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Brent Williams' Apartment Blog

Thoughts, comments, and ideas about the overall multifamily industry, as well as a property-specific focus on resident retention and apartment marketing.

My Apartment Collection Story

I often think it's valuable to share things from the renter's point of view, and although I no longer live in an apartment, I have one final story to share with you.  Early last year, we moved out and bought a home, and at the time, we believed we did not have any outstanding payments left.  But this week, almost 20 months later, I got an email from my former apartment community that I had a remaining charge of $24.66 from a delayed water bill.  Before I continue, let me be clear that although the ridiculous delay of this bill is annoying, that in itself was not the problem.  What really made me as a renter upset is that even though this is the first time I have ever heard from them after 20 months, they felt it necessary to add this nice little threat at the bottom:

"Please remit balance due within 15 days from the date on this notice. If payment is not received, the balance due will automatically be turned over to our collection agency and the credit bureau. Should you have any questions, please contact the community office immediately."

Is this really how to treat former residents?  Don't contact them for 20 months, and when you do finally get around to letting them know, tell them to pay within 15 days or get submitted to the credit agency?  Obviously, this is a standardized email, and it probably got sent out to all past residents when they implemented a new accounting system of some sort.  But regardless of the reason, this is a horrible way to deal with past residents who might be someone who still referred friends to that community.  Not only that, but even though I am a past resident, I still have quite a bit of power in the relationship.  It wouldn't surprise me if someone who got this auto-generated email ends up posting something nasty on ApartmentRatings.com.  And after so much talk at the NMHC OpTech conference about reacting to online reputation, aggravating that doesn't seem to be the best strategy.

The fact of the matter is that as the (former) renter, I wasn't the one who messed up.  So rather than sending out threats, why not simply contact me nicely?  I realize sometimes things fall through the cracks, so I wouldn't mind paying, even if it did come much later, but to have the community mess up and then threaten me in this manner?  It makes me strongly consider if I'll be so forthcoming with payment.

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great post, Brent. I think we have forgotten, at times, Mary Poppins admonition that a "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." When I managed we specifically changed the terse wording on the first notices to sound more friendly and less threatening. Even when we had to issue final warning letters we still worded them to position ourselves as trying to help the customer avoid a negative report on their credit files or being sent to collections. My assistants would tell me often that they would get "thank you" calls from people followed by checks not too long after. Thank you for sharing this!

  Rommel Anacan
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I always try to assume that people simply don't know the rules. For example, on MFI we have rules about self promotion, and since we deal with these issues day in and day out, it would be easy to assume that anybody breaking this rule was an evil spammer who was trying to take advantage of the site. In other words, it's easy to assume the worst. But in reality, most people just didn't know, so a friendly message almost always gets the situation back on track and everybody is happy. The same thing here - If they just acknowledged that there might have been a gap in communication, such as, "We realize that sometimes these things get lost in the mail," that would be a much friendlier approach.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Brent. In fact, they messed up entirely by not adding this additional final water charge at move out so you would know about it then. Regardless, it would be better to send a little note about owing this, but threatening collections is ridiculous. The language, I know, is added because legally you have to say to someone if you don't pay what you owe, you will get turned over and that this is the first step in the collection process. Better to just ask nicely first though!

  Mindy Sharp
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Completely understand the legal implications, Mindy. I think an introduction paragraph could have set the tone much better for this letter, so that any legal jargon at the end would be easier to swallow.

  Brent Williams
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You're right!

  Mindy Sharp

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