks, 12% pay with money orders, and 18% are paying their rent with cash. In less than a few seconds, a virtual conversational AI assistant can automatically remind a tenant when rent is due, collect the payment and even respond if the tenant expresses a problem to pay or requests an extension. Property managers can benefit from this as well, automating responses and tracking these conversations easily, while ensuring improved collection rates.
2. FAQs – Frequently asked questions regarding rent, utilities, maintenance and more can all be instantly addressed by a conversational AI assistant. In case of urgent requests or issues that require human attention, the conversational AI assistant can trigger a live handoff to the landlord or to a designated customer service representative. Screening and filtering out repetitive questions from tenants allows for the prioritization of critical issues, optimizing costs and time for property managers.
3. Maintenance and Repairs – According to the BalanceSmallBusiness, many states will allow a landlord 30 days to fix a problem, while others will only allow 3 to 7 days for major issues, such as lack of heat or running water. If the repair is not completed within this period, the landlord may owe the tenant damages, the tenant could be allowed to move out of the rental unit, the court could hire a third party to complete the repairs, or the landlord could be fined.
Using conversational AI, tenants can enter their repair requests via voice or text, add pictures and videos, and receive an estimated time of repair according to the severity of the problem. The landlord sees these claims in real-time and can prioritize and manage tasks appropriately.
4. Documentation Submission & Search – The landlord-tenant relationship entails a hefty amount of paperwork. From contracts to deposits and guarantees, bureaucracy is an integral part of the deal. These documents can often go astray and are easily forgotten.
Through a text or voice command, a tenant can quickly pull up any information at any time and upload and send any needed files directly to the landlord. For example, using Natural Language, a tenant can query based on existing content which has been automatically scraped, such as a rental agreement:
“Hey, how many days am I allowed to sublet for?”
“How much notice do I need to give before leaving this apartment?”
“Is electricity included in my rent?”
5. Conversational Intelligence – The queries fielded by tenants through a conversational AI assistant transform into valuable conversational insights on the status of tenants across all properties. By digging into AI-tenant conversations, landlords can identify developing patterns, tenant preferences, and overarching maintenance issues, all in real-time. With these data-driven insights as a guiding north star, landlords can streamline processes, improve their engagement efforts and reach new levels of efficiency.
Each one of these use cases can be customized and tailored to a landlord’s unique needs properties and communities. Consider these to be five pillars or trees shooting thousands of roots, covering every single facet of the landlord-tenant relationship through conversational AI.