Property management is a challenging business where the property manager serves two different sets of customers with conflicting needs. As a marketer for a multi-state property manager, I have witnessed the razor-sharp line that a property manager has to walk in his place between the tenant and the landlord. At times, it can sometimes seem impossible to stay the course of this line, and I'll share my insight into why that is.
The business of property management is one where the landlord compensates the property manager to relieve them of the burden of owning investment property (a.k.a, managing tenants). The late night phone calls with repair requests, the destruction to property, the late payments, not to mention the screening of and securing decent tenants - these are all part of the burden that the property manager bears. The owner, usually, doesn't want to deal with the tenants, fixing up the property, or worry about collecting money. Usually, the property owner wants to make his investment by purchasing the property, and then simply collect checks by handing over the property to the property management company. In other words, they don't want to do the "dirty work". Despite this unenvious position, the property manager must do the bidding of the owner in order to get paid. If the owner feels that the service is not up to his standards, he can take his business to the next property manager in the area as switching costs are typically not that high.
On the other hand there is the tenant. The tenant wants a place to live. The tenant usually values the property over the property manager, and thus has no loyalty to a property manager, so long as he gets the place where he wants to live. The tenant pays the rent that goes to the property manager, that goes all the way back to the property owner, which is the ultimate goal of the whole value chain. Along with the value, the tenant also poses the majority of risk in the relationship. A bad tenant can cost a landlord (and a property manager) significant cost - both monetarily as well as in time and resources. Destruction, illegal and illicit activities, late payment, non payment, legal proceedings, and damage to reputation are all potential outcomes that a landlord and property manager risk with any given tenant.
The property owner counts on the property manager to procure tenants that are reliable - both in paying rent and in maintaining the property. In order to keep a stream of quality tenants in the pipeline, the property manager must not only market to prospective renters, but also create a situation for a successful, and mutually beneficial rental relationship. On the other hand, the tenant counts on the property manager to be fair in the leasing process, and then once a lease agreement has been entered - to fix issues with the property, communicate clearly, set expectations, and to be treated fairly. Yes, in a demand market there is typically plenty of prospects in line if one tenant doesn't work out. This leads some property managers to value little the relationship between the property manager and tenant - treating the tenant like a commodity that can be easily replaced. However, that is a dangerous game in today's online world where an upset tenant (or even a prospect for that matter) can damage a property manager's reputation on various forums.
However, even a property manager with the best intentions can be caught in the middle of a landlord vs. tenant dispute. Thus is the case in property maintenance requests and tenant selection. A tenant can raise a request with a property manager over any, we'll say a leaking faucet for this example. Usually, a property manager has an agreement in place with an owner over an amount that a property manager is authorized to spend in order to fix a problem. In the case of a leaking faucet, the property manager can call one of their contractors over to the property to perform this type of simple repair. However, what if the contractor discovers something major, that would costs thousands of dollars in order to repair. This issue may cause discomfort to the tenant, yet the property manager can't have it fixed without the authorization of the owner. Herein lies the problem. Go search for reviews on Yelp, Thumbtack, or Google, and you'll see examples of tenants complaining about how a property manager didn't "fix an issue" to their satisfaction. In some of these cases, the tenant is justified to complain about poor service. However, in many cases, the tenant is complaining about something that the owner is ultimately responsible for, yet the property manager is the one that takes the hit for the owner. The same can be said for tenant selection. I've read many reviews of people complaining that they weren't awarded a property, or didn't get to view it. In many of these cases, the property could have already been under contract as decided by the property owner. Again, the property manager takes the heat.
So what's the point?
The point is that you shouldn't assume that every decision made on a given rental can be attributed to the property manager. The buck stops with the landlord, and in many cases that is exactly what happens. Maybe that's just another part of the job of a property manager, but tenants out there should understand how it works before blasting their property manager on a review site. If the goal is justice for a mishandled rental, then a poor review directed at the property manager may not serve that justice. In my opinion, opening up a clear dialogue with the property manager is always the proper course of action. Know your rights, and see that the property manager (and owner) honors them. The threat of action (whether legal or damage to reputation) is typically all that is, needed to force compliance. Hopefully, knowing your rights, and knowing how it works, will help you have a much better experience with your current and future rental properties.