by Jim Wehner
I arrived early at work on one day to find a tenant from our apartments sitting on the curb outside our corporate offices (across the parking lot from the apartments). She was angry and highly agitated. The keycard system was under repair which meant she was unable to get into Glencastle through the closest door to her apartment.
So instead of walking to the front door where she still had access, she has been climbing in her first floor window to get into her apartment. This resident is 62(ish), thin as a rail, and spunky to say the least. She has COPD and struggles to gain her breath as she reaches the end of her anger and has talked herself out.
She was tired of telling property management about the problems. She let me know clearly that the property manager hates her and is trying to evict her even though she has caught up her rent. And while she had my ear, there were repairs needed in her apartment that we had not repaired in over two-years.
I was stunned at her anger and the amount of repairs that we had failed to fix. Even so, my experience told me that the story wasn’t quite right. A 62 year old with COPD climbing in her window (which are not at ground level)? Two years worth of repairs left undone and this is the first time I am hearing about it?
My response? I ask to see the repairs first hand. She gladly walks with me over to her apartment and runs through a list of six significant needs. One of the repairs is a hole in her wall that she has covered with newspaper and a mixture of water, flour and toothpaste. The puzzling part is that the repair issues are real. A simple repair order would have fixed all of them.
I suggest we go see the property manager (the one that hates her) to discuss the issues. She refuses in a renewed burst of anger and begins to list a new set of problems (and she is now smoking a cigarette which only exacerbates the breathing issues). The bottom line...we are doing the hustle.
My gut tells me all of these issues are smokescreens to something that I have yet to discover. So as she calms down I give her a choice; either we go speak with the property manager, or I go back to my office and act like nothing happened. She chooses (after another 5 minutes of ranting) to go to with me to meet with John. As we go, she suddenly holds my hand and becomes very sweet and grandmotherly as we walk to his office.
As we sit down with the property manager, we begin with the repair issues, which it turns out she has never reported. We have a box posted outside the office where residents can turn in work orders to have repairs done in their apartments. She has never filled one out for any of the issues.
After going around on this for 15 minutes, she bends her head down and says, "Mr. Jim, I never finished school and I can't fill that damn thing out." THERE IT IS! The real issue!
Our work order system did not help this resident. Instead it affirmed negative feelings and emotions in her life. In pride, she had dealt with living situations in her apartment instead of coming to the property manager. She had convinced herself that our property manager hated her because she was behind in her rent.
So we fixed the issue with the work orders so that she could get the repairs needed. We addressed the issue of her back rent in a way that both honored her effort to keep up with rent and give her accountability at the same time. More importantly, we addressed the issue of dignity by refuting the lie that we thought poorly of her, and we affirmed the reality that we were glad to have her in our apartments.
The hustle took 2 1/2 hours that Monday and a lot of listening. Time I would have gladly spent on other things. But if we never work to beat the hustle, we miss opportunities to truly love people.