How to Handle Tenant Emergency Maintenance Requests

Osprey Property Management   |   date September 2023

Published August 2022. Updated September 7, 2023. 

It's the phone call or text message every property owner dreads receiving in the middle of the night. The inevitable emergency maintenance call after hours is a rite of passage for property investors. 

As the dollar signs start flashing and the worries start flooding in, it's hard not to panic. That being said, property maintenance and the occasional emergency call are part and parcel of being a rental property owner.

Unfortunately, emergencies happen, and because of this, preparation is the name of the game. Due to the nature of an emergency call, swift action and clearly defined procedures are paramount to ensuring your renters are happy, and your property stays in tip-top condition. 

We've answered a lot of emergency calls for property owners and tenants throughout our experience as a property management company! So, today, we deliver our best Virginia Beach property management insights about what constitutes a maintenance emergency, how to process these requests as a property owner, and tips for how property investors can easily manage maintenance issues. 

What Qualifies as an Emergency Maintenance Situation?

A maintenance emergency generally requires immediate action to remedy issues that could lead to adverse outcomes, such as costly property damage or something detrimental to the health and safety of your renters.

During the move-in process, property owners should inform incoming residents about what is considered a maintenance "emergency" vs. maintenance issues that are not emergencies. This can help your tenants understand that something like a handle falling off a kitchen cabinet is not an emergency worthy of a midnight phone call, whereas a burst pipe in the laundry room is definitely an emergency.

All emergencies threatening the occupants' well-being should first be dealt with by contacting the relevant emergency services. 

As another example, a broken ice maker should not be considered a maintenance emergency (but should still be dealt with in a timely manner). These are simply issues that fall under typical maintenance expenses rather than urgent repairs. 

Man on the phone while water falls from the ceiling into a bucket, emergency maintenance concept.

However, a toilet that doesn't flush, a leaking roof, or a heater that does not heat during the winter should be considered rental property maintenance emergencies.

Some other common emergency maintenance issues may include:

  • Broken locks or matters related to security and safety

  • Gas leaks or exposure to carbon monoxide

  • Flooding in the building 

  • Fire and subsequent damage 

  • No water

  • No electricity 

  • Break-ins 

While this is not an exhaustive list, common issues should be clearly defined as "emergency" or "non-emergency" at the start of a tenancy or as part of your welcome information for all residents. 

How to Manage a Maintenance Emergency

So, what should rental property owners do in a true emergency? Established procedures and open communication can create mutually beneficial outcomes when dealing with maintenance issues.

Take a look at the three of our top tips for dealing with rental property maintenance below. 

1. Establish a Process for Both Emergency and Non-Emergency Maintenance Issues

Setting expectations about timing and how soon you'll respond to requests can help create mutual trust between residents and property owners. 

Maintenance emergencies such as those described above require immediate action, whereas non-emergency issues can be scheduled for a later (but not too late) date. Property owners should outline typical response times for tenants during the leasing process.

If you're not sure of the ideal protocols for different situations, work with a property manager to make sure your response times meet legal guidelines and general rental best practices for every property in your portfolio. 

Remember: responding quickly, even if it is an acknowledgment that you have received the request, goes a long way in building good relationships with renters. Communication and transparency are key features of a product owner-resident relationship. 

In addition to excellent communication, document and store all maintenance requests, repairs, and receipts. Always follow up with residents to ensure the issues are resolved effectively. 

Be Prepared With an Emergency Fund

As a final point, savvy investors know it's critical to maintain an emergency fund to help cover the costs of unexpected issues. An excellent general rule is to set aside between 2% to 10% of the rental income to keep in a pot in case of emergencies. 

With these funds in place, property owners can ensure a quick response to a severe maintenance situation, like a burst pipe or roof damage, that can't afford to wait until money becomes available for the repair.

2. Use an Online Portal

A digital tracking system or property management software provides several critical purposes for the landlord and renters of the property. These systems serve as a way to communicate and deal with property maintenance issues in place of a phone call or email.  

Some of the additional benefits of using an online portal include: 

  • Standardization of procedures: Renters can effectively and clearly define maintenance issues through an online portal. They can quickly jump on the app or portal to determine whether their requests fit into the emergency or non-emergency box. Many online maintenance portals even allow users to submit photos of the damaged area.  

  • Submit requests anytime: Emergencies can happen at any moment. Because of this, an online portal allows renters to submit their requests at any time of the day, helping property owners keep track of requests. Residents also have the option to track the maintenance orders and requests, making for a more inclusive experience. 

  • Stress-free: Thanks to the power of AI and automated responses, many property management apps can automatically respond to all types of maintenance requests at all times of the day or night!

There are plenty of online property management and real estate portals on the market, so be sure to shop around and read reviews to find one that fits your needs. Or, a real estate management group like our experienced team can handle the communication processes on your behalf. 

3. Consider Hiring one of the best Professional Property Management Companies

One of the best ways to stay on top of and prepare for emergency maintenance issues is by hiring a Virginia Beach property management group.

Delivering a quality experience for renters (and optimizing returns) means that property maintenance requires 24/7 around-the-clock support — and being responsive is crucial to prevent significant property damage when something breaks. It's also essential to maintain good relationships with residents. 

Plumber repairing toilet, rental property maintenance concept.

Local property managers also have the resources to conduct prompt repairs, manage budgets, and keep properties in excellent condition. When receiving a maintenance emergency alert, some of the required steps involve:

  • Assessing the extent of damage

  • Allocating a financial value to the repairs

  • Engaging with the residents who may be emotionally upset or frustrated

  • Locating a trusted and well-priced repair solution

  • Dealing with insurance companies

Due to the intensive nature of emergency maintenance repairs, savvy property owners will contract the service of an experienced rental property management group equipped with the skills and know-how to deal with every step of a maintenance emergency request.

A Professional Property Manager Handles Rental Property Emergency Maintenance Issues at Any Time

We don't like to think about the worst-case scenarios, but maintenance emergencies can spring up when you least expect them. However, with clear communication, well-thought-out procedures, help from online platforms, and the right Virginia Beach property management experts, maintenance emergencies don't have to be a challenge. 

If you're looking for a more "stress-free" life concerning property investments and dealing with maintenance requests, reach out to Osprey Property Management today. We handle everything from tenant communication to maintenance responses 24/7!

Learn more about managing rental properties with a free copy of "Expert Guide to Rental Property Management!"

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