Most social housing providers are starting to realise the benefits of positive landlord-tenant relationships. From helping to build more sustainable tenancies to supporting rent collection and arrears management, the increased emphasis on togetherness and support could have lasting effects beyond the COVID-19 epidemic.But what steps can you take to put your best intentions into best practice? If you want to know how to engage with tenants and create positive relationships that have a beneficial impact on tenants, read on...
How to create sustainable relationships with tenants
Relational engagement methods operate with a long-term view, aimed at building relationships and acknowledging the need for a stable foundation for future engagement. The success of relational engagement depends on trust, respect, reciprocity, empathy and consistency.
This thinking is based on wider behavioural science research. Our very own in-house behavioural insights team have been looking at how this relates to the social housing sector, carrying out consultancy for social landlords. Combining the two, we can determine that a positive landlord-tenant relationship depends on:
- Perceived fairness - Research indicates that when someone feels like the situation is fair, they are more likely to accept decisions, show greater compliance and behave cooperatively.
- Active participation - As the name indicates, active participation is about making sure individuals make an affirmative choice. This means tenants cannot opt out of making a decision and they cannot simply let the decision happen without their input. Not only does this force tenants to engage more, but it often results in more reasoned decisions.
- Reciprocity - Responding to a helpful act by returning the favour in some way is inherent in building a trusting relationship.
Below, we explain how you can build a mutual relationship centred around all three of these factors.
The way in which we speak, act and explain ourselves in a situation can have a big impact on the outcome. In social housing processes, you can provide individuals with a chance to present their views and show them that these views are being considered.
Officers should use language, tone of voice and body language to show respect. Similarly, acting with integrity is key. If tenants feel like you are being self-interested, they are likely to distrust you. It’s also important that you allow tenants to speak and provide them with the opportunity to explain issues and offer explanations for their actions.
Additionally, if tenants understand the full situation and what is required from them they are more likely to want to cooperate. Honest, clear and understandable explanations not only enhance the landlord-tenant relationship, but provide individuals with all the information that they need. Avoid using jargon, explain the reasoning for the decisions, and consider using flowcharts to help clarify processes and flesh out the next steps.
Particularly suited to longer term processes with multiple touch points and no one-size-fits-all approach, active participation increases post-decisional goal commitment. This makes it ideal for rent collection strategies.
While we want to engage the tenant in the process we have to consider that in many cases they might not have the requisite information or understanding to make the best choice. The tenant needs to be made to feel like they are part of the process and their input is being considered, but we need to make sure their choices/inputs are optimal.
One way to do this is to provide tenants with a range of options. You can set the parameters for the decision while providing the tenant with the freedom to choose the option that suits their needs best.
For example, when deciding on an instalment value for a landlord rent collection agreement, the landlord could provide three instalment values that fall somewhere in between the minimum and maximum amounts the tenant can afford to pay. The landlord could explain why they’ve picked these options: A represents the most affordable but takes the longest to repay, C represents the shortest duration, while B sits in the middle. These options can then be discussed with the tenant in a collaborative manner, but the final decision should be given to the tenant.
By creating agreements in this manner, we are building the principles of perceived fairness and active participation into our existing processes. Moreover, the landlord’s willingness to support the tenant and create the best agreement for their situation will also imbue reciprocity.
Importantly, many aspects of a landlord-tenant relationship are conducive to leveraging reciprocity and much of this is dependent on how we frame or present information. For example, rather than engaging with a tenant to “collect arrears payment”, we could be engaging to “help get their payments back on track”. Similarly, if we present tenants with instalment values these could be presented as “I’ve done some extra work and I think these options would help you get back to normal in the shortest time”.
What is important here is that this reciprocity does not feel contrived – it is easy to tell when someone is “doing us a favour” because they feel inclined rather than because they want to help.
Ultimately, we want to create situations where the organisation’s goals are aligned with the tenants’ goals - producing a genuine willingness on the landlord’s part to explore all avenues to make sure the tenant is supported throughout this process.
Building a relationship that lasts
Many of these principles will seem intuitive. Often the most difficult part of applying this approach is the perspective change – emphasising a culture of supporting the customer over and above the short-term financial or results-based incentives.
Ideally, perceived fairness, active participation and reciprocity should reflect an organisation’s culture rather than one tenant engagement strategy. And remember, it takes much more effort to rebuild a relationship that has started off on the wrong foot; first impressions matter and typically occur when tenants are at their least familiar about the process and situation. So, it pays to get it right the first time.